Uber India to try out buses, quadricycles, electric two-and three-wheelers

Pradeep Parameswaran, Uber president for India and South Asia
Regular cars are becoming passé for Uber Technologies as it expands to intra-city buses, quadricycles, electric scooters and electric auto-rickshaws — some of which will be piloted for the first time in the country. The experimentation with different vehicles is happening simultaneously with its expansion from 36 cities (India and south Asia) to 50 by the end of this year.

In a city like Delhi, Uber will add cabs only if required. “We will add capacity only if there is demand to absorb it and that’s good for the environment,” said Pradeep Parameswaran, Uber president for India and South Asia.   

“We are now a relevant choice for only one per cent of urban transportation. Why we had not gone to many of the cities earlier was because we had a car portfolio which had limited relevance there. But now we have a diversified portfolio. Cars are not the only thing. We will bring about multi-modal transportation options,” added Parameswaran. In customising its service, Uber already has cities like Trichy in Tamil Nadu where it offers only auto-rickshaws and no cars. In Sri Lanka, the company expects to have more auto-rickshaw riders than cars.

The company has enjoyed a major success with Uber Eats, the food delivery business which it launched 18 months ago. Parameswaran points out that nine of the top 10 restaurants in terms of volumes around the globe where Uber Eats is available are located in India.

Expansion plan

  • To grow presence from 36 cities to 50 by the end of this year

  • Pilot and experiment with two-wheeler e-vehicles, intra-city bus service, quadricycles, and flying cars

  • Launch a 24x7 helpline for safety across the country

  • Increase the number of R&D experts from 500 to 1,000 this year 
The only exception in the top ten list is McDonalds in the UK. Uber Eats is in over 40 countries and more than 400 cities. Here, it is available in 37 cities.  

On the importance of India, Parameswaran said, “It is probably one of our important regional bets outside of the US. We are investing with a long-term horizon and taking a multi-decade view on India.”

Uber plans to pilot electric two- and three-wheelers. It’s been surprised to find that one out of four riders who hire a non-electric two-wheeler from Uber are women, hence the plan to try out Jump,  a two-wheeler EV manufacturer in the US which Uber bought recently. “The business model for this, of course, will be different but there is a use case for the product in India,” said Parameswaran.   

Uber is also piloting intra-city bus services which will be extended to inter-city services where currently only cars are available. Uber has already launched these services in Egypt and Mexico. “We are exploring high capacity 12 or 30-40 seater vehicles. Some of the routes will be fixed but for others we will use technology to have variable routes based on demand,” he said.

Research has shown that riders seeking a bus have to wait 45 minutes. Technology will resolve this issue, he said, giving customers a clear time of arrival.  

Parameswaran concedes that growth in 2018 was slower than in 2017 but says that, following some changes, the business is now on a firm footing with plenty of appeal not just to riders but to drivers too.

He ruled out any pricing war. “We are not going to offer a taxi service at auto rates. We will offer value to consumers. But we will not use pricing as a lever to fight the battle.”  

On regulatory challenges, he said that transportation globally was a highly regulated area but was heartened by the fact that the Indian government has acknowledged that Uber could play a role in solving transportation needs.

“On regulation, there is nothing which is a deal breaker. Some tweaks are necessary and the process could be faster but that’s it,” said Parameswaran.

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