Shuttl promotes ‘SAFE’ commute

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Bus aggregator, Shuttl, is promoting ‘SAFE’ commute to attract more footfall.

Story by: Anirudh Raheja

With office commute a tough challenge in Indian cities for many, aggregators are finding a calling. Even as Uber and Ola strive to expand the boundaries of their business by looking at buses, three-wheelers and two-wheelers, the need for safe travel is most felt. After the reporting of some untoward incidences in various medias, the need for safe commute has been gathering stream, especially among women. Finding a calling, bus aggregator Shuttl has launched ‘SAFE’. An acronym for Secure Anxiety Free Experience, ‘SAFE’ aims at women commuters as part of Shuttl’s endeavour to provide a safe and secure commuting experience to all and the sundry. A prototype that will be applied in the ‘beta’ form in Delhi National Capital Region to start with, ‘SAFE’ contains multiple safety tools for passengers. Leveraging technology and data according to Shuttl founders Amit Singh and Deepanshu Malviya, ‘SAFE’ is designed to transform the way Indians commute. Designed to make commuting safe and secure, ‘SAFE’ will roll out over the next three qurters. Tailored to address the complex travel requirements of commuters in Delhi NCR, ‘SAFE’, according to Sing, will touch each of the 20,000 rides the company undertakes per day.

A venture of Super Highway Labs, Shuttl is funded by Lightspeed Ventures, Sequoia Capital and Times Internet. The company has tied up with 250 operators, and operates a fleet of 450 buses on 50 routes. Building routes one at a time to overcome the complexity posed by Delhi NCR, Shuttl worked closely with JCBL and SML Isuzu to develop ‘SAFE’. Developed at JCBL under SML Isuzu according to Singh, ‘SAFE’ is a pilot midi bus. It is built as per the specifications proposed by Shuttl engineers, and with a prime aim to deliver a safe ride to the commuters. Expressed Malviya, “Traditional understanding of data as text and numbers has gone through a paradigm shift with the advent of ‘Machine Learning’ and ‘Internet of Things (IoT). By using image and sensor data we are now taking a big leap forward in deriving intelligence to deliver a safe experience for our customers.” In the process, Shuttl is also looking at lower costs. The company resorted to local manufacturer to lower costs. It roped in Raspberry Pi 3, Open CV, DLIB, and Arduino Uno for tech updates. Pocket size systems like Raspeberry Pi are known to cost not more than Rs.2,500.

Safe and secure

Hosting numerous features for an authentic trip, ‘SAFE’ was developed in house. The system starts operation according to Singh from the bus captain. The driver cockpit, he mentioned, has been equipped with an alcohol sensor, placed in close proximity to the driver. The alcohol sensor will cut off the ignition the instance it detects any alcoholic substance. An audible warning is raised. To further enhance security, camera in the driver’s cabin could be installed. The camera will monitor the driver’s body language. It will check if he is feeling drowsy, or is distracted by a smart phone; is not paying enough attention on the road. As part of ‘SAFE’, the company is also using technology to identify the driver. This is to avoid any directional flaw. Drivers understanding Hindi or English will be undergo route training and behaviour training. If the systems observes that the driver is drunk, it will have the bus terminate the route at the next stop. Tying up with OnGrid and India Stack to authenticate drivers, Shuttl is keen to incorporate changes in ‘SAFE’ to make it even more effective and fool proof.

Authentication

Expressing that the face is the password, Singh averred, “The system necessitates facial recognition of the passenger expected to board the bus.” To make the procedure devoid of friction, a camera has been fitted at the entry point. It makes certain that the right passenger has boarded the bus. Once the picture of the commuter is uploaded, passenger verification will eliminate any possibility of bus overload and ticket check while boarding, said Singh. He stated, “Since we have face detection in place, we can use ‘Aadhar API’ to authenticate the user and get him on-board without any human intervention. This would eliminate the need to book a ticket, or a slot.

