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We provide experience & convenience through technology while operators manage buses: Manish Rathi

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The new-age technologies have transformed even the basics of our everyday life. Today we have mobile apps to order groceries, medicines, food, and whatnot. Then why should travel remain the old-school way? Manish Rathi, CEO & Co-Founder, IntrCity Smart Bus in an exclusive interview with Express Computer spoke about how IntrCity Smart Bus is making bus travel a smart, convenient, comfortable, and reliable experience.

IntrCity SmartBus is leveraging technologies like GPS tracking, online ticketing, chatbots, AI, etc. How does this give you an edge in the industry and how customers could reap the benefit of this?

IntrCity mobility technology platform is an asset-less model which creates a reliable, secure, and comfortable experience with a promise of on-time travel. IntrCity SmartBus has worked towards standardising inter-city bus journey experience for Bharat travellers. The primary reason that platform helps deliver on these promises is due to the fact that SmartBus is a connected bus with real-time data and insights available to perform various actions including real-time tracking and enables operators to take decisions on the running buses.

IntrCity Mobility Ecosystem includes a suite of applications namely – a Consumer Platform, Operator Dashboard, Crew App, IOT-based Fleet Analytics, and 24X7 Command Centre. It is a complete platform that covers every facet of intercity bus operations and serves inter-city travellers to provide the utmost journey experience. 

IntrCity SmartBus provides the technology platform that creates the travel experience while bus owners/operators handle on-ground operations. This amalgamation leads to High Net Performance Score (NPS) and a better fill rate. To implement a network of “connected buses” for seamless, on-the-go monitoring and smooth operations, the platform uses IoT fleet analytics, which enables monitoring in real-time performance of each vehicle and analytics of the same for smooth performance.

IntrCity SmartBus recognised the concerns about safety issues individuals had when riding in buses, therefore the platform offers CCTV, WiFi-connected buses, real-time bus tracking, and safe boarding areas to solve the concern of safety. Our command centre is connected to all of our buses. An onboard device takes advantage of multi-sim technology. It saves CCTV footage, driver behaviour scans, fuel in and out, bus speed, and other data. The passengers may track the bus, find out when it will arrive, order refreshments for the bus in advance, and set the alarm on our consumer platform. For drivers, we also administer alcohol testing. 

What were some of the major issues with the old-school way of inter-city bus operations and what are some key areas where there’s still a need for transformation?  

During our initial research, we found that there are essentially two modes- trains and buses that account for over 90 percent of the total inter-city travel. However, people always used to prefer trains over buses as they were considered more comfortable, safe, and most importantly had washrooms. The reason inter-city buses were not preferred were largely due to the lack of standardised experience and operators had no single integrated technology platform to monitor the performance of buses and provide a smooth experience. Primarily the operators had to rely on monitoring their staff with the help of phone calls and offline charts they carried.

In 2019, IntrCity SmartBus identified this gap and introduced the IntrCity SmartBus. IntrCity SmartBus is a pioneer in safe inter-city mobility initiatives like pre-sanitised private cabins, five-step cleaning and sanitization protocol, mandatory KYC procedures, contactless check-ins, and safe and hygienic SmartBus lounges. We have in-bus washrooms for a safe, smooth, and hygienic experience. At present, we manage over 51 safe boarding zones including SmartBus lounges and partner-managed convenient boarding points. 

Apart from the above, IntrCity SmartBus offers never-before-seen facilities and innovative features, such as special seat options for extra-tall travellers, pregnant ladies, or women with infants, private cabins, and extra spacious seating areas for plus-size travellers provide both safety and extra comfort.

The current roadblock for the industry would be full acceptance of the “One Nation One Permit”. The one tax is definitely the right step by the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways (MoRTH) and the scheme would serve as a one-stop shop for bus operators across India. The act would assist operators in defining their own boundaries while competing in today’s aggressive work environment. This scheme would also mark a digital transition from traditional paper submissions to a fully automated online mode.

How is IntrCity SmartBus making travel an easy affair for customers irrespective of their age group making it more accessible, affordable, and inclusive? 

IntrCity SmartBus powers branded fleets of intercity buses and offers travellers across the nation a uniform travelling experience. IntrCity leverages AI and ML technology to help people track the real-time movements of buses, allowing their loved ones to keep tabs on their positions. This is especially important for the safety of women and elderly people.

As some elderly individuals are unable to use consumer apps, bus operators are available at bus stops to assist passengers with purchasing tickets and navigating the entire journey. After the pandemic, we installed in-built restrooms for a secure, comfortable, and hygienic experience. Also, a five-step sanitization process which helps in the proper cleaning of the buses. 

For every seat, we also offer passengers accidental and medical insurance coverage worth INR 2 lakh which provides assurance to all age group people. In an industry-first move, the business created IntrCity SmartBus Lounges to give customers a convenient and safe boarding experience. The Smart Bus Lounges include air-conditioned waiting areas with Wi-Fi connectivity, charging ports, plenty of clean seating space, recliners, tea and coffee, clean restrooms, as well as laptop workstations for working professionals.

In your perspective, how the amalgamation of emerging technologies and public transport is reshaping the future of India’s mobility sector? 

Inter-city mobility has changed massively with the advancement of technology. Several technological and social factors have accelerated the rate of change in the mobility industry in recent years. And, when it comes to road transportation, innovation is critical for keeping an edge over the competition with features such as real-time vehicle monitoring and tracking, monitoring driver performance from a remote location for seamless operations, and easy management of a larger fleet of vehicles.

Smart technology enables Mobility-as-a-Service, facilitating seamless communication between two important modes of transportation: bus and train. Furthermore, new-age technology anticipates what might go wrong and provides solutions to fix it, which can reduce unnecessary depot stops and unplanned downtime. This allows them to save up to 50 percent on maintenance and repair costs, better optimise assets, and run more efficient operations.

What are some upcoming technological developments that the IntrCity SmartBus is planning to bring in? 

We have been working on technology advancements across three primary pillars – customer-facing, operator-facing, and fleet management and have been working on digitising every part of the ecosystem. One of the recent advancements we are working on is in the area of luggage tagging where every piece of luggage is tagged to a PNR and handed over only after KYC validation. Similarly, there are use cases around single-click booking for regular travellers where they block their seats and pay inside the bus.

Operators today rely on IntrCity for decision-making and one of the use cases is that we will soon digitise their vehicle overall performance dashboard for fuel, driver behaviour, business performance, breakdown, and help them get better returns on every vehicle.

In India, there are towns where internet connectivity is still an issue like hilly areas or remote areas. Do you think having a smart transportation system across the country is still a far-fetched dream?

IntrCity is all about the standard experience where technology plays a role for both consumers and SME bus operators. An individual consumer simply needs basic internet bandwidth to book the ticket. Similarly, our operator partners access the platform through their app which again needs basic internet connectivity. 

The solution to the connectivity of tier-2 & 3 cities with nearby metros or business centres is to make intercity buses a reliable, safe, and convenient mode of transportation. In fact, smart transportation is the only way to ensure that individuals, businesses, and SMEs from smaller cities are able to conduct business and travel seamlessly with other smaller cities and nearby metros. 

We believe that the Government of India has been doing its part with the Indian road network to reach world-class standards with wide-scale expansions and makeovers. Highways are the most integral aspect of a country’s functioning, connecting people, goods, and other raw materials. Besides, the central government’s ‘Bharatmala’ project has helped in vigorously building a solid network of roads, highways, and expressways. India also plans to build at least 26 green expressways by 2025. India’s expanding road and highway network has even reached the neglected and treacherous terrains of the Northeastern and Northern parts of the country.

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