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Buses, bringing down price points to address mobility needs of everybody: Director of central operations, Uber India

Ride-hailing platform Uber has started a pilot in Gurgaon to let commuters book bus tickets on the Uber app. This is a part of the company’s strategy to provide multi-modal urban transportation services, and addresses the mobility needs of consumers seeking lower price points, Nitish Bhushan, director of central operations at Uber India, told Pranav Mukul in an interview. Edited excerpts:

What is the big picture strategy of getting into buses?

Obviously Uber is associated just with cabs, but our vision is to be the platform for any kind of transportation, and address all use-cases and all price points and also do this ideally in a way in which we can move more people in fewer vehicles.

This is the first-of-its-kind partnership that we’re doing. We’ve tied up with GMCBL to start buses on two routes. These Gurugaman buses are actually their buses but they will be available on the Uber app. These two routes have been identified based on years of demand pattern data that we have so this is an example of demand responsive public transportation instead of static public transportation, in which routes are fixed without much data and they remain static for years. For consumer, they get the affordability of public transportation along with the convenience and safety, which technology can deliver.

What kind of customer would typically go for this kind of a service? If one is already an Uber user for cabs or autos, how likely is he to be a bus customer?

Firstly, we don’t think that people who are currently using cabs or autos will not move to buses. If planned properly, there is no reason why people who can afford cabs will not move to a bus. Buses have their own advantage — most importantly the fact that it is more affordable but also they can be more efficient.

By marketing this to existing Uber users, we believe that there will be a lot of people who would want to move to public transportation. We also think that there is a segment of people who are today not on Uber, or not using Uber frequently — because for them price points of UberGo may not be something they can use on an everyday basis, and are currently using public transport or personal vehicles — and would want to shift to public transportation powered by Uber.

Is this like a stepping stone for users into the Uber experience that leads them to other products?

We’ve been on this multi-modal journey for a while now. Uber started not just as a cab service but as a luxury cab service and then we got hatchbacks and sedans, then we launched inter-city services, autos, rentals. So from that standpoint, we see that most of our high-engagement users are taking trips across modes. Of course as we bring price points down — and buses is a way for us to do that — then, yes, they can choose whatever mode works best for them, and people end up choosing the mode on the basis of use-case rather than just affordability.

It sounds like the entry-level Netflix mobile-only plan…

We will keep exploring ways to bring price points down. We have to be able to address the mobility needs of everybody, and part of how to do it is to bring price points down. It’s also about use cases, whether it is short trips, whether you want to keep a car for a longer time.

How have you arrived at the Rs 7/km fare for the bus routes?

The rates have been set by  Gurugram Metropolitan City Bus Ltd (GMCBL ) based on their current offerings. We are obviously the technology provider so there is a commercial arrangement as well. But this is a pilot so all of these things will become critical as we take it to many more routes, and to other providers in the country. Right now, for the purpose of this pilot, honestly it’s not so important.

Are you talking to any other service providers across the country for this kind of an arrangement?

We can’t go into that but we are in active conversations of course. This is so unique that we are really hopeful that if this is successful, other public city bus providers will see this to be very relevant. I don’t think this has been done before — routes can change based on demand pattern, and consumers can see all the safety and convenience features. HCV (heavy commercial vehicle) is a very important part of our agenda globally as well as in India. HCV as a service is live for us in Cairo and is working really well. We have invested a lot in engineering capacities in India to build this. Overall, providing high-capacity vehicles and buses is a big part of our game plan in India, including a model like this where we don’t necessarily have to onboard new buses but cover a city’s existing buses.

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How much is this dependent on service providers earmarking capacity that is available exclusively on Uber? Is it possible to plug in to existing bus networks?

It is interesting, and I’m sure models can be tweaked. It really depends on what happens in this pilot. We believe that the value-add that Uber is doing right now is pre-booked seats. And that is only possible if the entire demand is being generated by Uber. We are confident in our ability to generate this demand. But that demand is being generated based on a certain value proposition being given to the consumer and pre-booked seats is a part of that.

So why haven’t you attempted this with private bus operators?

We already have a B2B shuttle service, which we launched in September 2021. We saw huge interest as people were looking for safe ways to go to work. We launched it in seven cities. We will continue to explore this model as well — using existing fleets that are there in the market, including private fleets and bringing them on Uber and exposing them to Uber user base. That is going to be a part of our plan. We are focussed on B2B services as well. The Cairo model is actually working on that. The way we are running shuttle buses in Cairo is exactly what you’re referring to.




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