About two years ago, when a Mint report stated that Uber was planning to launch ride-hailing services for buses and minivans, Uber told MediaNama that it wasn’t looking at doing this then. While this was late 2016, and 2018 will end soon, Uber did say “not any time soon” then. But things do change.
About two months ago Earlier this month, Uber launched a bus service in Cairo, Egypt. Cairo users could reserve a seat “on a clean, air-conditioned, and high-quality bus,” the company said in its blog post. Naturally, like UberPOOL, Uber Bus would match you with riders going in the same direction. It advertised 2 routes lines for passengers, and would operate on Sunday-Thursday (their weekdays) from 7:30am to 7:30pm. Cairo’s Uber Bus started off in a bunch of neighbourhoods, but it wouldn’t be surprising if Uber launched it in more, depending on the demand. Uber does not mention the frequency of the buses, neither how many buses it has.
India, the perfect testing ground
If Uber’s global firsts (like cash in India) are anything to go by, Uber Bus will open shop in India soon. Maybe even in the next 6-8 months, because that seems like a good duration to learn from the Cairo pilot, gather data and gauge demand.
In India, as we are aware, public transport – excluding in metro cities – is quite broken, chaotic and sometimes simply does not work.
In 2016, a host of things happened:
- The Delhi Government gave a green light to premium bus services based on mobile apps. Looking back at this initiative, Uber Bus has implemented exactly this procedure, minus the CCTV cameras, WiFi and GPS, and the panic button, which was necessary in Delhi to get a permit.
- The Union Budget of 2016 announced that The Motor Vehicles Act, 1988 was going to be amended to include the private sector and get rid of permit law in the passenger vehicle segment of road transport. (Update: This meant one permit for everything. Previously, operators needed yearly permits: a single district permit, permits for other districts and an all India permit.)
With above in place, not only would it be easy for Uber to operate its Bus in India, it would also be regulator-friendly.
So why will it launch Uber Bus in India?
- Uber has already been creating several campaigns (see 1 from 2017, 2 from 2018) around the use of public transport in India.
- It has “anonymised” data for Bangalore, Hyderabad, Mumbai and New Delhi.
- Earlier this year, Uber also said that it would pilot ExpressPool in India, but the current status of this is unknown.
- Even if it is not profitable yet, Uber can bank on the scale of operations in India. A bus service would definitely be useful for office employees who don’t have their own transport, or an office pickup and drop service, for example.
Not only is it diversification and an added source of revenue, the bus service will also add positive brownie points to the scandal-laden company’s image. A bus seats anywhere from 10-40 people in one go (as opposed to 1-4 in a car), it’s better for the environment, less of a carbon footprint and would help its portfolio with its investors.
When it launched in the US in 2015, UberHOP, a flat fee carpooling service, was called a “mass transit killer” (of course, nothing can kill mass transit. Not yet, anyway). We’re sure Uber has learned lessons from this service, and will utilise more insights from the launch in Cairo. Meanwhile, CEO Dara Khosrowshashi remains bullish on the Indian market.
If and when Uber Bus launches in India, it will compete with
- ZipGo, operating in Bangalore and Pune, for office employees and individual riders
- Shuttl, which recently acquired Commut with the Middle Eastern company Careem (which Uber had plans to merge with), and raised about $11 million led by Amazon India etc.
- Easy Commute in Hyderabad
- We should mention that Uber’s India competitor Ola had a short run with bus shuttles: started in September 2015, regulatory hurdles in December 2015, and a late goodbye in February 2018.
Edit: The post has been updated to fix a couple of typos.