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Mobility start-ups mull future biz models in first-ever summit on wheels

Aloke Bajpai of Ixigo (centre), flanked by Tej Kapoor (left) and Kritika Kapoor of Fosun
With the advent of app-based taxis and ride sharing, urban mobility has seen significant innovation in the past. Newer models have emerged on the back of technology, with a promise to free up cities from congestion and reduce pollution.

But the problems are far from solved and more innovation — from self-drive cars to integrated transpiration solutions — is in the offing. Innovation, however, was at display in another form recently. 

Last week, in the national capital, start-up folks and investors got together to talk about the future of mobility. What was interesting about it was that the conference itself was “on the wheels.” 

TiE, in collaboration with travel tech firms Ixigo and Gogobus, took a bunch of start-up founders, investors and journalist on a bus tour, with panel talk planned on board the vehicle.

“This is the first time anyone has done a conference on the wheels,” said Aloke Bajpai, co-founder and chief executive officer, Ixigo.

Bus rides is a good way to spur up conversations and the organisers thought it could be a good way to bring important themes to the fore, he said.  

Bajpai is no stranger to innovation. His firm Ixigo, a flight and train booking and meta-search platform, boats of an artificial intelligence-based engine that predicts how fares of flights would move in the near term, among other cool tech.

With the success of Ola and Uber, India has seen a spurt of start-ups addressing many different areas in mobility.

Vogo and Bounce have popularised two-wheeler rental culture, after Zoomcar did the same for cars. Shuttl, an Amazon backed start-up, has become a go-to daily commute service for office goers, while, bycycle rental too is gaining traction thanks to start-ups like Yulu.

“The future of mobility is integrated solutions,” said Tej Kapoor, managing director India at Fosun RZ Capital, a Chinese fund.

“India is fragmented and we need to have different mobility solutions, integrated together and you see signs of those coming up,” said Kapoor, who has bets in Delhivery, Ixigo and a dozen other start-ups. 

Top platforms in the space are building partnerships across the board, so that a traveller can book his entire travel at one place, he said. Consider this: To travel from A to B, a person may need to use combination of a cab, the metro and even a e-bike for last few kilometres. 

This is a complex problem to solve. Timing the drop-off of, say an Uber cab to the time the metro arrives at the said station requires not only integration of a lot of information systems but also machine learnings prediction models.

Uber is a big proponent of integrated travel. In October, it partnered with the Delhi Metro to show real-time schedules timings of trains and best routes right on the Uber app. Uber does not let user book metro trains yet.

“Our partnership with the Delhi Metro Rail Corporation is an example of the Indian transportation industry being able to undertake risks and truly innovate,” Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi has said at the time.

For the mobility services, the next big wave is electric vehicles. While several companies have launched efforts in this area — Ola has set up a separate division for electric vehicle solutions — a mass scale adoption is far from close.

There are many problems with EV adoption, said Prasanto Roy, a technology policy consultant and former head of Nasscom’s internet council. Besides charging infrastructure, the main component of EVs—the battery cells — are imported from China. This hurts local manufacturing.

“Right now if an EV breaks down, it is difficult to get it repaired immediately. Sometimes the parts have to be ordered from China,” said Ixigo’s Bajpai, spelling the need to shore up local EV ancillary industry.

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