From Idea to Impact: the Genesis of IntrCity SmartBus

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In an exclusive interview with Coach Builders India, CEO and Co-Founder, Manish Rathi talks about the inception of IntrCity SmartBus as well as the dynamics of the bus market in India. 

Intercity SmartBus Founder Manish Rathi talks about the genesis of the start-up

The bus industry in India is rapidly changing. Sustainable economic development, rapid urbanization, and a growing middle class with disposable income have resulted in a consumer base that desires nothing but the best in comfort and amenities.

What was once a need-based industry is now metamorphosing fast into an industry that is driven solely by aspirations.

To meet this growing on-demand economy, the bus industry in India has witnessed the foray of several start-ups and exceptional business models in recent years.

One of the most successful of them all is IntrCity SmartBus by RailYatri. An asset-light model, IntrCity SmartBus guarantees an intuitive journey with modern amenities to ensure a one-of-a-kind experience for passengers and fleet operators alike. 

Excerpts from the interview.

Manish Rathi (MR): IntrCity SmartBus is India’s 1st pan-India fleet of branded buses offering a standardized set of services and features. You can call it the next-gen way of bus travel. It’s smart and it’s safe. The key promise can be summarized as ‘Convenience Comfort and Safety‘.

We’ve looked at several pain points in a consumer’s bus travel experience very closely and tried to solve them in order of severity. Although there is a lot that can be done, at a concept level we are trying to organize the industry and provide some standardization in all the phases of a journey viz., planning, booking, boarding, and the actual journey.

MR: In India, the number of intercity travelers by road and rail is estimated to be over 50 million daily, with a 65% overlap between bus and train routes. While trains have not seen any significant enhancement in their passenger-carrying capacity, buses have been growing and evolving at the regional level.

There are more than 5,000 nationwide bus operators today. But there is a demand-side gap because the market is unorganized, and there is a trust deficit.

We also realized that the interchangeability of modes of transport is extremely important for travelers, and wanted to enable that on RailYatri.

So, essentially, if you are traveling intercity from Point A to B, and not have confirmed train tickets, RailYatri’s algorithms will suggest the best possible bus route to you as an alternate, allow you to purchase a ticket, choose a seat, and even send you a vehicle from its newly-launched IntrCity SmartBus fleet.

Image of an IntrCity SmartBus Sleeper bus on the Mumbai Goa route

MR: All the buses carry a uniform external branding that’s vibrant while the interiors are warm, welcoming, and pleasant.

We have an on-board toilet that comes in very handy for female passengers, senior citizens, and passengers with kids. This also reduces the number of pit stops a bus needs to take.

There is in-bus (BYOD) entertainment along with Wi-Fi, comfortable sleeper beds, neat and clean upholstery and blankets, mobile holders, mobile chargers, etc. All in all, our buses are equipped with all modern amenities that make long-distance travel by bus easier and better.

On the softer experience – we have what we call an on-time departure promise to ensure the bus leaves on time and reaches on time. Our drivers and the crew are trained and we have also introduced a Bus Captain for basic on-board assistance.

We have also launched air-conditioned waiting lounges to give a good pre-boarding/layover experience to the passengers with facilities like drinking water, coffee, toilets, booking counters, Wi-Fi, charging points, and such.

Such lounges are already operational and being widely used in Lucknow and Bangalore and we are coming up with more across cities.

MR: Passenger safety is one of the foremost priorities and hence, our Smart Buses are equipped with CCTV monitoring and GPS for real-time tracking. The command center monitors all CCTV cameras to monitor driver behavior and check for unauthorized access inside the bus.

Besides, using the GPS feed the command center can also detect overspeeding.

Additionally, a bus captain keeps watch on every passenger’s safety and staff behavior. Above and beyond all the preventive safety measures, all the passengers of IntrCity Smart Buses are covered with a handsome insurance policy of up to Rs.7 Lakhs.

MR: It is definitely a challenge but therein lies the opportunity. We are investing immense resources and putting in major efforts to train the staff. We are also planning to improve their lifestyle by ensuring benefits such as health insurance. They are being trained in communication skills, observing safety regulations, behavior with women, the importance of customer care, the importance of good sleep, and such.

Shortly, we might introduce crowd crowd-sourced rating mechanism for drivers and incentivize them from good behavior.

MR: Absolutely! All the safety features we discussed above come in handy for female passengers. After all, every journey is about peace of mind — for both the traveler and her well-wishers. Knowing that the bus is under surveillance and it can be tracked live is a good first step. Additionally, the staff is sensitized towards their behavior toward female travelers.

Intercity Smartbus Captains helping passengers in boarding the bus.

MR: Honestly, there is a lot that the operators can look forward to in this partnership.

Bus operators in India often get pulled down by the ‘do-it-all’ entrepreneur syndrome which is typical for SMEs in India. In a typical scenario, an average operator cannot afford to think much beyond day-to-day operations to bring in the overall experience together.

This is where we come in. Within the IntrCity ecosystem, they can now focus on core operations and leave customer satisfaction and demand generation to us.

Besides, they get a major facelift and all the benefits of a tech platform like marketing, tech support, customer support, timely payouts, better automobile insurance, etc.

MR: We are currently looking to expand on established routes and organize the sector before we start with new and routes.

As of now, we already are serving over 50,000 travelers per month through our IntrCity SmartBus fleet, and expect to grow 5x this year.

About 60% of wait-listed train passengers have moved seamlessly to buses. Shortly, we are expecting to impact about 97% of intercity travelers in India.

Also, by the end of this fiscal, we are planning to run at least 300 buses in 70-80 high-demand routes across 30 cities and targeting a fleet of about 2,000 buses in the next two years.

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