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URBAN TRANSPORT - Software with Wheels You Can Hop Inside

Feb 03 2015 : The Economic Times (Delhi)

There was a time when the only way you could get a reliable software to work on your computer was by getting a CD off the retailer's shelf. And then came the cloud where you could simply use it off a browser with a login ID and pay for what you used. The transition of software as a product to being a service brought with it benefits of scale, accessibility and, more importantly, a win-win for the whole ecosystem.

Transportation in India has a similar potential today . The dynamics are similar, so are the constraints. We have a very low car ownership ratio, as little as 3% compared to over 50% in the West. Despite about 20% of the world's population living in India, we don't have enough ways to get them around sustainably in our cities.

That calls for a reliable and scalable platform whose focus should be on building a holistic ecosystem in which every stakeholder wins: the customer, with more choice, better prices and immense availability; the driver, with more revenue, better opportunities and improved standard of living; the city and the country at large, by making available a fantastic transportation network that promises a reliable and safe solution for everyone and lower carbon footprint.

While the average urban Indian may be able to afford a car today , the question is: will the ecosystem be able to accept more cars on the road? Parking woes, traffic jams, maintenance hassles and frequent accidents are bound to rise if we look at transportation as a product parked in the garage. If transportation can be made available to a user when she needs it, the problem is solved. On the surface, this would mean lower cost of transportation for the user and a livelihood created for a driver. But on the ground level, what does it take to make this possible?

Availability: A culture of consuming transportation as a service comes from immense availability -when there are cars out there when you need them. This means getting more customers to create that demand and more drivers to get on to platforms to serve such demand.

Choice: Transportation is all about `use' cases. That means that there will be times when an auto is the best and cheapest way to get from point A to B.On other occasions, a business-class sedan might be perfect. When it comes to personal transportation, all modes should coexist, and it is important to bring the same level of convenience here to serve any `use' case. While the trip experience may vary , the booking experience could be standardised.

Seamlessness: Every small element -from checking to booking and boa rding to payments -can create a significant impact in making transportation possible as a service. For instance, making the process of sharing directions with the driver and paying him towards the end of the ride has now been made invisible. The map on your app picks up your default location and your driver gets navigation to reach you. You need not even have to pay cash to your driver. Each of these elements brings your experience closer to a ride in your own car.

Reliability: If you are going to give up driving for good, you might as well expect a skilled resource driving you around. And with it comes a sense of ownership, security and, most importantly , an infrastructure to make this possible at a scale so that you have a consistent experience with every ride.The solution here is entrepreneurship at the driver-level. Drivers are given access to turn into an entrepreneur by helping them buy a car directly from the manufacturers, to have access to finance from non-banking financial companies, being financially included and a host of other aspects. When such an ecosystem is created, the driver is ready to turn into an entrepreneur. We then top it off with rigorous training, giving him access to technology and continuous revenue, and help him create a consistent experience for customers.

India will leapfrog the car-ownership phase and will step into consuming transportation on a pay-as-you-go basis. This reminds me of an anecdote from a student gathering I was addressing. Before I talked about what I do and what the vision for Ola is, I asked for a show of hands on who wants to buy the latest smartphone. Almost every hand went up. When I asked who wants to buy the latest car out there, there were barely four or five.

Source: The Economic Times