Commuting without a personal vehicle has not been an experience without any hassles. One has to shift from one mode or transport to another in order to reach their respective destination. While another portion in this sector can opt for cabs, the solution is not cost-effective. The gap between cost, convenience as well as a good experience is large and this is where Shuttl, a mobile app based service provider will eventually and is bridging the gap for an affordable, cost-effective solution. We got in touch with Amit Singh, Co-founder of Shuttl to understand what his concept is, how cost-effective it is and what does a user benefit from it.
Express Drives: How the concept of Shuttl conceived and how is it different from the current mobility solutions available in Delhi/NCR
Amit Singh: NCR or the National Capital Region is the only city in India which has a fully functional metro rail service spawned across the region. It is catering to 2.5 million commuters everyday and a lot of money has been spent into creating a cost-effective public transport. However, Delhi Metro cannot solve all the problems! If there is a person who wants to reach office without using the metro, what other alternative does he/she have in its affordability bracket. The trickle effect is that the person would purchase a car. That is also where our solution is also routed and the problem is that in this sector either one gets a pack of seats (like in cabs) or one can get a quarter of a seat (public transport). The latter is where one may get a seat, may not get a seat for the complete journey. This is where the problem area in the mobility solution industry occours and this is what Shuttl does for a consumer. The basic premise of Shuttl is that if a consumer gets a guaranteed one seat, or more if required, then a lot of the problems for the consumer are taken care of. This assurance of a seat benefits the end-user in two ways. One is the moment a seat is booked, the consumer can spend the travel time in a productive manner. The second issue is that using a cab means not only hitting a person’s pocket, but wasting resources as well as polluting the environment.
Shuttl is a concept where a consumer can take one seat for their journey to work or home and they have to pay only for that seat unlike public transport where the assurance of getting space to sit is absent or hiring a cab where one has to pay more. Our services are not just limited to offering a space, but also other services where one can charge their phone or work on their laptop as the bus is equipped with power sockets. This results in savings of up to 70 percent from one’s commute expense every month if the same person is taking a cab to work everyday. Once that starts to happen, people essentially start to leave their cars at home and have a more reasonable alternative to travel in. In addition, this frees up space on the roads and all the infrastructure that is needed such as flyovers, underpasses, etc, it is not excessively required. What we are trying to do is essentially change the face of this industry by saving money without compromising the quality of travel.
If we consider this example in a scientific way, buses are the most space-efficient mode of transport for any city. A metro is a viable example but isn’t the mobility solution to the last mile.
What are the acceptance levels you have seen with users availing this facility?
Unlike a service that would fill in minor gaps in an industry, Shuttl is a service which people were waiting for. Something that is affordable and yet provides a hassle-free commuting experience. The challenge here is to let people know there is a service of such type. The moment people get to know about the service’s facility and how one needs to install a mobile application which will give all the details of booking a seat as well as availability of the next vehicle. Once these teething problems are resolved, people will prefer Shuttl over other modes of transport. Two-thirds of our customers currently using Shuttl app come through word of mouth. The moment people opt for a pack of five trial rides, the conversion is high and they keep coming back. The barrier is essentially not in serving them, but one is about making them aware and telling them how to use this facility. Since it is a new concept, it will take time for people to start using it on a regular basis.
In terms of getting to pick up point, customers have faced a bit of a hassle in order to get to it. If this is an Uber cab, one can get in touch with the driver and give him cues. In our case, there is a learning curve of how much prior should one reach at the pick-up point which is a problem for initial few times. Once the user knows what is the pick-up point, next time there won’t be a problem as he/she would calculate the distance of the pick-up point and plan accordingly. In our system, the absence of a physical validation is a problem for a few as the only thing that can physically validate the presence of Shuttl is the bus. These are product level challenges and we have been able to address to such problem areas in the last one year of our operations. Once this is sorted easing out where it eases out the problem area, it is a win-win situation for Shuttl and the end-user.
Apart from the operational challenges, have there been any infrastructural issues with regards to the buses in itself or the route or any of such problems?
