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BW Businessworld

Anytime, Anywhere Transport

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The year 2014 was great for India for more reasons than one. We elected a new government, won a Nobel, were declared polio-free by the World Health Organization and became the first Asian nation to reach the Red Planet. We have indeed achieved quite a bit.
 
The transportation sector, too, saw a lot of action, with technology leading the way to make travel comfortable, predictable and safe. IRCTC came up with an Android app, enabling more people to book their tickets through mobile phones. The mobile phone as a medium of information and booking is emerging as the most preferred across the transportation space —be it flights, trains or cabs. The new government’s initiatives with regard to introducing high-speed trains and an integrated public transport project are some of the notable positives at the policy level.
 
Better Integration
As a country, we have an abysmally low car ownership ratio of 3 per cent compared to as much as 60 per cent in the west, and yet, our roads are clogged! It is likely that we will bypass car ownership as a phase in the Indian economy. And, with technology, it is possible to make transportation available as a service, instead of having a product such as a car sitting in the garage. This means never having to own a vehicle and yet being able to access one’s choice of transportation at a single touch. Of course, this would come with ease of access, instant availability and easy booking all the way up to cashless or invisible payments.
 
This is where mobile technology, as an information provider as well as an access provider, will play a big role. We are already seeing a transition: transportation is being utilised more on an on-demand basis than on a planned and pre-booked basis. Many people who travel to and from airports, offices, malls and pubs are booking their cabs using mobile apps, closer to their pick-up time. This is because they believe in the availability of the service, which leads to improved efficiency in terms of time and effort by the service provider. 
 
In future, such integration will happen at a much deeper level, where transportation systems will be interlinked and share information with one another. Imagine your booking for a cab automatically getting rescheduled to accommodate a delay in the flight you are taking the following morning!
 
As Easy As It Gets
The second aspect that I foresee in this space is increased convenience. A passenger will be able to book and use transportation, irrespective of the mode, at the click of a button. With the mobile phone emerging as the most preferred device — both for information as well as ticketing — why would we need physical tickets or invoices at all? Back in 2011, we pioneered the concept of e-invoices and SMS-based invoices for cabs booked on our app and we have only heard praise from customers on how convenient it is for them.
 
In terms of convenience, we have pioneered some key initiatives in the past year, leveraging mobile technology as the force to aggregate and streamline various modes of transportation. While in Mumbai we already have more than 8,000 kaali peeli taxis on the Ola app, users in cities such as Bangalore, Chennai and Pune can now book autos on the same app. 
We believe that transportation is all about use cases and there is substantial scope for every category of transportation to co-exist with others. Also, if we can extend the same convenience across use cases, everyone stands to benefit. The daily earnings of kaali peeli taxi drivers in Mumbai have risen up to 40 per cent after they got on to the Ola app.
 
In the cab space, Ola alone added more cars to the platform this year than the total number of cars added by the organised sector in the entire decade! We are now present in 28 cities and have more than 50,000 cabs on our platform — which is more than the size of the organised cab sector a few years ago. Many of these cars were added in tier-II and -III cities.
 
Small Cities As Growth Drivers
What is interesting to note is the third trend: of smaller cities as powerhouses of growth. With impressive smartphone penetration, aspiration for best-in-class products and services and, more importantly, lack of reliable transportation options, some of these cities have seen anywhere between 10-15x growth, month on month, for us. Also, over half the booking requests from customers in these small cities are made through the mobile app, which is very impressive.
I see tremendous potential for the transportation industry to create meaningful career opportunities for young India. Technology brings along with it tangible benefits such as greater accessibility, creating inclusion and addressing problems on a large scale. Many a driver has bought his own car, got onto a platform and turned entrepreneur. 
 
Besides, the driver also gets a skill upgrade from the association, enabling him to deliver a world-class experience. So, I believe that the transportation sector offers a great opportunity for sustainable livelihood creation through entrepreneurship.
 
The year 2015 brings with it a lot of promise for the transportation space. We are naturally aligned to the three key focus areas of the new government: Digital India, smart cities and resource up-skilling. These are truly exciting times to be living in.  
 
The author is co-founder and CEO, Olacabs
 
(This story was published in BW | Businessworld Issue Dated 26-01-2015)