BusIndia was launched last year along in cooperation with the government of India. We spoke to co-founder of the company Venu Myneni, to understand what they are planning to do next. Myneni claims that the site now has 10 lakh registered users with an ARPU of Rs 350-400 and 90% of the bus inventory in India. He says that the service currently offers bus tickets for 17 Road Transport Corporations (RTCs) with plans to add two more this month. The number of registered users seems to be increasing at a rate of 2 lakh a month.
Plans to add private operators
BusIndia has been offering RTC buses only till now, but it will start offering tickets for private buses in routes that are not supported by RTCs very soon. “We are in talks with RTCs to figure out how we can do this without affecting our relationship with them. As of now, we are considering adding private operators in areas where the RTCs do not have a service. We are adding good private operators and when I say good operators, I mean services that are doing a professional job. This is important as some play with the system and then do unprofessional things, such as running more buses in a route without permits, not ensuring safety requirements etc. We don’t want any of those companies. We are not working with governments and aggregators to reach these private companies and filter the list,” he said.
RTCs vs private operators
From what we have noticed, RTCs don’t like ticket booking sites offering their tickets along with that of private operators. There was a crackdown on private bus operators in several states such as Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh. Following which RTCs had cut off the option to book private buses from websites such as redBus. “We want to cover more routes and government buses are not available in all of them. So we are talking to the RTCs on how we can add private operators,” Myneni says.
It is worth noting that the services such as redBus use feed from BusIndia for booking RTC buses. After a series of accidents involving private buses, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh governments had cracked down on private operators and this had indirectly affected players like redBus and the RTCs no longer wanted their tickets sold via the service. Myneni refused to comment on the controversy, but said that government should play a more pro-active role in the bus industry, instead of cracking down on private buses after major accidents.
“Even if we add private operators, we cannot personally check the quality of service of each private bus just before departure; the enforcement need to be done by the government. The problem here is that there are some operators who get greedy and break these regulations and the government takes action only when there is an incident. Government need to be more pro-active when regulating the bus industry.
“They need to train drivers and educate agencies on the proper guidelines to be followed. This needs to be followed up with enforcement. This is important as lives depend on this. What happens these days is that government takes some action after a major accident and after a while, things go back to the way they were. The other extreme is stopping private operators altogether; that we can’t do either. When you can offer private airlines where safety is a bigger issue, why not privates buses,” he says.
“RTCs wanted to focus to business than technology so we built the whole technology stack for them on a build, own and transfer model. Now for each ticket sold, we get a commission. This commission depends on the size of the order and varies from Rs 5 to Rs 15 depending on the RTC and the sort of relationship we have with them. Some RTCs follow a percentage model while others give a fixed commission,” Myneni says.
On launching the service
“The company, RadiantInfo, has been around since 1997 and we were focusing on various government projects such as smart cards and other egov initiatives. Around 1999, we started offering logistics and technology solutions to transport authorities in various states and in the process ended up building an e-reservation system. We also set up the infrastructure, databases etc that these RTCs needed to operate online services. These systems were first used by KSRTC (Karnataka) in 2005. After that we approached other road transport authorities to launch similar services and we eventually approached the central government who connected us to Central Institute for Road Transport (CIRT). So then CIRT called for a bid to create an integrated system for road transport corporations across the country. We won the bid and launched BusIndia,” Myneni says.
The company has been working with the central government so that people can book RTC bus tickets from places such as post offices. The deal is almost done and it will be implemented at the end of May. This deal also includes the expansion of offline plans in states such as Tamil Nadu and Gujarat where Radiant runs a master franchise.
“We are offering ticket selling through franchise route and in some other places we have joined hands with players with many outlets and are offering tickets through them. These offline sales will help people in smaller towns who do not have a computer or online access. They can go to these kiosks or stalls to buy bus tickets. We have about 100 franchises in Tamil Nadu it’s working very well there. These booking centres receive a commission directly from the RTC,” Myneni says.
Train ticket reservations coming soon
He says that surface transport ministry had supported the facilitation of a deeper connection between IRCTC and the bus ticketing site. Other travel sites also let you book train tickets, but you still need an IRCTC account to complete the transaction. It is not clear if BusIndia will let you book train tickets without an IRCTC account with a deeper connection.
Taxi, airline, hotels
The company will soon add cab booking service so that people can arrange for a pick up at the bus stop. “We’re tying up with existing players for taxi bookings and we’ll partner with various players as each of them are strong in each market,” Myneni says.
BusIndia had added hotel booking to its site last year itself, but the category has become the focus point yet again this year with redBus also letting people book hotels. “We talked to the government and said that these are important for passengers. Then we added hotels last year. Margins for hotels varies from various aggregators to hotel chains. Bus tickets are no longer for low-end market and if you look at the hotel bookings that happen, it is mostly for mid-level hotels. This is mainly because in smaller towns and cities we can’t find hotels like in cities. The thing we have noticed with the hotels business is that, even if margins are lower in smaller towns and cities, volumes are very high,” Myneni says.
The company is now concentrating on streamlining operations and adding more hotels in a, b and c level cities and towns.
The company had said that it was looking to raise funding last year. Myneni says that it has not raised funding yet, but if it happens, the company will use it to expand operations to neighbouring countries. Apart from Sri Lanka and Bangladesh, it is also looking at unorganized markets in South East Asian countries and even Africa as potential markets. “We want to reach countries where such solutions are not available. We have been working with these solutions for over a decade so we can easily implement them,” he says.