I'm the Technology Editor at Forbes India and I love writing about all things tech. Explaining the big picture, where tech meets business and society, is what drives me. I don't get to do that every day, but I live for those well-crafted stories, written simply, sans jargon.
From the rise of the sharing economy, Young India is moving quickly to small and solo, choosing cycles/ e-bikes to commute to work for health and safety. Bike rental startup Yulu’s co-founder, Amit Gupta, speaks to Forbes India about the future of mobility in a post-Covid-19 world. Edited excerpts:
Q. What will transportion look like in the Post-Covid-19 world in India, in the medium and long term? Social distancing is likely to become the norm while people commute too. Solo ridership, safety and sanitisation will take priority. We did a survey on urban commuting post-lockdown, and got some interesting insights. It clearly underlined that safety from the coronavirus remains the topmost priority for everyone who is commuting. Another interesting finding was that 70 percent of users preferred to pay a premium over and above the regular cost for safety and sanitisation.
As Yulu’s model focuses on the solo commute, we are witnessing a V-shaped recovery, with 1.6X growth in the percentage of new users and a 50 percent increase in the distance as well as usage time. Q. What will happen to public transport, especially when the majority can’t afford private vehicles? Given the current situation, people would be hesitant to choose crowded commute options. Public transport saw a drop of 24.6 percent in our recent survey. Current public transport infrastructure cannot meet this new demand of ensuring social distancing, and it is unrealistic to expect everybody to have access to a private vehicle.
Reinventing is the only option. Public transport will have to realign to social distancing norms, by expanding services, boosting capacity and increasing frequency, and implementing new methods of seating and frequent sanitisation. Alternate commute options like driverless, solo and sustainable mobility will help in moving millions of Indians. Metros should operate at 15 percent capacity with no more than 60 people in a coach and buses should operate with 50 percent capacity. All these measures will have to be taken as a regular practice to help commuters take public transport. Q. Within cities and towns, will new models of ride-hailing emerge that can be part of the solution? Ride-hailing companies are also experimenting with various business models. Our survey results indicated 22% of the users preferred to rent a vehicle for the long-term, versus share rides.
Yulu, for instance, has introduced a long-term rental plan, flexible up to 60 days. This enables the users to request a doorstep delivery, battery swap and also allows them to pick up any vehicle from nearest Yulu Zones. Q. What can be done to ensure that, for example, when an infected person uses a scooter, the same scooter isn’t shared with other users? While we expect the infected person to be quarantined and avoid traveling until fully recovered, citizens’ safety is Yulu’s topmost priority; we are following a tech-enabled sanitisation process where our vehicles are sanitised several times a day through a WHO-recommended sanitiser, and the last sanitised timestamp is shown to users on the app.
In the future, businesses might offer on-demand sanitisation, where the user will interact with on ground staff and offer vehicle and personal sanitisation at discounted rates. Q. What will be the role of the Internet of Things (IoT), artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning (ML) in all of this? We are the only company to showcase the last sanitised timestamp to users. We believe in data-driven business and have developed ML/AI models powered by data gathered from users. We also intend to use IoT devices to provide better user experience and increase operational efficiency.
Q. What new infrastructure will cities have to deploy to make transportation safe in a world with Covid-19? The pandemic has changed the way people work and commute. In cities across the world that have reopened, the ridership of public transport starts off low. Cities should come up with an alternative commuting system and promote the adoption of NMT (non-motorised transport) in a big way. Young
We need dedicated bus and NMT lanes, along with more awareness on social distancing while in transit. We should leverage technology for hassle-free user experience for example seamless fare payment through e-ticketing options and use digital data to inform service planning.