June , 2020
Solving the urban commute dilemma
23:07 pm

Saptarshi Deb


The lockdown has been tough on the Indian economy. It has not been easy for Indian start-ups except for some in the health and hygiene segment. The government is now planning to initiate a phase-wise unlocking. 

Despite the government allowing various sectors to resume operations many remain apprehensive and are working from home. However, with the lockdown lifting, one of the major concerns is the commute to office. While a personal vehicle seems like the best bet, many don’t have the means to invest in a personal vehicle and are looking at other options. It might be the right time for some innovations in the public transport space.

Dedicating biking and walking lanes in metropolitan areas - within the city centres and between cities - is a good idea. Additionally, providing safe lanes for motor bikes and pedal bikes and for pedestrians who prefer to walk short distances may also be of help. In fact, by a recent notification, Kolkata Police has allowed cycles in many of the city’s streets. But there are many dependent on public transport.

Chalo, a start-up that has a live bus tracking programme, has come up with a segment that will allow authorities to monitor and track the passengers in a bus. It has developed a contactless one-tap ‘Chalo Card’ which can process the ticket using QR scanning and help passengers to avoid physical contact with the bus conductor.

Dhruv Chopra, chief marketing officer, Chalo, informed the media, “We assessed all the transmission risks in a bus and found that by eliminating cash exchange, buses can be made 20x safer. Cashless rides eliminate 95% of transmission risk.”

Users can purchase tickets through the Chalo app or can buy a physical card. For using this card, the user’s phone number is linked with the digital machine with which the conductor sanctions the card.

The government has allowed ride-hailing platforms like Uber and Ola to resume operations. Interestingly, most of these app cabs are installing a plastic screen between the driver and the passenger seats. This is one way of containing the inadvertent spread of the virus. However, with businesses still in the primary stages of reopening and many employees working from home, the business of the app cab and micro commute companies have dipped. They are trying to mitigate these losses through innovative business models. In this period of crisis, most mobility start-ups have associated with the governmental authorities and grocery stores to act as delivery partners.

Yulu, a Bangalore based micro-mobility service provider, has partnered with several e-commerce and hyper local delivery segments for delivery of essential goods. It is utilising its manpower and fleet of e-vehicles to complete deliveries. Zypp, an e-scooter start-up, has announced its tie-up with Spencers, Zomato, and Swiggy for completing deliveries.

Uber launched ‘Uber Medic’ in March to cater to the needs of frontline medical workers. This segment was aimed at transporting medical workers to their work stations during the lockdown. The company had also launched the ‘Uber Essential’ in Bengaluru, Gurugram, Hyderabad, and Nashik to provide essential services. It has also tied up with Flipkart to ensure delivery of essential items.

Ola has partnered with the health department of the Karnataka government to provide mobility solutions to health workers. It has also launched ‘Ola Emergency’ to enable essential medical trips.  

Though certain express trains have been started, the Indian Railways haven’t yet risked starting its local passenger trains. Ensuring social distancing in the compartments of local trains will be a tall task and specific innovations in this area is much needed.

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