Pandemic has changed the way India travels. The modes of travel and transport are getting diversified and buses are filling in a very critical gap left by airlines and railways. Bus aggregator firms are shoring up fleets of buses to deliver end-to-end standardized intercity travel experience at affordable prices. One such company, zingbus, connects over 100 cities across states of Delhi (UT), Punjab, Haryana, Jammu (UT), HP, UP, Uttarakhand, Rajasthan, Maharashtra, and Gujarat through thousands of daily connections. It has emerged as one of the preferred service providers on popular routes. In an exclusive conversation with the Financial Express Online Prashant Kumar, Co-Founder & CEO, zingbus talked about the current scenario and trends of travel, what enables them to increase the utilization of assets and cater to more travellers per bus and more. Excerpts:
What are the reasons behind the paradigm shift of consumers towards intercity bus travel space?
In the past decade, with railways suffering from a quintessential capacity crunch, and airlines, taxis and personal vehicles still unaffordable for the majority of Indians, buses have emerged as the most popular choice for intercity and interstate travel. During the pandemic times, there has been a further sharp increase in the roads which were constructed in India. In metro cities like Delhi, Chennai, Kolkata, and Mumbai the intercity bus travel has become a more affordable and rapid option for the passengers to reach from one place to another as the quality of roads has improved a lot.
The pickup points of the buses are much near to the localities for the passengers to hop on to the buses, this grants the passengers more freedom and a hassle-free medium to commute safely and it provides a comfortable journey as well. The bus aggregators are also making sure that the bus crew are fully vaccinated and the seats are sanitized. The buses now have more powerful engines which take less time for travelling which attracts more passengers as everyone in these times values time a lot and by saving a few hours it gives the passengers an extra added benefit.
How is Intercity bus travel space contributing to the entire travel Industry?
Intercity bus travel has raised the bar higher for the entire travel industry as it has now filled its deck up with all the facilities and amenities which are needed on a regular basis for the modern traveller. It is adding up gradually with the help of technology and consumer insights and aims to provide the best experience of the journey to its passengers. Now, the modern consumer can now avail the benefits like comfort, fast buses, Centrally Air Conditioned buses, etc. at an affordable price for short as well as long routes. It has now given the passengers another option or we can say a better alternative to the passengers to travel instead of the old means to commute. It now best serves the needs of the customer and by serving them it has influenced the state transportation services to level up its services to meet the demands of these post-pandemic times. Also, the improvement in quality and length of the road network has made intercity bus travel quicker and comfortable. It has also brought untapped and unexplored routes and destinations on the travel map of India, connecting remote locations, and facilitating travel.
Thoughts on emergence of EV’s in bus segments? Will that be the future ahead for bus travel?
EV’s carry a huge scope in the bus segment and without any doubt we can say that the future is rise and shine for such buses. The zero emission mobility solution provides an eco eco-friendly way to commute, it also cuts down on the noise pollution which occurs due to loud noise of the buses. The governments and other policies will be supporting its use in the future ahead for the buses in the EV segment.
What stays ahead for intercity bus travel space?
Electric, connected and dynamic is the future of intercity bus mobility. Startups and aggregators will lead the way towards a more customer friendly and technology driven approach. Travelers will have access to safe, reliable and affordable options to travel. The next few years will see heavy consolidation of demand and supply in the industry. These phenomena are happening across the globe and India being the biggest bus market will not be an exception.
As Intercity travel rises in demand, What kind of modifications are needed to the system for safe travel?
With more people using buses everyday, we need authorities to maintain safety around pick up and drop points. Beside this, we need definitions and observance of hygiene standards in services across cities and states. Efforts for women safety like a helpline number and verified crew members should be made mandatory for all bus services.
zingbus recently raised 44.6 crores funding. How will the brand utilize the funding?
In the midst of the ongoing pandemic, zingbus has become one of the most popular bus travel brands in the country, connecting more than 100 cities and towns across the country. The freshly raised funds will be utilized to develop technology for the next leap of improvement in traveler experience and expand the service to new geographies. The startup is also hiring across engineering, product, business, and operations profiles.
Future Plans of zingbus.
We are committed to build technology promoting safety and affordability of services and create sustainable mobility infrastructure. We are running projects which would make bus travel much more attractive for customers like door-to-door connections, value-added services, and much more. We aim to deploy 250+ buses by the end of this year, and 1000+ buses by the end of next year.
Impact of Pandemic and how is zingbus bouncing back to its previous pace?
As we all know the pandemic has had a severe impact on the travel industry as a whole, during the lockdown period all the things were shut and the whole world came to a standstill. We see the pandemic as a black swan event for the entire intercity bus industry. It has upended this unorganized, highly fragmented, and mainly unbranded market. Pandemic has led to higher expectations of hygiene and safety from customers. Contactless, hassle-free boarding process, amongst other technology tools, has helped us fulfill this post-covid need beautifully. Once the traveler associates zingbus’s brand with safety, they prefer it over others. Simultaneously by building tools for audits, boarding, and demand management, we have been able to help struggling traditional fleet owners in coping with the operational challenges with minimum manpower investment from their side in a post lockdown world. This approach towards standardization and increasing digital reach has allowed us to grow almost 10% week on week since we resumed the services post-pandemic.
How is zingbus investing in technology to improve the intercity travel experience for travellers?
We have invested heavily in creating data platforms which help us generate useful customer insights and design the network of routes in a dynamic and intelligent manner. Feedback closure technology tools which allow us to convert customer reviews into solid actionable on a per trip, per seat basis has enabled us to become the highest rated bus service across OTA platforms. Our repeat numbers are more than 50% which is highly unusual for this industry.
We use machine learning and predictive algorithms to ensure maximum yield of our operator partners while remaining affordable for our travelers. The engine optimizes for seat miles being sold per bus per day which then reflects into a major jump in earnings per week for a bus as a unit. During the farmer protests during which we saw a heavy down-surge in demand, we have extensively utilized our inventory management module to make sure that most of our bus fleet was active.
“Safety” inside the coach has obviously been a huge concern for travelers post pandemic. We deployed multiple tool kits for the bus crew which allowed them to ensure that every trip was sanitized and all safety norms were followed every time. This not only ressured the faith of travelers in zingbus, but also helped in dissipating the taboo associated with travel.
Apart from delivering a superior travel experience and increasing the yield of buses, technology tools have helped our fleet operators run their buses with maximum transparency and minimum overheads. We have streamlined workflows for every stakeholder attached with bus operations to ensure that there is no redundancy of effort and a seamless flow of information is maintained.