The ‘SAFE’ bus has also been equipped with a CCTV camera. It could provide a live feed. In case the passenger is keen that he or she be tracked by his or her dear ones, all that he or she has to do is to share a URL link. The URL link shared with passenger can thus be traced for live footage by friends and family. In case of any emergency, the Shuttl App. SOS feature could be used to raise an alarm. A panic button has also been placed near the front door for physical access. The ‘homecheck’ feature ensures a call back confirmation for a safe arrival at home.

Convenience

Shuttl ‘SAFE’ buses offer free ‘Wi Fi’ services to those who are on board. Commuters can thus allow them to under take personal work. The buses could be also fitted with a television screen for on board entertainment. For privacy, commuters are supplied with personal earphone jacks. They could control the level of engagement and sound. “Earphones will not only keep the sound levels low inside the bus, they will also provide commuters with a space of their own,” said Singh. To be rolled out in a phased manner, Shuttl is optimistic about ‘SAFE’. It is confident of its acceptance. Both, Singh and Malviya, are of the opinion that ‘SAFE’ should be accepted in Delhi NCR first. Expansion of ‘SAFE’ to other cities will follow once the technology is found relevant in the Delhi NCR market. “Building a mass system is quite a task. Add to it the task of operating a bus that is used by 40 people, and it only becomes more complex, signed off Malviya.

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Q. When will ‘SAFE’ services take-off?

A. Emergency tool kits like SOS and ‘homecheck’ will be rolled out immediately. Driver authentication will follow soon after. It will be six months before every feature is rolled out. Like any other app., one could register for authorisation. In case of facial recognition, we have a fall back mechanism. We also have a sound-based technology that we are using for commuter authentication. There is a sound that is emitted by the mobile phone that is detected by the driver’s phone. Authentication is thus accomplished.

Q. Such technologies come at a cost. Does the commuter end up with a burden?

A. Like the face recognition algorithm, many technologies are software-based. It is the same with the one that monitors the driver behaviour. To keep the costs low, we scale up the technologies to a certain level. It is the same with the hardware. Costing no more than the cost of a mobile phone, it will not make much difference over the lifetime of an asset.

Q. How big is your fleet?

A. We influence the purchase of buses, but do not own them. All the buses that we engage are run by third party operators. These include 30-, 40- and 50- seat buses depending on the route that they take. We have long term agreement with those who own these buses and maintain them. We have tied up with them for a periodic payment, which has nothing to do with the number of commuters taking the bus and the fare we are charging. We influence the bus specifications as per our requirement. This is in terms of seats, AC power, charging points, and more. Since most OEMs already offer most of the specifications that we require, it serves us to tie up with them. Part of our requirement includes bigger windows and higher capacity air conditioners.

Q. Do you insist on a separate driver cabin?

A. There are certain buses where the driver cabin is inaccessible to passengers. In certain buses like Travelers, the driver and commuters are part of the same saloon. We call for regular feedback from commuters. He or she can speak out about any issue faced. If the feedback involves driver misbehavior, we immediately appraise the our vendor of the same.

Q. For technologies, what kind of an association are you looking at?

A. We have associated with OnGird for Aadhar-based verification of the drivers, and for police verification. We have developed a three-tiered training module for the drivers. He should be able to understand and use our apps. He should follow the right route; behave and be sensitive to the needs of the commuters. He should know what action to take in case of an emergency We conduct refresher training and audits to ensure the driver offers a good service.

Q. How do you chalk out the routes?

A. We keep increasing the frequency, and the span of our buses as per the demand. Some of our vendors have grown with us. They have grown from having one bus when they joined us. I believe that the 30-to 35-seat buses make for good mathematics. They do good speeds, and are comfortable. We have many 40-seat buses too. We are currently working with 250 vendors. They have been supporting us with ample fleet. We are currently helping them only to procure more buses and build up our existing system. So we are looking forward to grow strongly. For route engineering, we have building up data from Google maps. We are tying up with telecom companies to design routes. We have been able to build an algorithm which allows us to design a network such that we are catering to all the demand pockets. We look at data in detail so that we are able to iterate on the route. If we feel that the pick-up point is not working then we could change it after a week based on customer feedback. It doesn’t happen such that a route will start after watching that there is much crowd at Dhaula Kuan. For any route to begin, it has to be supported by data.