There are components to this part of the product. One is the route design which is data driven which includes office locations, traffic patterns, travel times, etc and we keep superimposing more layers of data which makes Shuttl more relevant in the system. Second is a customer feedback where we keep asking existing user what new routes can be suggested and recommend it to their friend circle. All this data helps us in creating a rich base of commute patterns that enable us to design our routes.
Thirdly, these routes have to be designed in a way that they are part of the commute network so that the buses are better utilised. Then comes the buses which is the main physical asset we have in our system. There are two parts to it as well where one part is where we try and absorb all the buses which are parked and not being used by a fleet owner and can be used in a respective route rather than not being utilised at all. At one point, that bus is being used for some Adhoc work but the rest of the day is when this particular vehicle is not being used at all. This area is beneficial as one can directly tap into the supply of such vehicles.
The challenge with such buses is that if you want to offer the next level of consumer experience, the assorted set of vehicles do not do the job as well. Just to give you an example, in India buses are sold in a different manner than cars. One would go to a showroom and buy the full car of their choice unlike buses or even trucks. In buses, there are three components, the chassis and powertrain, the bus building and then there are accessories around it. Quite often what happens is that people do not install what is not needed in a bus, for example, an air conditioner. This means that the buses’ body would be designed in a way that it can have proper ventilation. But if the OEM (Original Equipment Manufacturer) knows they are building an air-conditioned bus, it will have fused windows. Because this information is no available with the OEM at the point of manufacturing, the initial bus body has sliding windows. Whenever there are sliding windows, they may be left open which would impact the cooling. Changing to fused windows is an additional cost, however, not a major one. So, the thought of an air-conditioned bus at the OEM level is missing.
The assurance that we give is the availability of ‘your time’ which a person can utilise more productively rather than hunting for space. Other additions like pneumatic doors enable the driver to operate as well as securely locking a door with ease and without the need of a helper. Even the validation of a passenger is happening through the app which nullifies the need of a conductor or a helper. So how the app works is once a passenger gets inside the bus, the mobile app asks you to tap on a button. Once tapped, there is a soundwave that is emitted which the driver’s device receives. The moment this happens, there is a check against the passenger’s name. For each passenger, the sound wave is different. Which also authenticates to the driver that the passenger boarding the bus is the right customer. It also nullifies the hassle of checking of a ticket or issue of it and it is a paperless technology. Once we know how the bus is going to be used, we can keep doing small innovations. This is just the beginning and we’re testing the waters and there is a lot more scope to bring in new technologies in this system.
How do you see this concept grow in the next three to four years?
We haven’t even scratched the surface but what we can say is that we have validated a concept at a scale. However, it is still at its validation stage and we need to bring up the scale. What we are offering is a utility packed with some experience and the alternatives currently present have a huge difference. Once acceptance level for this new technology is enough, growth would happen by itself. The challenge is to operate at a relatively large scale as a number of buses which would ply later on would require a strong technological backend so that there is no lack of coordination between the user and the bus driver. That is the backbone we have built over the last few months and now we are getting into a position where we can leverage this opportunity. As we keep getting more routes, more buses would also ply and keep getting more user on the mobile application. It is essentially educating the consumer and launching routes.
In the education of users, we need to do a better job than what we are doing but once that is done, the opportunity is humungous. There are about 15 million to 20 million commuters traveling everyday and if we can tap a small portion of that, from a pessimistic approach, we still will have good presence. Take an example of China where they sell the same number of two-wheelers as we do, however, the Chinese market has 10 times more sales in the four-wheeler passenger vehicle segment, a number of them being luxury brands. This indicates that India is a bus-oriented market more than a car market. When there is enough awareness, it will be a revolution for the bus market. We just need to be ready when the time comes and provide adequate supply for the demand.
The recent addition of 10 free rides for working women by the company has also encouraged in a move where they have a hassle-free and safe mode of transport between their office and home. With women making up more than 35% of the user base and often being the main link for the family and connection to the community, there remains a great deal of work to be done to ensure equal rights in all aspects of life. Making commute safe and reliable is our core belief and purpose. Standing strong as the preferred choice of a commute for people in Delhi NCR, this offer is a testimonial to how Shuttl wants to revolutionize the way India commutes to work.
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