10 startups focusing on Urban Mobility

As a part of my assignment in college, I compiled a list of 10 startups working on traffic and urban mobility issues. Since I’ve been working on Urban Mobility issues for a long time, I thought it’d be great to post the same on my blog!

Traveling in a city to work, school or a social gathering is a need. But with the expanding cities and increasing no of vehicles, Traffic makes it harder for all of us to commute in cities.

What if you knew how crowded the roads are and plan your trip accordingly? What if you could share a ride and cut down on your costs or take a bike and exercise while you commute?

We’ve compiled a list of 10 start ups and Non profits working to solve the problem of Urban Mobility.

MYBYK

 

MYBYK is a ‘bicycle feeder service’ aimed at addressing the problem of first
and last mile connectivity faced by the users of public transport, be it the local trains, metro rail, BRTS, and city bus service etc. It’s currently being implemented in Ahmedabad.

The pilot project was set up with the sole intention of introducing the concept to the end users, investors and government authorities, gauge user response, understand operational challenges, and evaluate operational viability, etc. The idea has not made much commercial success yet but has a great future.

The idea is very much relevant for fast growing Indian cities where first and last mile connectivity is a major issue. The key challenges in India are funds for expansion and introducing the concept to the end users.

 

 

 

HCT

HCT is a London based social enterprise in the transport industry. The idea is a community based public transport system using busses. They’re currently working in a wide area incuding London Redbusses to School busses.

The concept has been a great success commercially and has a lot of scope in growing cities around the world.

 

AtCag – Kerberon Automations

 

AtCag is a completely automated bicycle sharing system by Kerberon Automations based out of Bangalore. ATCAG-BikeShare is a completely automated unit which automatically issues and accepts bicycles electromechanically based on digital authentication via Contact-less Smart Cards.

The pilot program of the idea is running in Bangalore in collaboration with DULT and BBMP. It has not been commercialized in a large scale.

The idea is not very relavant for a diverse country like India. The major challenges could be making people comfortable with automated systems, safety of the equipment and stations and funds for expansion.

 

 

 

 

 

Traffline

Birds Eye Systems Pvt Ltd

 

Traffline is a website and smartphone application that provides real time traffic information in 5 cities in India, Mumbai, Delhi NCR,Hyderabad,Bangalore and Pune. Developed by Mumbai-based start-up Birds Eye Systems Pvt Ltd. It’s a very helpful concept for a country like India. It’s working great in all the cities where it works. Traffline also updates the traffic situation on their social media streams, a few local radio stations and recently they’ve launched an app. Traffline has received over 3 rounds of funding and is commercially successful.

 

Embarq India

Embarq India: Ahmedabad BRTS

Embarq India works on Urban Mobility issues in Mumbai, Bangalore  and Delhi. EMBARQ’s mission is to catalyse and help implement sustainable transport solutions to improve quality of life in cities. For the Indian context, the design thinking approach and urban planning could help make our cities sustainable.

Embarq is a not for profit, self sustaining organization.

 

Pie Ride

Capture

A subscription based ride-share door-to-door car-with-a-driver for daily commuters. Known for it’s safe services during the unstable situations in Egypt. Successfully Commercialized. Expanding to other countries as well.

This would be a very relevant concept for India. This would help a lot of daily commuters who take a taxi on a daily basis. This would also encourage a lot of people to use means of taxi, ride sharing or public transport  instead of taking their own cars.

 

 

 

 

TrafficBytes – EGTNS Eygpt.

TrafficBytes is a realtime traffic data collection service that collects traffic data and helps users organize and de-congest their trips. It also helps decision makers and urban planners make use of this data for research work. TrafficBytes is more data centric, cellular based and allows mobile operators and telecom vendors to leverage big data, providing realtime and accurate traffic information without using GPS or installing new sensors. TrafficBytes transforms the current existing mobility management information in realtime, allowing commuters to divert to less congested routes. TrafficBytes also aids urban planners in evaluating traffic waiting time, detecting accidents and making informed decisions.It has been commercially successful and has received investments also.

 

Waze

Waze is a GPS navigation software, a community-driven application which gathers some complementary map data and other traffic information from users. Like other GPS software it learns from users’ driving times to provide routing and real-time traffic updates. It is free to download and use. People can report accidents, traffic jams, speed and police traps, and from the online map editor, can update roads, landmarks, house numbers, etc. Waze has been successful commercially. It has over 1600000 downloads. The  Israeli start up was acquired by Google in 2013.