Q. What made you to opt for alcohol detection system?

A. We integrated alcohol detection system into ‘SAFE’ to enhance safety and security. If the driver tries to switch off the system or tried to tamper with it, we are immediately informed. It may not be possible for us to monitor 450 driver cabins at all-tome, or in one go, what is possible for us to do is to get a live feed. If a passenger wants to monitor the driver it is possible for him or her to do so. If any anomaly is detected, our team takes steps to recover it.

Q. Awareness about the routes Shuttl runs seems to be lacking. Any steps you are taking to increase awareness?

A. The nature of the business that we are in is of the supply constraint type rather than of the demand constraint type. When we launch a route, we do some ground activation initially. Post that it is largely organic in nature, and accompanied with a referral channel that we have on our app. When people tend to see our buses in their area, they tend to load our app. So these are the channels that are working for us. Wherever we see that there is a lack of demand, we use digital marketing to attract commuters. The way we see it, a city like Delhi needs many more buses than it has. When we will come to operate 1500 buses or more, our visibility will be much higher. The need to convey that such a service exists will no longer be there. Interestingly, people tend to find us rather than we finding them. Our challenge is not only get more buses, but to get better routes and coverage.

Q. It should be a tough business?

A. It is a tough business. The pool ride business of cab operators does not effect us since they operate for short distances. There are certain areas where we lock horns with them. Those areas are limited. What we are doing is targeting people who will leave their cars behind and ride with us.

Q. Aren’t regulations proving to be hard to navigate past?

A. The sad part that we are witnessing is terming a service illegal. It is not illegal. It is compliant with the Motor Vehicle Act, and with the Contract Carriage Act. We need to maintain a passenger list as per the contract carriage. For the safety program, that was the concept we worked with from the very start. The way to look at it is that there is a lack of understanding. Awareness is needed. We hope that awareness will be achieved at some point. The fact is, commuters are benefiting from the service that we offer. Rules should be framed to encourage such businesses. At the end of the day we are trying to give people a safe commuting medium. We would like them to leave their cars behind. This will reduce pollution. We are aware that it takes time to understand technology. The Act at no point says that there is a need to maintain a physical list. Cash transactions were restricted. Ticketing was pointed out at. We work on a subscription-based model. Multiple stops was pointed out, which again is not listed under the Contract Carriage Act. School buses cannot operate with a single stop.

Hubli-Dharwad to get BRT system

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Hubli-Dharwad BRT system is set to be operational in a few months from now.

Story by: Bhushan Mhapralkar

Bus Rapid Transport (BRT) system is not new to India. The Rainbow BRT system at Pune is said to be the first to began operation in India. Under the aegis of Pune Mahanagar Parivahan Mahamandal Limited (PMPML), the system envisages 113 km of dedicated bus corridors along with buses, bus stations, terminals and intelligent transit management system. The first route of the Delhi BRT system began operation in 2008. It drew inspiration from a similar system in Curitiba, Brazil, which had been in operation since 1975. RITES (formerly Rail India Technical and Economic Service) and the Indian Institute of Technology Delhi (IIT Delhi) were appointed to design and implement the system. Set to be scrapped for a reason that it is difficult to access the platforms, the Delhi BRT system may soon be history. Like the Delhi BRT system, the Pune BRT system also faced resistance initially. In 2010, the Jaipur BRT system began operation. A year later, the Vijaywada BRT system was also operational. Including Delhi BRT system, industry sources claim that there are 24 BRT networks in India. Of these nine are said to be under construction, or are in the planning stages. The Hubli-Dharwad BRT system is claimed to be progressing the fastest.

