A digital universal boarding pass for all Public Transport

StartUpOfTheMonth: Uni (previously Taproute) is a universal boarding pass app designed to integrate payments, routes and schedules across all modes of public transit i.e. buses, metro rail/subway, three-wheelers & cars.

With just one click, the mobile app allows people not only to book their ride, but also provides last-mile connectivity, allowing users to book both first and last-mile ride with the click of a button. There is an option to go solo or ride sharing, like Uber and Ola.

How it works

Let’s say you need to go from some arbitrary point A to point B. In the current transit sector, you have options like:

  • Take an auto/Ola/Uber to the nearest metro station (or some other public transport location), get to the metro station nearest to point B and from there take an auto/Ola/Uber again. Cost effective, but time consuming and pretty tiring.
  • Take an auto/Ola/Uber door-to-door. Not very cost effective, but saves time and is a lot more comfortable than standing in a jam-packed metro for an hour.
  • Get there in your car or bike.

From the user’s perspective, this is where Uni comes in. Just put your destination in the app, and it will aggregate all the transport services around your area and create a clear, concise and structured overview of the different ways you can make your commute.

Additionally, it will automate the entire process for you. Commuting to a place often doesn’t involve a single mode. There are generally multiple modes of transport required. UNI synchronises these modes to provide a seamless and efficient travel experience. Let’s say you decide that the best way to travel is by metro. UNI will get you to the metro station (based on your preferred mode of travel) and when you get off, it will have another transport booked for the remaining part of your journey.

In this respect, it’s very flexible, and that is it’s biggest strength. The user has full control over the mode(s) of travel — you can mix and match different modes and customise your travel any way you want — be it autos, shuttles, metros, buses, etc. Just one single digital pass on your smartphone will take care of the entire journey.

You can think of UNI as your favorite ice-cream shop — for daily travel.

But don’t we have Uber and Ola?

Yes, in almost every major city but while these companies do make travel a lot easier, it comes at a cost! Here are some numbers:

And it’s not just the traffic!

Another major problem is pollution. Vehicles are the second biggest cause of air pollution, a frightening 25% of the total pollution in the National Capital Region. In 2015 alone, 6502 people died of respiratory diseases, and that number is only swelling.

The Capital is struggling to reduce its air pollution and traffic congestion, with (stupid) measures such as a road rationing formula that allows cars with odd and even-numbered number plates to ply on alternate days.

Well, that didn’t exactly work out, did it?

So, what’s the solution?

Increase the use of public transport. Not only does it reduce traffic on the roads, it runs on cleaner propellants like electric power or CNG (and even when it doesn’t, it’s still around 50 times more fuel efficient).

There is a need to make public transport look like a more attractive alternative for commuters. Everyone knows that it is much cheaper than pretty much any other mode of transport. But that is just one of the many deciding factors. Public transport is just too much of a hassle right now. Taking a metro to work isn’t as straight-forward as it sounds — first you gotta reach the metro station (which, ironically, is usually by an Uber). When you get off, you again have to take (you guessed it) an Uber to get to work. It’s not even remotely end-to-end.

So much so, that it usually involves sitting in a cab for longer than in the metro, and in this whole process, public transport doesn’t quite remain public transport.

The user experience goes for a toss.

And this is exactly where private vehicles and the Olas and the Ubers of the world pull ahead. It is just so much simpler.

This is where UNI comes in

UNI aims to fix the currently broken user experience with regards to public transport. There is currently no basic structure and synchronisation between different modes of travel. By making the whole travel trackable and pre-planned, it aims to blend the speed and affordability of the public transport services and the convenience of “low-density” vehicles, like autos and cars.

Sibesh Kar, one of the co-founders, said, “Public transit forces commuters to adapt to itself, instead of the other way around. By making last and first-mile connectivity on-demand, cheap and predictable, we want to make travel to/from metro stations seamless and encourage the use of public transport system.”

He added, “UNI lasts for 24 hours. We’ve designed the Uni pass to be as easy to use as a flight boarding pass — both on your phone and when printed. It shows you end-to-end trip details, live updates and has a QR code to allow for payments, unlike Google Maps. We do the heavy-lifting to ensure both the supply and demand side of public transit talk to each other. Less than 20% of urban Indians own a car/hail an Uber. The rest bicycle, walk or use public transit. This full-stack approach will help us offer these commuters the simplest way to get from A to B without using a car.”

On the supply side, UNI will provide their software systems and analytics acumen. Currently, all the data that is generated from transport services is just discarded. This is a major problem for everyone — be it the user or the provider. Transport services generate a goldmine of data — data that can be analysed, understood and from which patterns can be developed. Harnessing technologies like Machine Learning and Big Data Analytics, predictive models can be used, patterns can be detected — improving efficiency across the board. This would result in drastically reduced waiting times for the passengers, sync between different modes of travel, and significantly bring operational costs down for public transport bodies.

These transport authorities are currently in a vicious cycle. Almost all of them are suffering huge losses, meaning they can’t put up money to try and improve their services. As newer ventures come up, making the user experience better and better, the user base of these authorities keeps on dwindling, translating to further and further losses.

Naturally, this is a problem which concerns both the supply and the demand side, therefore any solution will have to take care of both these facets. This is what UNI’s full stack model aims to solve.

Sibesh closed by saying, “Instead of having 50 people in the Delhi Metro control room, we can get down to one or two. The entire process can be made smarter and fully automated, the only requirement for that is data. And public transport generates a lot of data. We just have to use it smartly instead of throwing it away.”

In a nutshell, UNI aims to incorporate the best of everything — with the boarding pass, it wants to replicate the ease of payments like with a Metro card, the intuitiveness and real-time updates like that of the Uber app, and the vast amount of information that mapping services like Google maps or Citymapper provides — and then synchronise it between the demand (end-user) and the supply (transport bodies) side of things.

The road ahead (literally, too!)

What’s most exciting for us looking at UNI is getting to know them from Day 1 — all the way from an ideation stage to a finished product. Another great thing is that they’re a group of young, highly motivated individuals with the aim of solving a major problem in India (and beyond) using bleeding-edge tech.

Sibesh, for example, founded Hyperloop India. It was the only team from India, and one of the two from Asia selected to participate in Elon Musk’s hyperloop challenge for college students — build and race their Hyperloop pod on the SpaceX track in California.

When asked what the future might hold for UNI, Sibesh seemed optimistic, yet cautious. “Having one pass work across all transit modes in any city in India is hard. We plan to get a toehold in the market by first selling to the bus companies. For this purpose we are piloting our platform with some local travel firms right now. After we get traction in terms of users and more importantly, data, we’ll engage with subway and metro corporations.”

All that said, it is still very early days for UNI. The team is feeling their way to the size of the problem at hand — and their passion and enthusiasm in tackling it is second to none.

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