MANISH RATHI, CEO and Co-founder, IntrCity RailYatri, says the COVID-19 pandemic opened the floodgates of opportunity for IntrCity’s SmartBus business and helped it carve out a niche in the intercity mobility segment
What have been the highlights of your journey from the time you set up the RailYatri portal to now? How did you address business challenges?
The journey of IntrCity RailYatri began in 2014 as a start-up providing analytics-based real-time rail travel information, and we now solve problems for the larger set of Indian surface travellers. Initially, we were looking at the basic problems of delays and waitlists of trains, where people were not able to get a seat on a train. We soon realized that the problem to be solved is not on trains, but on roads. We came to know that on every route where there is a train waitlist, sleeper buses were running unoccupied. We dug into details about why people are averse to the idea of bus travel. We then identified the breakpoints to this problem and that is when our entry into road travel began. Around 50 million people in India travel daily and there aren't enough berths in trains to accommodate these many travellers. This diversification led to launch of the IntrCity SmartBus fleet, that combines mobility with technology, and acts as a powerful substitute for trains and a convenient mode of transport for the modern-day intercity budget traveller.
As trains stopped running during the lockdown, tell us how IntrCity RailYatri responded to the situation, and actually took the opportunity to grow. What kind of booking volumes does your online bus booking platform currently see?
When the pandemic hit, travel demand came to a halt as train and bus services were shut down completely during the initial months of the lockdown. We did an extensive consumer survey to gauge consumer sentiments and put in place rigorous safety protocols and measures including COVID Safe+ features on all buses. COVID-19 opened the floodgates of opportunity for IntrCity SmartBus and helped us carve out a niche in the intercity mobility segment. We crossed our pre-COVID numbers in November 2020 and are currently seeing faster month-on-month growth. We are currently 75% above our pre-COVID numbers.
What have been the innovations and investments in your business to expand its presence and improve the overall journey experience of travellers? What role does IoT technology play?
We kick-started the tech revolution in the private surface transport sector much before the pandemic. Tech solutions helped us resume the pace and efficiency at which we were operating before the pandemic. We leverage IoT (Internet of Things) technologies on both our platforms and run a powerful consumer app for pre-booking and other services to plan hassle-free travel. The app incorporates useful features such as ‘Track My Boarding Points System’, wherein a customer is notified about where to stand, nearest bus stops, etc. All buses are equipped with onboard washrooms, full wi-fi connectivity, an automatic passenger information system and an onboard infotainment system. It has also installed GPS, and an AI-enabled driver alert to track driver fatigue. We launched 30 air-conditioned IntrCity SmartBus lounges to offer a safe and convenient boarding experience to customers.
What next? What are your plans for the long and short term for the business?
We are expanding at a rapid pace and currently attract more than one lakh travellers every month. Recently we crossed a loyal base of more than four lakh travellers who take our buses frequently. We have a strong base in the South, with 270+ active routes, but our presence in West India is limited to only 60+ routes; so our aim is to now grow rapidly across Maharashtra and Gujarat.
What are the current challenges before the intercity surface mobility industry?
Trains are still the preferred mode of inter-city transportation for the average Indian traveller, and a significant segment is still not comfortable to travel by buses, especially overnight travel. The best way to tackle this disparity is to enable the two modes of transportation to communicate with each other. When planning their journey, travellers should be aware of intercity buses as an alternative that is equally reliable and safe. This would divert seat availability strain from one mode while shifting some traffic to the other mode and make intercity travel convenient for people.
In brief, what is one strong belief that guides you as an individual?
I believe optimism is a magnet, and if you stay positive and optimistic, it will reflect in both your personal and professional life. Especially during the pandemic, when the situation was quite uncertain, positivity and optimism helped me sail through.