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The design

The construction of Hubli-Dharwad BRT system is funded by the respective state government. To be precise, the Government of Karnataka has a 70 per cent stake in the Special Purpose Vehicle (SPV), the Hubli-Dharwad BRTS Company Limited (HDBRTSCO). HDBRTSCO has an authorised capital of Rs.200 million, and is implementing the project. The remaining 30 per cent stake is shared by Hubli-Dharwad Municipal Corporation (HDMC), North-Western Karnataka Road Transport Corporation (NWKRTC) and Hubli-Dharwad Urban Development Authority (HDUDA). The operation and maintenance work will be done by Hubli-Dharwad Municipal Corporation (HDMC) in association with Karnataka State Road Transport Corporation (KSRTC). Claimed to operate over a distance of 70 km, the Hubli-Dharwad BRTS, claim sources, was originally designed to operate over a distance of 22.25 km, originating from Hubli CBT and ending at Dharwad CBT. Overtime the corridor was extended to include the Agricultural University, Dharwad. A four-lane bus corridor will thus run in the middle of an eight-lane freeway, mention sources. They state that the freeway will include two lanes for mixed traffic in both the directions. The width of the corridor is set to vary from 24.5 m to 44.0 m. Four underpasses for regular traffic are planned at Unkal Lake, Unkal-Cross Road, Bairidevarakoppa, and Navanagar. Designed to have two lines – trunk and feeder, the BRT system will have 33 stations. Out of the 33 stations planned, 12 stations will be located on the 44 m wide express corridor starting from Taj Hotel and ending at the Gandhinagar Cross, Dharwad.

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Smart transport

Located at the middle of the BRT corridor, the stations will be four-meter wide. Each station will act as reference point for GPS. Each station will have LED displays, which will display the schedule of bus arrival and departure. The BRTS (trunk) corridor, claim sources, will operate as a ‘closed system’ whereas the feeder and city bus services will operate in the ‘open system’. The ridership for the project was said to be 237,968 in 2014 against a fleet size of 190 buses. In 2017, the ridership is estimated to be 564,000 against a fleet size of 452 buses. Over 200,000 people are expected to use the corridor daily. Considering the rush the buses currently plying between Dharwad CBT and Hubli CBT experience in either direction, the BRT system will have to have a high frequency of buses on the corridor. With the ridership estimated to reach 400,000 people by 2021, the Hubli-Dharwad BRT system is no doubt one of the important such projects in the country.

Designed with central bus lanes to minimise interference of traffic plying on the mixed traffic lanes, the system will include segregated bus ways, controlled bus stations, physical and fare integration with BRT feeder, off-board ticketing through smart cards and paper tickets, and high quality buses (standard as well as articulated). The corridor is designed to operate regular and express services. Consisting of two lanes for BRTS buses on either side of the median bus station facilitating overtaking lanes for express services, the key infrastructure includes stations with two and three-bay configuration to support standard and articulated bus docking. Tickets shall be issued at stations, and commuters with a valid ticket or a smart card can only access the platform through automatic sliding doors. Two new depots at Dharwad and Hubli respectively are being constructed for the parking and maintenance of the buses. The depots will be equipped with modern facilities like automatic washing and automated oil dispensing system. HDBRTS is also developing a divisional workshop for heavy maintenance at Hubli.

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An order for 30 (18 m long) vestibule buses has been placed by HDBRTS with Tata Motors. The buses will have a floor height of 900 mm. An order for 100 (12 m long) two-axle buses with a floor height of 900 mm has been placed with Volvo Buses India. These buses, claim industry sources, are of the UD make. Sources also mentioned that an order for 60 (9 m long and 650 mm floor height) midi buses has been placed with Ashok Leyland. The buses will be laced with an Intelligent Transport System (ITS) as part of the need to comply with UBS II specifications. To make the Hubli-Dharwad BRT system truly smart, the ITS will include automated vehicle location system, passenger information system, automatic fare collection system, transit management system, and an incident management system. With the learnings of the BRT system at Ahmedabad, Pune and Delhi put to use, the Hubli-Dharwad BRT system, claim industry sources, will have buses that are fitted with a camera, DVR and speakers. The driver will have an address system at his disposal, may he feel the need to make an announcement or provide information.