Waze works in India but the community here is not so strong.

Local Motion

Local Motion is a vehicle access technology providing solutions like vehicle sharing for individuals a etc. Local Motion believes that most vehicles could spend more time on road and with this technology, they aim to create the largest network of connected vehicles on road.

With keyless access for drivers and web-based controls for managers, the technology increases fleet utilization and makes sharing vehicles in a motor pool easier than ever before.

Let’s Ride

Let’s Ride want’s to build a community around ride-sharing and change the way we travel. It’s Pune based start up and the business model is based on user verification. As of now, they’ve not commercialized the idea successfully. But the idea’s commercial viability depends on the community they build around ride-sharing.

The biggest hurdle the Let’s Ride team faces is to bring about the habitual change. It becomes difficult for them to reach out to people, explain and make them understand as to how beneficial and better ride-sharing is. The idea is more relevant if the mindset changes and the country adapts to this habitual change.

ORM, Twitter wars and How to get someone to respond to your Complaints

Mobile service providers scam a lot of money from innocent subscribers like us. They say we’ve over used our data pack, subscribed for some nonsense spiritual quotes by some bhangi baba whatever they feel like saying when we call them up to complain. And most of us just curse them in our minds and leave it. Even I’ve been leaving it all the time. But this time, they didn’t give me an option. They deducted about four hundred bucks from my account and some 250mb of my data pack. Suddenly from being super rich, I was broke in terms of connectivity. So as usual I called them up, waited through the IVRS, dialed whatever they told and finally spoke to someone from the customer care. And the sweet lady didn’t even check my account and just told me that I’ve overused my data and before I could ask her for my transaction details, hung up on me. Then, I called them up again and there was another sweet lady on the phone. All she said was: “Sorry sir. Please understand, we won’t be able to do anything”. Wow! That’s how customer care is done. I asked for a customer feedback no. or to connect to her supervisor. Even the supervisor was of no use. When I asked for a transaction log for that particular day, he said it would cost me 50rs and he was not authorized to give it. It seems I had to raise a special request on their website to get this transaction log.

None of this was fruitful. There was one thing I could do, the last resort to express my anger, tweet! Twitter is one of the most powerful tools today to express yourself. So I tweeted!

And Guess what! They responded. I got a call from someone who spoke to me properly, figured out what was the issue and agreed to refund the money.

But All of this wouldn’t have happened if I hadn’t gone on twitter and decided to kill their reputation online. Every brand tries to maintain their Online Reputation.

Looking at their responses on twitter, it’s clear that they have a team in place to respond to queries on twitter and to make it more accountable, the team member responding to these tweets use a signature with their name. Every response has a ‘regards, Name’ at the end.

Also these brands do not use their main twitter handle for these responses. they do not want to crow up the main handle with responses for queries raised by people. It just doesn’t look right. In case they do it, for someone who’s looking at the brand’s timeline, it will look like the brand has lot many issues and are trying to solve it. In this case, the company’s twitter handle, to which I raised the query was @airtel and their response came from @airtel_presence which is a separate handle they use just to resolve these queries.

Maintaining your reputation online is very important. Be it for an individual or a company, it gives you credibility, holds you accountable and gives you the reach. It’s important for an individual also because credibility is important. They wouldn’t have responded to me if I had tweeted from an ‘Egg account'(basically a twitter account with the default profile picture and no much activity). Since I had a few no. of followers on twitter, they felt that the statements I make can cause a damage to their reputation and hence looked into it.

Well, that’s a lesson learnt. Now we know why we need to maintain our reputation online and how to get issues solved in a faster pace when the brand doesn’t respond.

A Superhero called The Ugly Indian

We’ve all seen superhero movies, especially the ones where hardly anyone knows who actually the superhero is. There’s Batman, Superman etc. Well, that’s just movies and fiction. But, How is it to be a Superhero in real life? Solving problems, helping people, being famous, keeping your identity secret, making a dent in the Universe. The most important part of being a superhero is to stay anonymous, not to reveal your identity, to keep  the world curious, to have people talking about you and your work and inspire millions. If you don’t stay anonymous, you’ll still be famous, you’ll be a celebrity. That could be good or bad. You could get into trouble, somebody would sue you for no reason, you might get into a controversies etc. Unlike in movies, making such a huge impact in the real world is not so easy. Keeping the identity secret is even harder. Only a few will be able to make it. Knowingly or unknowingly, they become a superhero for a city or a community or the entire world.

