Prashant Kumar, Founder & CEO, zingbus

A 2014 alumnus of IIT Kharagpur, Prashant has a wide array of experience in leading teams to success in business strategy, operations, finance, and supply chain management as he has worked both with esteemed and diverse brands like Flipkart & Oyo and start-ups like ZipGo. He achieved praiseworthy successes in each of his profiles. For Flipkart he handled the launch of third-party warehouses across the country. At Oyo, he designed and launched multiple campaigns to minimize the unhappy feedback for 180+ Oyo’s exclusive partner properties. He also led Oyo Life product in Bangalore. At the intercity bus vertical ZipGo, Prashant piloted and ran the model for 18 months and scaled it up to Rs 20 crore GMV across 4 routes. Prashant’s expertise lies in P&L management, Business Strategy, Operations. At zingbus, he focuses on business strategy, finance, and operations aspects of the business. He follows a solution-oriented approach for handling any tough situation. His drive to succeed takes him a step forward every day.

 

India, though historically hampered with inadequate transport facilities, is now at the cusp of a mobility revolution. The transport infrastructure in the country is growing at a rapid rate. Though the pandemic inflicted a devastating blow on the economy, road infrastructure still grew at a pace faster than ever before. The government has recognized road infrastructure as an important engine of economic growth and has provided the much-needed impetus. Despite lockdowns India has constructed 13,298 km of highways in 2021; 1,470 kms of road in the month of May alone. The government also aims to construct 23 new national highways by 2025.  In the last 5 years, from FY 16-21, highway construction in India has increased at a CAGR of 17%. As a result, an estimated 90% of India’s total passenger traffic uses the road network to commute. 

India is now home to the second-largest road network spanning 5.89 million kms. Road traffic is seeing an increase on account of better connectivity between villages, towns, and cities. This has facilitated the growth of intercity road transport and its emergence as a viable and comfortable alternative to Indian Railways. Though railway has traditionally been the preferred mode of transport, it has not expanded enough to cater to the sheer size of our population, with waitlisted tickets and delayed trains derailing travel schedules. Improvement in road infrastructure has made it possible for travellers to prioritize bus travel, especially for intercity needs. The travel time has also been decreased with the betterment of road that’s is why the passengers are also preferring to travel by road.  Intercity buses are now connecting untapped routes and locations, and also, those which are already covered by trains, offering travellers not just a solution for last-mile travel but an alternative mode of transport which is as efficient and safe. Research estimates that in 2019 more than 30 million travellers across India were using intercity bus services every day.  

Earlier, bus travel was plagued by problems such as poor maintenance, unhygienic surroundings, overcrowding, delays, and no washrooms. Passenger traffic was consequently low. With private players now entering this space, many problems have been addressed with the introduction of better technology for bus routing and ticketing. Private aggregators in the inter-city bus segments like zingbus and Intrcity etc have started offering better maintenance, hygienic vehicles, Wi-fi internet connections, charging ports, clean drinking water, and reduced stops. This has resulted in increased adoption of the services by the users. Which in turn, has also created competition in the intercity bus travel space. Other operators, be it state or private, are now increasing the frequency of their bus services to cater to rising demand.  They have also started improving the services being offered in terms of online ticketing and pricing, comfortable seats, better hygiene, and sanitation.  

Intercity buses are all set to be a preferred mode of travel for the passengers. Bus service routes within the city and surrounding areas in places like Delhi, Mumbai and Hyderabad, etc have also increased due to good connectivity of roads.  People are now able to catch buses from conveniently located pick-up points. This has not only helped the service provider (bus aggregators) but also the users as the latter can choose their preferred mode of travel which offers higher comfort with minimum hassle.   The streamlining of bus operators has majorly impacted business growth and the reputation of buses as the preferred mode of travel over other modes. The operators are now focusing on giving loyalty benefits to their customers so that when a passenger travels from one city to another and looks for a safe and comfortable mode to travel, taking a bus becomes their first choice. In pandemic times, to further enhance the safety of their customers and to make bus travel better, operators are ensuring that their staff and crew are vaccinated, and only vaccinated persons travel in their buses.  

Improvements in road conditions and road safety have also made bus travel less risky for travellers. Newer intercity transport segments are being added everyday by bus operators to take advantage of the opportunity created by expanding road infrastructure. To make travel safer for women, GPS tracking of buses and camera surveillance is also being introduced. Highway projects like the Mumbai-Pune Highway and Yamuna Expressway make the road infrastructure stronger. They help in improving the connectivity of major routes and cities  Ahmedabad, Lucknow, etc. by reducing the time of travel. Even in high-altitude regions like Leh-Ladakh region, there have been initiatives like the all-weather Atal Tunnel which reduces the distance between Manali and Leh by 46 kms and cuts the travel time by a good 4 to 5 hours. 

However, for sustainable growth, it is important to ensure intercity mobility is emission-free. Road transport alone contributes to 123 million tonnes (MT) of CO2 emissions from India. Therefore, Electric Vehicles (EV) or buses have a huge role to play in not just providing intercity connectivity but also providing a zero-emission shared mobility solution for the future. Backed by strong policy initiatives by the government and rapid technological advancement, the cost and life of EV batteries are expected to come down to such an extent that EVs and ICE (Internal Combustion Engine) vehicles will soon be priced at par with each other. Intercity electric buses have also benefited greatly from the increase in battery capacity which enables them to run for 350 km on a single charge instead of just 180 km earlier. 

Intercity road transport is on an upward trajectory with the government pledging an outlay of Rs. 1,18,101 crores on road transport and highways infrastructure. Highways are of great significance for the movement of people as well as goods and services and are hence key to our economic recovery from the impact of the pandemic. The opportunity for bus operators, in this case, is huge as the conditions have never been as conducive as this. With more buses and intercity segments operational, customers are going to be spoilt for choice and can demand as well as avail the best travel experiences with world-class facilities. 

Travellers, given the right kind of convenience and comfort, have already started showing an inclination towards bus travel. A seamless travel experience with intercity buses may soon prove to be the solution that can help us take thousands of personal vehicles off the roads, reducing congestion, making travel faster and safer while reducing pollution levels.

Related Articles