Engineered to have a distance based fare structure, the BRT system will offer smart cards and bar-coded paper tickets to commuters. On-board ticketing will be used for the feeder service, integrated with the BRT corridor. HDBRTS will introduce complete transit management system to automate schedule of buses and manpower. Different organisation functions like administration, finance and human resources will be integrated for efficient and smooth functioning. An incident management system is designed to monitor day-to-day operations, and supplement passenger safety other than aiding effective enforcement with the help of technologies like CCTV and passenger announcement system. HDBRTS will setup a control centre to monitor all systems. Called the central monitoring center, it will provide space and connectivity for around 32 workstations, which will monitor the ITS systems.

Commuter-centric

Expected to operate with the prime aim of being commuter-centric, the BRT system at Hubli-Dharwad is slated to be operational by the end of this year. Opinion is divided on the time-line of September. Some industry sources with the knowledge of the development claim that it may take a little longer to ensure a smooth start. They stress on factors like accessibility and safety, and the need for integration with other new and existing modes of transportation to increase transit ridership with convenience. It is necessary that this BRT system does not suffer from the resistance faced by the system at Pune during the initial period, said another source. He also drew attention to the factors like difficulty in accessing the station, which caused the Delhi BRT system to falter. Attention was also drawn towards the need to provide parking space (on ground or under ground) near the station for two wheelers and cars to make it easier for commuters to avail of the BRT services. Also, stops for the feeder bus service.

The success of the Hubli-Dharwad BRT system will lie in the last mile transportation opined a source. He pointed at the Ahmedabad and Indore BRT system’s inability to address last mile connectivity. Much attention was paid at Ahmedabad to provide dedicated routes for buses to operate with hardly any shaded pedestrian footpaths sans obstacles, he said. The same is now being rectified, he added. If the demand for CNG buses in the interest of environment picked up albeit after the order for 30 diesel-powered vestibule buses, 100 diesel-powered 12 m long buses was placed, the fact is, diesel-powered buses are proving to be more economical and practical considering the operating costs of CNG and its availability. Diesel technology too has been progressing, and emission levels with the migration to BSIV have further dipped. While the scope for electric buses looks brighter, the Hubli-Dharwad BRT system could do with efficient management and commuter friendly operations.

Connected CVs soon

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CVs in India are speeding down the connected vehicles path.

Story by: Bhushan Mhapralkar

The move up to BSIV emission regulations has changed the way technology hereafter will find its way into Indian CVs. The rise in electronic content has opened up so many possibilities, that connected CVs are just a matter of time. Fully autonomous vehicles are still some distance away, the same cannot be said about connected vehicles. The technologies that will help to build a connected CV are already there, and there is no curbing the steady progress. A matter of market acceptance and demand, connected CVs, particularly Heavy Goods Vehicles (HGVs), with an ability to connect to the cloud, will change the way the driver looks at his role. Also set to change is the way a fleet operator and the respective manufacturer will function. Averred Vinod K. Sahay, Chief Executive Officer, Mahindra Trucks and Buses, “We are not far from truly connected CVs. It is the cost that has to be justified.” “Regulatory push makes it easier but the challenge lies with the operation getting the price from the consumer. What goes into a CV someone has to pay for it,” he stated.

Linked with infrastructure development and economic standards, connected CVs will find it easier with the elimination of state border checks. Set to spend increasingly less time off the road, and at truck stops, the opportunity to fine-tune the hub and spoke transportation model only grows, as e-way bills turn into an efficient transporter’s tool, the transport industry, to tide over the shortage of skilled drivers, will increasingly turn to connected vehicles. Faster turnaround time and better planning will be attained. Safety will go up, and encourage the consignor to pay more. If this makes it trickier for skill developers that train CV drivers, connected CVs will not replace the driver. They will make him and the ecosystem around him more efficient. According to Jacques Esculier, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, Wabco Inc., connected CVs will soon be a reality. Drawing attention to a new strategy developed by his company in that direction, Esculier stated, “We are piloting lane departure warning system for India.” Wabco has acquired a leader in fleet management solutions in Europe. In India, it has developed a product that is essential to connect the trucks to the ground. It simultaneously gathers information on fuel consumption, driver behaviour, etc., and processes as well as transmits it.