Bangalore, like most other Indian cities has a serious garbage issue. It is not clear if this is because of improper system in place or the mentality of people but the issue has been getting bigger and worse. A lot of people tried to intervene, Citizen organizations, RWAs, NGOs, Politicians, Social Enterprises, everyone. May be their work made an impact but not at the scale of this particular campaign. There was one person who started a movement. He brought a bunch of people together who called themselves ‘The Ugly Indians’. TGI was an anonymous group who started cleaning up the streets of Bangalore. Their philosophy – Kaam chalu mooh bandh. Stop Talking, Start Doing. They would choose a ‘blackspot’ or a garbage dump and fix a cleanup drive on a Saturday or Sunday morning. They would go with their tools, clean up the place and repaint it or re structure it, beautify the place and silently get out of there. Anyone could join this by sending them an email or connecting with them through their site or facebook page. The man behind this movement had a long term plan. He had a very creative, design based approach towards the entire garbage issue. He wanted to make sure that they had a larger impact on the issue.

TUI never wanted media attention unlike politicians or NGOs who would send a pre-event press release and a post event press release for a simple cleanup drive.All they wanted was to get noticed, to inspire, to show that you can make change happen. The solution is not just cleaning up this place. You go clean up a garbage dump, people will throw trash again and the dirty pile of garbage will be back by morning. In fact, most of these ‘blackspots’ are cleaned up by BBMP, the city corporation everyday but people still throw Garbage there. There is a lot of observation, psychology and behavioral study behind the solution. In his book, the Ugly Indian or the ‘Anamik Nagarik’ writes about how Osama’s location in Abottabad was confirmed. Yes, it was the trash that gave him away. The fact the absolutely no trash was coming out of that house made it look more suspicious. If you seriously look into all the small things in a trash can or a dump, you can say where it came from, what kind of a person generated this trash, was he/she in a good mood or not, their family relationships, their bank balances, their phone numbers and bills, what all and what not. Sometimes garbage can come to a dump from as far as 20 kms. It’s mostly not from the same neighborhood. Nobody wants to litter their own place. If they had a little more sense of ownership for their neighborhood or area or on the garbage dump, they would take care of it. If that place was useful for them, even more. Another thing about these blackspots is the location where they’re formed. It’s usually a corner or an empty plot. People throw their trash there because there’s no one or nothing objecting them.

The TUI approach to this problem was to beautify the place, try to provide an alternative arrangement for trashing or urination and make the people feel that they own the place. They started cleaning up or ‘spotfixing’ ‘blackspots’ in Bangalore. The Ugly Indian went on meeting people and giving talks, spreading awareness, inspiring people, explaining their technique. He always emphasized on nGoG – No Garbage on Ground. He started working with NGOs, Politicians and finally with corporate. Politicians worked with him for mileage. Companies worked with him to spend their CSR budget and to engage their employees in team building activities. People working in IT companies came and cleaned up some of the most dirtiest garbage dumps, they worked together, they enjoyed it. He made this entire Garbage Cleaning business look cool. He added the wow factor. People would feel good that they made change happen, they could see change happening in front of their eyes.

The next level was great. His website and facebook posts inspired a few people around the country. They got in touch with him. He traveled around the country and mobilized groups similar to the ones in Bangalore. With him he took the techniques, the same approach to the problem and the same design. That’s the best thing he ever did. He maintained his brand through the colors and shapes and structures used in the beautification or re-structuring work. And soon, his brand was in almost every neighborhood of every major city in India. All these pictures started coming on facebook. People from nooks and corners of the country started following the page. The viral sites picked up the story of an anonymous group of people cleaning the streets. It was just more feed for them but it was mileage for the entire movement.

Then, the BBMP, signed a memorandum with The Ugly Indian to clean up the streets of Bangalore under its ‘Namma Bengaluru, Nanna Koduge’ (NBNK or Our Bangalore, my contribution) drive.. This news was on newspapers, the mayor even tweeted about it but the identity of the person who signed this deal was kept secret. His statements were there on the newspapers but he was anonymous. May be he never wanted publicity, may be he wanted to keep the people curious or may be he just wanted to be a Superhero.

