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How IntrCity SmartBus is transforming inter-city mobility one route at a time

Adgully is back with a new edition of its annual feature – TRENDING NOW – where we present the strategies and views of a cross-section of industry leaders as they go about reclaiming lost time and market opportunities and build for a stronger future, armed with the lessons of the pandemic period.

Over the last few weeks, Trending Now has been bringing insights from industry leaders on how their organisations are geared up to seize the opportunities in 2022, break through the Covid disruptions and find growth and remain resilient.

In conversation with Adgully, Swapnil Tripathi, Chief Business Officer, IntrCity SmartBus, speaks about the emerging trends in the mobility sector in 2022, the challenges faced in the inter-city mobility landscape among India’s growing working class and more.

What are the trends that you expect to dominate in your sector in 2022?

As inter-city mobility continues to gain further momentum across the country, travellers still look out for safety and hygiene. The inter-city mobility sector will have to make safety and hygiene an essential part of the service. IntrCity SmartBus always had sanitation and hygiene as part of our SOP and we had launched the additional feature of a private cabin post 1st phase of COVID.

Primarily, the industry is getting more organised and consumers are preferring branded and organised players. The usage of mobility technology and tech-enabled operations along with customer friendly features is making organised players gain market share. IntrCity launched a full scale mobility technology platform backed by the IOT platform of fleet dynamics led the way for the industry’s adoption of technology.

What are the challenges and new opportunities that you see emerging in the year ahead?

India’s inter-city mobility landscape comes with its own set of challenges for India’s growing working class. While trains are sold-out, despite the fact that India has the largest railway network in the world (in terms of scale), flights either do not cover most places (80% of flight capacity serves only 6 top metros) or are still too expensive, and over-night buses were not considered by many as an equivalent option.

It is established that trains are still the preferred mode of inter-city transportation for the average Indian travelers and a significant segment is still not comfortable to travel by buses, especially overnight travel, which is the most frequent use-case. If we look deeper and speak to intercity travelers, the reasons are several – for example, lack of washrooms, open unsafe boarding points, unscheduled stops en-route and unreliability of bus arrival, and an inherent lack of trust in the bus operator. The best way to tackle this disparity is to enable the two modes of transportation to communicate with each other. The travelers, when they are planning, need to be aware of the availability of an alternative to their preferred mode of travel that can help them make their journey. This would divert seat availability strain from one mode while shifting some traffic to other mode and making intercity travel convenient for people.

There is a need in the industry to set a standard for the bus services much like the Indian Railways, where you always get a secure boarding point, that is, the railway stations, washrooms on the train, food on the train and sleepers for overnight travel. The rise of tech-based organised players such as IntrCity has been a boon for the unorganised intercity mobility sector.

Since more than 60% of intercity travellers belong to millennials and Gen Z, we want to build travel options that solve their challenges. The predominant profile includes mobile-first working professionals, who care about a good standard of service at a competitive price. To cater to their expectations, we offer real-time GPS tracking and CCTV footage, which further ensures a high-level of feeling of safety, mainly amongst our women travellers. Our bus service follows expectations on punctuality, safety and reliability of operators. Understanding the needs of the customers will always remain as a core focus point for the industry and addressing the need and expectation of modern commuters will help in changing the perception of Indians regarding transportation.

On the convenience side, the company provides private cabin facilities with beds and digital keys, Wi-Fi-enabled lounges at boarding points and most importantly, a ‘driver fatigue alert’, where the system uses artificial intelligence to check a driver’s eye and hand movements to determine his/ her alertness. IntrCity SmartBus is radically improving road travel and rider experience and moving travellers from trains to buses.

How is this year’s turnout expected to be in this sector as compared to the last two years? How strong will the recovery be?

We are approaching the first summer, after a gap of 2 years, which is not impacted by travel restriction and consumer confidence is high, with 60% of the population already vaccinated. We expect two things this year: a) inter-city mobility to reach much higher than pre-COVID levels, and b) Organised & branded players dominating most of the popular routes across the country. It is already showing signs with bookings for summer vacations having already started on trains and buses running at near full capacity around Holi weekend.

What are the changes that have happened in this sector in the previous two years? How strong will this sector’s growth be compared to the last two years as well as the pre-Covid period?

The space has grown significantly, especially during the COVID-impacted months, due to increased concern amongst travellers to opt for a safe, sanitised, and reliable service. Most of the primary routes in India are dominated by branded players, which were earlier known only to local players. Many of these local players have also migrated to the platforms of aggregators in order to provide better service.

The space was dominated by many similar SME-dominated players, and hence, it lacked standardisation, the presence of the pan-India brand, and best practises for superior customer service. However, in the last 2-3 years, the technology-backed aggregators have led to the creation of branded fleets on prominent 50+ routes across India. The introduction of mobility technology in inter-city buses along with the emergence of organised and branded players has transformed this entire ecosystem.

In parallel, it has helped SME operators adopt the technology by collaborating with aggregators, and it is helping such players focus on their strength areas and grow faster than otherwise. Today, the same operators access business vital information on dashboards, get better access to OEMs and financial institutions, and have a voice to impact decision-makers in government or large establishments.

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