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Considering the availability of infrastructure, or the lack of it, and the road manners, Wabco’s piloting of a lane departure warning system hints at the achievement of a significant stage in the development of connected CVs in India. It may draw from a system that is working successfully in Europe or US, for application in India will require much adaptation.Encouraging Wabco to pilot a lane departure warning system is the way traffic on highway moves. Indian highway driving are getting closer to the way Europeans drive on their highways. But then, it is not just about the lane departure system. The advent of ABS has already indicated the rising use of electronics. With efficiency and safety at the core, electronics is rapidly setting the tone for connected CVs. A Frost & Sullivan report, ‘Global Connected Truck Telematics Outlook 2017’ has stated that the growth of internet and GPS enabled solutions has come to incorporate additional value chain participants such as content providers, application providers (for applications like distracted driving), and wireless providers. Mentioned Mamatha Chamarthi, Chief Digital Officer, ZF, that they are looking at many things. Transmissions in CVs for example, that can be connected and monitored to help with remote diagnostics and prognostics. According to ZF CEO Dr. Stefan Sommer, it is about life spent in different ways for the end customer. With the need to comply with occupant safety rising, connected CVs are set to be a reality sooner than later.

Bringing to India a host of technologies like air disc brakes, Autonomous Emergency Braking (AEB), stability control and others, suppliers like Wabco and ZF are striving to ensure that no feature on offer is not adaptable. Stress is on developing functions that specifically address the Indian environment. One development that stands out is Automated Manual Transmission (AMT). It takes away the task of operating the clutch and changing the gears from the driver. Communicating with the engine and the other elements that are electronically powered (ABS, AEB, traction control, etc.) to formulate the right shifting strategy. AMT elevates efficiency, safety and comfort – the three hallmarks of connected vehicles. AMT also adds a dimension to how a connected CV will communicate with the operator and the manufacturer.

For a manufacturer, connected CVs will provide big and valuable data. They will provide data that would help the manufacturer to make reliable vehicles. Vehicles that are smart and profitable. With the time spent on the road by a CV rising, especially in the case of HGVs and long-route buses, the availability of data to manufacturers is helpful in scheduling preventive maintenance, offering quick breakdown support, and in collecting necessary data on vehicle behaviour. For an operator, the connection would ideally indicate where his or her HGV is, about driver behaviour, and more. Offering the driver an opportunity to self evaluate his driving skills, and drive better, a connected CV will also enable a fleet operator to keep tabs; for the insurance company to charge lower premium, or a premium based on wage. Describing connected CVs as a new area of value to the CV industry, and the transportation industry, Esculier averred, “It is a completely new area of value that our industry would provide to fleets.

As connected CVs emerge, the role of the driver will change. He will drive as well as manage the business pertaining to his truck, albeit with the help of his fleet manager until a fully autonomous form is arrived at. If a connected CV will help to lower the insurance premium, a feature like AMT will provide better comfort. AEB and lane departure warning system will improve safety. Telematics will ensure that the operator and manufacturer are informed. The driver, will have knowledge about the route, health of his vehicle, and if he has to alter his driving style or the route. Driver skill development will have to be suitably modified, and dealers will have to modify the way they conduct their business, connected CVs will make an efficient interface that benefits all.

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The changing world of aggregators

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Aggregators in India’s transportation industry are growing up to be a force to reckon with.

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In the Oxford Dictionary, the word aggregator is defined as a website or program that collects related items of content and displays them or links to them. In India, the word aggregator has come to be associated with radio taxi operators like Ola, Uber, SheTaxi, Apnacabs, Baxi and AutonCabs; shuttle bus operators like Shuttl, Cityflo and Zipgo, and on-demand transport companies like Quikhop, Rivigo, Trukky, Shiprocket, LetsTransport, ThePorter, Blackbuck, Truckola, 4TiGo and TruckMandi. Looked upon as a disruptive force in the US$ 300 billion transportation industry in India, these aggregators are technology driven. Leveraging cloud computing and Internet of Things (IoT) to help transporters and service providers to scale up their business for a fee or a commission; to enable clients and commuters to avail of a superior experience, aggregators are displaying the capability to dismantle malpractices and loopholes. Coming to play a significant role in the country’s mobility space, aggregators have moved beyond the start up phase. It is a different story that their success is fuelling startups.