 

 

After a few more days, The Ugly Indian himself comes on one of the radio channels in Bangalore and talks about his work. He does not reveal his identity. The world is curious to know who this man is? What has he done before this? How has he inspired others? How did he become this?. But only a few, who have worked with him closely will know. May be some day we’ll have Mr. So and So Institute of Social Development in his name when his identity is revealed or may be it’s never revealed at all. But the way I see him is as a Superhero – A man who had the guts to find a solution for a problem, who worked for the society, who inspired overr a hundred thousand people, who chose to remain anonymous. Respect!

The Milaap Experience

Recently, while looking for various career options, I came across Milaap, A crowd-funding platform through which people around the world lend loans for communities and small enterprises in rural India and impact the way of life and basic facilities in rural India.

I was offered a voucher as part of the interview process to fund a project to basically understand how Milaap works. I logged in to the site and scrolled through the various campaigns for fundraising. It was a very diverse list of campaigns. There were people raising funds for cattle rearing business, to buy buffaloes, to go to school or college, to set up small shops, to set us solar lighting etc. I was looking for something that would have the greatest impact, something that would bring smiles on a lot of faces, something that would light up a few villages. Because, Electricity, especially Light energy is one of the most basic needs in the rural India.

I come from a village near Agumbe, Karnataka. This area gets the highest rainfall in southern India. Over here, during the heavy monsoon season from June to September, there’s hardly 2 hours of power per day. At times there would be no power for a week due to heavy rains. I was born and brought up here. I studied using small kerosene lamps until my family could afford to buy a generator or shift to the nearest town. I have experienced how hard it is to live or study with no Electricity.

I found this campaign on Milaap, to build a micro grid and light up villages at Barabanki, UP. This would help people earn extra income taking up side jobs, make the streets safer, help kids study and make lives better. The most interesting thing here is the partner organization Mera Gaon Power which builds and operates such micro grids for as low as a thousand dollars per hamlet. This is really interesting.

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Anyone can lend some money for this project as a loan which will be paid back once the project is executed. The entire process is simple and easy and is online on Milaap’s website. The execution of all these projects with the partner organizations is closely monitored by Milaap. This can bring change, a new hope to a lot of communities in India. I’m sure that my contribution would bring light to a lot of homes and a smile on a lot of faces. I’m looking forward to make more contributions, use some of my savings on Milaap and do something good for someone.

 

 

Interest in Social Media

Communication began with sounds and symbols. Evolved to languages and scripts before we found out a lot more media to communicate and today we’ve reached till the internet. And as communication evolved, our needs for communications increased. Now that we’ve invented internet, it can fulfil most of our needs and let us communicate effectively.

I’ve always been really fascinated with the concept of advertising and creative communication. I always wondered if this communication ever reached the right people. I had seen ads on government schemes for farmers and ads by clothing and jewellery merchants from a far off place of the state. I always wondered why these people couldn’t target on specific people and locations and may be even pay less for it. Then after a few years when I got used to the internet, I learnt how internet spammers could fool people with ads. But recently, the Indian e-commerce sites started ads on facebook and contests on twitter. And they succeeded. They targeted specific type of people who lived in specific locations. Then I learnt a lot more about social media marketing from a lot of videos and other resources on the internet. I learnt the difference between internet marketing, email marketing and social media marketing. Right now, only a small share of the world’s population has access to the internet. But in someday, not very far in the future, most of the world’s population will have access to internet and the Social Networks and then, Social Media Marketing will have a huge impact.

I’m also amazed by the amount of information, pictures shared on social media. The reach of social media can be wide or narrow; however you want it to be. And this has impact on everything. From art, design to videos to politics and news, everything gets influenced by social media. Especially in politics, it’s a big game changer. Social Media marketing is strategic. It needs creativity. It needs talent to attract viewers using the limited characters on twitter. It also requires art and content creation skills. With right content shared with right people, or good ads put forward to potential customers can impact a lot.

It is the impact, the power and the reach of social media that interests me and inspires me to take it up as a career.

Well, I had applied for a job at a Social Media Firm and the person who was taking my interview checked my twitter profile which led him to my blog and read this story. He was like “You’d have realized this now or may be 6 months back, I realized this 2 years back and started this company”.

I got through. But like I always do, I ditched the offer.  

Why Bangalore Needs You?

Sometimes when I visit places, I feel I’m lucky I don’t live there. But what about people who have no other place to go? I’d never given a deep thought about that. But today, while on a site visit from BNY, I got to see some worst parts of the city. I’ve always tried speaking to random people at the smoke shop or the roadside eatery. I’ve had talks with unknown people from various places on politics, public issues, business and movies. I’d seen places, people in trouble, people with no basic amenities. I’d never done a complete survey. And I had never understood the complexity of this kind of a problem.

