rBus wants to bring affordable happy commutes to our cities

Meet Siddharth aka svs. A guy who loves to code. A graduate from IIM B who didn’t quite enjoy the Investment Banking world. A music lover who built a core-banking system equivalent for MFIs- as an open source. An idea, which aspires to make city dwellers stay happy after those tough daily commutes-rBus. You can email him at svs@svs.io


ValueMax: Tell us a little about RBus

svs: Commuting in India, for the most part, is really painful. Either it is expensive, or it is terribly uncomfortable. rBus intends to use modern technology to provide you with a guaranteed seat on a point-to-point bus from your home to your office and back, while being able to accommodate changes in time of travel from day to day.

ValueMax: How come you moved from Banking to IT to rBus

svs: I’ve always been madly in love with software and even in the banking world, I chose to do the geekiest work I could find, building large models and dealing essentially with software. So I guess it wasn’t surprising that I eventually wound up doing this full time. Building financial models is fun for the first few years, but it can become quite repetitive. Besides, I always felt there were bigger problems that one could solve with software. rBus is one such attempt.

ValueMax: You mean open source technology? Your previous venture was also an open source platform, right? Why this love for open source?

svs: rBus is built on a lot of open source technology, but the platform itself is not open source. Actually the web app is quite trivial (for now), but we’re hoping to implement some hardcore routing algorithms and so on. I expect most of these will be open source. With rBus, the value is not so much in the technology as in the execution. Everyone has access to cheap GPSs and Google Latitude. The question is – how many people love public transportation enough to execute this vision with a lot of care?

I love open source because of the community of people who contribute to it and I love to count myself amongst them. However, this does not mean that open source is always the best approach. Sometimes it is easier to attract people and execute the vision as a business than it is to build a strong open source community, and in these cases, it is perhaps better to adopt a commercial approach. However, the discussion is so nuanced that I’ll stop now before I am misunderstood 🙂

rbus
ValueMax: But why RBus? What drives you to solve this “problem”?

svs: Having lived in cities with decent public transportation systems, I understand the impact that this one thing can have on the lives of the citizens. Just reaching work in a relaxed and cheerful state of mind and reaching home likewise make for a productive workforce and happy families. These seem to be quite important things in my opinion.

Secondly, the private car seems to be a perfectly wasteful way of getting to and from work. Not just the waste of fuel, but of time spent in the endless traffic jams and the devoting of precious space in our cities to more roads that fill up as fast as they are built. this doesn’t seem like a good direction to go in for the long term.

Of late, the technology to build a responsive, commuter-centric shared transport infrastructure has become quite easily available. Cheap and ubiquitous GPS, smartphones, mobile ticketing technology – all of these can help us to connect the demand side of the equation (the commuters) with the supply side (commercial bus fleets).

The power of the internet to connect people so that they can solve their own problems has always fascinated me, and I would love for rBus to be a manifestation of this.

And lastly, the market for commuting is IMMENSE. It gives one the opportunity to build something truly significant and hopefully, robust, durable and something that people really love because it is simple and it solves some deeply felt problems.

ValueMax: You talk about a happy rBus experience. What aspects are you referring to and how will you manage this?

svs: The rBus promise is as follows – no waiting, no standing, flexible timings. The convenience of a car at the fraction of the price.

You choose your trip time, get an alert when the bus is approaching, walk to the bus stop, board the bus, sit on your reserved seat and reach your destination with zero stress. In my opinion, this beats any other mode of transportation. It is orders of magnitude more comfortable than the other public transport options and orders of magnitude cheaper than a chauffeur-driven car.

You will always have people for whom priorities are different. However, there are a number of things to consider here:

  •  In a population as large as Mumbai’s I am really hoping that there are enough early adopters who share the vision of rBus to adopt it even in this unproven state.
  •  Once we can demonstrate just how convenient and economical it is, we hope to attract atleast a critical mass of people on Mumbai’s main arterial routes to allow us to run a sustainable service.
  •  Once the service is self sustaining, we will start to allow ad-hoc travel, giving people the opportunity to leave their car at home for a day if they so wish.

Beyond that, the service itself will have to perform and exceed expectations.

Also, do remember that there are a number of college students that do not have their own cars. They’re just waiting for the day when they have enough money and they can stop using public transport. If we can provide them a robust experience on rBus, perhaps they will delay buying the car, or use it sparingly when they do. The young hopefully do not have the same prestige issues as their parents, and I do believe they care deeply about the environment. Hopefully.

I’m an optimist and I believe that people will ride rBus precisely because it’s way cooler! In 3 years, rBus should be the de-facto mode of reaching office for commuters in Mumbai and hopefully other cities as well.

ValueMax: People have run chartered buses for office commuters before also. What’s the tech layer that rbus provides? Can they be used by current operators to improve their services significantly?

svs: GPS tracking of all buses and mobile based ticketing are the main technological advancements. We also plan to build advanced routing algorithms (once we have enough data). Implementing the GPS tracking is quite trivial and there’s even a company called http://yourbus.in which specializes in this. However, most bus operators aren’t really tech savvy and so they haven’t implemented these.

ValueMax: Who do you target through rBus?

svs: If your commute stresses you out, wastes large amounts of time or is inordinately expensive, you should definitely try out rBus. If you own a small-medium sized business and you are fed up of your employees walking in the dorr in the morning already stressed out from just getting to work, then you should definitely support rBus.

I can segment my customers based on the mode of transport they currently use. The people who currently commute by bus/train are very price sensitive but I am hoping there are significant numbers there that can pay a bit more for a vastly improved experience.

Amongst those who use private transportation, I would love for the reluctant driver to give up his car. So far this seems the most difficult segment to convince. I think people don’t believe just how convenient the rBus can be, and there’s always a radio taxi for the exceptional circumstances. In the end, rBus is about 1/4th – 1/10th the cost of driving to work, so again I am hoping that I can attract more than a few car commuters to rBus as they take up a disproportionate amount of space on the roads.

ValueMax: Your toughest challenges right now?  Looking to expand the team?

svs:

  • Marketing
  • Pricing
  • Logistics – negotiating with bus fleet owners, ensuring quality of service, etc will be big challenges for the future.

Yes, Absolutely. I need programmers, marketing people and energetic people to supervise operations. Do get in touch (on Web – www.rbus.in or on Twitter – @_svs_ and @rbus_in). And yeah, some funding would be great too!

ValueMax: What are the learnings from the first 50-75 days of rBus?

svs: Over the last few weeks I have been validating my assumptions by using BEST buses for my own commuting needs. I found out that the bus is not slow at all, once you get on it. It is getting on the bus that really hurts.

One is never really sure about anything – when the bus will come, how full will it be, etc. I also found that the bus is quite comfortable, if you can get a seat. So I think my main offerings of “no waiting and guaranteed seating” are the correct product features to offer. However, rBus not being subsidized  by the government makes it significantly more expensive than the BEST bus and so it’s been a challenge convincing people that these features are worth paying so much for. I hope to convince many more people once they see the first rBus running.