Intercity travel is a multi billion dollar segment in India. Trains and buses compete for the lion’s share in that segment. While the growth of trains has plateaued out, passengers still feel skeptical about opting buses as a preferred choice for intercity travel. RailYatri is offering its IntrCity bus service claims to be the first brand in the industry to undertake unique initiatives such a pre-sanitized private cabins, SmartBus boarding lounges, accidental Insurance cover for passengers along with on-board washroom and SmartBus Captain – personalized assistance on-boarded on every SmartBus. Talking to Financial Express Online, Swapnil Tripathi, Chief Business Officer of IntrCity RailYatri shared his views on intercity bus travel in India and how it can challenge trains and change the dynamics of surface transport in India. Excerpt:
Tell us more about IntrCity and have you been able to achieve pre-covid numbers?
We are simplifying intercity mobility by offering passengers with two choices – trains and buses. We are trying to solve a unique problem which is that people don’t compare trains and buses and they use to feel that bus is a differentiated service. To solve it and offer bus as a seamless option, we have created a differentiated fleet. Now we have created better options in the form of buses. Coming to the numbers, pre-covid we were doing 3 lakh transactions from Intercity smart bus plus routes where we don’t exist but people can book buses from our platform. Coming to the train numbers, today we stand at over 4 lakh transactions per month. There is small de-growth where we are not running smart bus like places where the market has not come back. Train, we have grown from pre-COVID numbers. We are doing 50% more than what we were doing pre-COVID. For buses, we are getting 60% more growth than what we were getting Pre-COVID numbers.
What are the changes you are seeing in the dynamics, in terms of consumer behavior?
In a normal scenario there is a higher chance of getting exposed to infections. While travelling to open crowded areas, chances are more to come in contact with unhygienic environments, and contamination can take place. Post-COVID, these things will not look out as top of mind worry, people look for what is the safest mode, then which is the safest player I can go in. In trains – there is only one choice – IRCTC. They are cleaning trains in a much better manner. In buses, worry is that bus one chooses has to be made contamination-free, hence the choice of mode starts shifting. We did a survey and reached out to people. Survey came out to be true. Hygiene, sanitation were top of the mind issues for consumer travelers. We introduced a 5-step cleaning process, we launched the idea of a private cabin. When you go in the bus, you can lock yourself in the cabin. We have bus lounges – where all measures of hygiene, sanitization are followed, social distancing is followed. Players who are promising all these measures are gaining faster market share.
How mobility and especially surface transport is evolving in your view?
Between train and bus – trains are expanding at low space, hence there is short supply at the train side. So how intercity mobility will grow? Answer is that commerce is increasing. Our segment is divided into functional traveling/ medical, college and jobs. If growth is happening in these buckets, naturally there is going to be an increase in demand for intercity buses. The only solution possible is buses. There is a larger push that is coming from the government’s side which is expansion and construction of highways. Earlier, for travelling between two cities, the problem was the quality of service provider and time taken. Buses need an upliftment and upgrade, because of that growth in mobility will happen.
What are your plans for expansion?
Most of our routes are where we are connecting a metro city to a tier two or three city. There are 6 to 8 bus fleets which are running between small cities. We are launching services where we are connecting tier 2 or tier 3 – like Jaipur to Ahmedabad which is active or Lucknow to Jaipur or From Madurai to Bangalore, Chennai. When we started – we started in an area that has a deficit. Most good private bus operators are in the south followed by west, followed by north and then east. We found there was a lack of quality, we started from Delhi to up and then further onwards. When it comes to pan-India launch, we will piggyback on the market where we can gain some market share. Today we are solving the intercity bus as a commute option. We don’t have a new age technology enabled aggregator like we are, there is no single largest private operator which exists across the country. We are the single largest player in north, south and west – hence by far we are the widest. Today our fleet size is nearly 130 buses.
How are you using technology for a better travel experience?
All our buses have been connected to our command center, there is an on board device which uses multi-sim technology. Data is saved offline in OBD. We have 100% connected buses. It stores cctv footage, it stores scanning of driver behavior, fuel in and out, storing, speed of bus etc. Passengers can do KYC on app. All this information is being sent to the information center. We note any unscheduled halt, or whether unauthorized people are getting onboard. On our consumer platform, you can track the bus, expected time of arrival, pre-order snacks that you want inside the bus, get a wake up call – all that is powered through the consumer app. On our IOT, you can see which bus is running late and ‘where is my bus’ tracker tells the exact time when the bus will come. We also take alcohol tests for drivers.
Tell us about the kind of bookings you have received till date, what are the trends?
We divide our bus destinations in three parts – functional travel like from Delhi to Gorakhpur or Delhi to Jalandhar and then leisure travel like Mumbai to Goa and the third category is pilgrimage travellike Hyderabad to Tirupati. First, the functional travel picked up – as soon travel restrictions were eased up. Those sectors picked up. We expected leisure to pick up last like the Manali service we started a month and a half ago only. It is 50% what we used to get in pre-COVID. Leisure is yet to reach pre-COVID numbers. Pilgrimage started much before leisure.
What are the challenges you see in the intercity bus operation and what are your future plans?
Intercity mobility industry is headed towards growth. It is the only mode which can grow. Trains won’t grow in number as there is certain limitation there. A train can’t have 30-35 coaches because of various factors like the engine capacity, length of platform, etc. Growth only has to happen in the bus segment. The Government announced one permit launch in February, one of the good policy restriction changes. We have plans to reach 2,000 buses in the next two years. From 130 fleet to 2,000. We are adding 30-35 buses every month. Largely, our execution strategy is deeper than wide. We are focusing more on vertical growth than horizontal.