Bengaluru Needs You or BNY is a movement led by Prof Rajeev Gowda, is an Indian politician and academic. He is a professor of Economics and Social Sciences at the Indian Institute of Management, Bangalore, and a national spokesperson for the Indian National Congress. He is a Director at the Central Board of Reserve Bank of India and former Chairperson of the Centre for Public Policy. I’m currently interning at BNY under the urban action internship, where I’m taking part in Urban Governance. There’s another group taking part in Urban Design. Both groups look at issues and discuss solutions in their respective field. There was a field visit today to the Byatarayanapura ward, basically to collect data, to try and understand the problems people are facing there.

We headed down to Sanjeevini Nagar, an area with majority population being lower middleclass. The major issue we saw at this place was the leakage of a sewage pipe to the road. It was terrible. There was sewage water all over the road, in front of a house. It almost blocked the entrance of the house. It was stinking like dead rats. We spoke to the locals, told them we were from an organization and we’re here to help. I initially went along with what people told us and thought the politicians are to be blamed. Then when we spoke to more people and realized the actual problem. My views changed.

The BWSSB or the Bangalore Water Supply and Sewage board, has laid underground sewage pipes in most of the area except for this road. This road was left over because there’s an issue over the ownership of the land the road is on. There’s army land adjacent to the road and army has claims over half of the road. And government can’t work on this particular issue until the city corporation or BBMP gets ownership of this road. That is why BWSSB or the Corporation can’t take direct action on the sewage problem. It’s a deadlock situation. It seems, until a few years back all the sewage water was let into a sewage pit inside the army area. Army didn’t have a problem with this because they had a diary there and the sewage helped the growth of cattle feed. But recently, the diary was shifted and the army started building houses for the ‘Married Accommodation Project’ and blocked the sewage line. Now, all the sewage settles on the road. And when it rains, it enters houses. When complained, the corporation sends a sanitary cleaning truck and clears some amount of sewage. It’s not easy for them to clear all of it. And it builds up again in a few days. There have been reported cases of Dengue and Dysentery. The worst part is that the drinking water pipes are laid underground and wherever there’s a damage or a leakage, the sewage gets into the system. People who stay here, can’t use the drinking water they get. These people can’t afford to buy drinking water also. There are children living there. The people here have lost hopes. They say that media has covered this, politicians have come and gone and left their false promises. But most people wouldn’t have understood the deadlock situation here.

How would you feel if sewage from half the city ended up at your doorstep? It gets even worse in the monsoons because the sewage and rainwater flood the rads and houses here.

How would you feel if sewage from half the city ended up at your doorstep? It gets even worse in the monsoons because the sewage and rainwater flood the roads and houses here.

A little while later we learnt that the local MLA was at Delhi to get this issue fixed. And it is not that easy because Army is not an easy agency to deal with on such issues. What looks like a simple issue, is actually more complicated. It looks like some grant of money by the government can solve this. It looks like the area is being neglected. But no. It’s the issue that’s complicated. And at times, no matter how hard our leaders work, it’s not easy. This issue has to go through a lot of people and agencies to be solved.

A friend of mine encountered a similar situation in another part of the ward. Here, about 500 houses of Bengali speaking immigrants, mostly construction workers live in a slum like area. They’ve been here for the past 20 years but they do not have electricity. They pay rent for the land where they live but have no papers for their houses and hence can’t get an electricity connection. Imagine, these people, construction workers have to pay 5 bucks for getting their phones charged. And this phone is everything for them from torch to a communicating device to a source of entertainment. This again is a complicated situation because the land they live on belongs to someone else and that person won’t be ready to give papers or any right to these people on his land. And it is not very easy to relocate such a big slum. There are issues like this everywhere and they’re not as simple as they seem to be. With some time and right leaders, everything can be solved.

These people who live in this kind of areas mostly are drivers, security guards, housekeeping staff. They’re an essential part of the urban economy. We can’t imagine a day without this class of people. Their issues are very important for a safe and healthy urban economy. And with movements like BNY, such issues can be analysed and reported. The gap between policy makers and the people can be bridged. More important, people like me can learn and understand the complexity of such issues before we blame the politicians or policy makers.

To me it was a great experience. It helped me understand a lot of things better and inspired me to do more social work.