Ride-Sharing’s Future? It May Sit on Electric Motorbikes

BANGALORE, India — In Uber’s imaginative and prescient of the long run, self-driving automobiles will whisk us all over the place, eliminating the necessity for its hundreds of thousands of human drivers.

But because the ride-hailing big prepares to promote as a lot as $10 billion in inventory to the general public this week to assist construct these automobiles, a low-tech method to the self-driving future is already rising in India: motorbikes that prospects lease and drive themselves.

Several start-ups — backed by massive Silicon Valley enterprise corporations and Uber’s Indian competitor, Ola — are betting that shared “two-wheelers” are higher suited to wallets and transportation wants than the automobiles which are the guts of the ride-hailing trade.

On a recent weekday morning, Mallikarjun D., a software engineer, pulled out his smartphone and booked an electric motorcycle on Vogo, a Bounce competitor, for his nine-mile commute to his job at the outsourcing giant Infosys.

Usually he takes the Infosys bus, he said as he put on his helmet and grabbed the bike from a garden that served as Vogo’s neighborhood parking lot. But he was running late, and at a special rate of 10 rupees, or 14 cents, for the full day, he found the bike to be the perfect solution.

“It’s a reasonable cost,” Mr. Mallikarjun said. “And it’s helpful for the environment.”

Vogo and Bounce are slugging it out for dominance in Bangalore, India’s tech hub, where Ola is also based and is watching carefully. Vogo requires people to pick up and drop off their bikes at designated locations, while Bounce bikes can be picked up or left anywhere.

Nomita D. P., who was shopping for school clothes with her 10-year-old daughter near the Jayanagar metro station, said she had been using Bounce for about five months. It is cheaper than an auto-rickshaw, the three-wheeled taxis that are common in India, and more reliable than an Uber or Ola car, she said.

“You wait for a car, and then they cancel,” said Ms. Nomita, a medical editor who works from home. “A rickshaw driver will refuse to take you because you are going in the wrong direction.”

Right now, Vogo and Bounce motorbikes are hard to find. Both companies are racing to get enough on the streets — aiming for around 50,000 apiece — to make their services truly convenient in Bangalore. Other big cities will follow.

The nascent industry is facing other challenges. At the Jayanagar station, the trunks on two of Bounce’s motorbikes would not open, trapping the helmets inside — a common problem. Ms. Nomita’s scooter was missing its rearview mirror. Many vehicles were dirty.

How viable these services will be over the long term is unclear. Like Uber and Ola in their early days, both companies are offering promotions to bring down the price of rides, which requires a lot of spending.

Vogo and Bounce are hoping to cut costs by stocking their fleets with electric motorbikes, which cost less by the mile than gasoline ones. They are looking to another Bangalore start-up, Ather Energy, to supply them. Ather has engineered a premium-priced, aspirational electric scooter that is one of the few to qualify for government clean-energy subsidies, and it is building a network of fast-charging stations.

Yet Ather can make only about 500 scooters a month at its Bangalore factory. The company is lining up a manufacturing partner to vastly increase production, said Tarun Mehta, a co-founder of Ather and its chief executive.

Bounce and Vogo are preparing to ramp up their fight with new funding.

Bounce has raised $18.9 million from venture firms such as Sequoia and Accel, according to corporate filings analyzed by the data firm Paper.vc, and it is raising an additional $80 million.

Vogo has raised $17.8 million from Ola, the American venture firm Matrix Partners and several Indian firms. Ola also plans to provide up to $100 million to help Vogo deploy as many as 100,000 motorbikes and has promised to include the vehicles as an option on its popular ride-hailing app.

Ola’s decision is pragmatic. Traditional ride-hailing is a maturing business in India, much as it is in the rest of the world. Many drivers are unhappy with reduced payments from Ola and Uber, and have periodically gone on strike in Mumbai, Delhi and Bangalore to press for better terms. Riders complain of long waits for cars and rising fares. Public transit systems, particularly metro lines, are improving but will not get people the last mile to home or work.

“How do you create mobility options for the next 900 million?” asked Anand Shah, a senior vice president at Ola who oversees its electric mobility efforts. “You don’t have to look far — you can see what India is choosing.”

In addition to supporting Vogo, Ola offers motorbike taxis in some Indian cities and is promoting wider adoption of electric auto-rickshaws.

Uber has made no moves toward motorbike sharing. But it has recognized the potential of cheap vehicles that customers drive themselves. Last year, it bought Jump, which rents out electric bicycles and motorized stand-up scooters in two dozen major cities in the United States and Europe. In February, Uber said more customers in Sacramento, California’s capital, had rented its Jump vehicles than had summoned traditional cars.

Uber declined to comment, citing the quiet period ahead of its initial public offering.

Scooters, bicycles and mopeds have the potential to steal some market share from the Ola and Uber car services, said Chandrasekar Iyer, who is studying disruption in the auto industry as a fellow at the Clayton Christensen Institute in the San Francisco area. But Mr. Iyer, a consultant at Tata Consultancy Services, predicted that the ride-hailing giants would not stand idle.

Vivek Durai, a co-founder of Paper.vc, which closely monitors privately held companies in India, said the big money was beginning to flood in.

“There is a deep hunger to solve this,” he said. “People need flexible options for transport.”

Source link Nytimes.com

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