Set to gain from the GST council’s decision to lower taxes, cab aggregators, according to a survey report by Morgan Stanley, have much scope to grow. The report mentions that more than half of the millennials in India have not used an app-based cab service yet. The usage of cab-aggregator services, the survey report claims, has led to a mere three per cent of the millennials giving up their cars. A small fraction of the people surveyed mentioned that they are availing of cab aggregator service to avoid the rush and deficiencies that public transport mediums like buses, local trains and even metros offer. If Women on Wheels and SheTaxi make an innovative aggregator model on the back of social and economic empowerment of women, bus aggregators like Shuttl and Cityflo are making travel to work easy and stress free. Providing AC buses with assured seats without having to pay big bucks for fuel and shared cabs, bus aggregators are helping commuters to travel without cash. Commuters can also reserve as well as real-time track the seats. Providing a clue about the growth potential of bus aggregators, Jaspal Singh, Analyst, Valoriser Consultants, avers, “Even if 10 per cent of the commuter volume shifts towards bus aggregating platform, it will amount to a big number for the industry.” He draws attention to over 30 million bus rides taking place in India everyday. The demand for mobility is rising, and the government is required to support new disruptive initiatives the aggregators are taking, opines an industry source.

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An interesting aggregator in the inter-city travel space is Redbus. It is claimed to be the biggest bus service aggregator in India, and commands a 75 per cent market share of online bus booking. With the overall size of bus ticketing industry in India (both offline and online) estimated to be about 20,000 crores worth, about 14 per cent of the tickets are known to be sold online. Approximately 10 per cent of the bus operators are said to have a fleet size greater than 75 each, and 25 per cent of the bus operators are claimed to have a fleet size between 20 to 75 buses each. If challenges exist in retaining customers by ensuring a superior travel experience, much of which could be out of the control of the aggregator, and to help bus operators to scale up their business, there is no smooth road to success that the aggregators could look at. With government agencies beginning to acknowledge the benefits, the aggregator bus and cab services have come to provide, what was once perceived as the biggest challenge is now ebbing. Other challenges include standardised fare structure, quality of service, and an ability to integrate with other services.

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With the government’s stress on cashless transaction, aggregators stand to gain, albeit with a steady rise of e-commerce and on-demand services. Playing a key role in bringing structure and equilibrium within the organised space across various industries, aggregators in the logistics space, claims an industry source, are helping to lose unnecessary weight in terms of structure and costs. Attracting seeding on the basis of an innovative approach, aggregators like Trukky, Lobb and Blackbuck are providing not just fringe benefits to truckers, they are also matching and optimising the demand and supply of trucks. Says Apollo Sharma, CEO, Quikhop Logitic Solutions, “Our algorithms have integrated solutions for return trucks that are available at a cost that are cheaper than the origin city trucks for resource management.”

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With aggregator startups like TruckMandi, Trucksumo and Sastabhada folding up on account of logistics sector fragmenting, and the brick and mortar business posing a big challenge, it has become essential for aggregators to take a full stack view of the space they want to be a part of. The Indian logistics space is complex, mentions an industry expert. He states that it is so complex that it can demand attention, which technology simply cannot help overcome. Mukul Arora, Managing Director, SAIF Partners, is known to have expressed that adding a thin layer of technology cannot solve deep routed problems in the logistics sector such as non-availability of drivers and fragmented truck ownership. The demand for credit that often extends beyond is also a factor. Looking at the challenges faced by TruckMandi, Trucksumo and Sastabhada, it is clear that knowledge and experience will only add to the sustainability of aggregators. Set to witness greater adoption among numerous market players, aggregators have a long way to go before success is theirs. The path is challenging, but also exciting and well worth the effort.