Mobility startups have been one of the hardest hit by the pandemic as lockdowns and restrictions on people movement have impacted this segment and its core business. The lifting of restrictions, however, has raised some hope for this segment as large operators such as Uber continue to see a strong surge in revival of some of their service offerings like auto, moto and rentals. In an interview, Prabhjeet Singh, President, Mobility, Uber India & South Asia spoke on the company’s revival, its expansion plans, roadmap for electric vehicles (EV) and a range of related issues. Edited excerpts:
How has the recovery process been for Uber?
Our core ride-sharing business services were scaled down as we were impacted significantly with the lockdowns. But with lifting of restrictions, people have started traveling again and we are seeing very encouraging results on our overall mobility recovery. I would argue that recovery is beating all our internal projections month-on-month. Some parts of the portfolio, few cities and some product lines are already at pre-covid levels. Our low cost product portfolio like auto and moto (bikes) have seen much faster recovery. Part of it is because users from this segment started traveling outside to offices, etc, much sooner.
Auto in Mumbai is almost at 150% of pre-covid levels, 100% in Chandigarh, 85% in Hyderabad. Delhi-NCR has emerged as one of the top 10 global markets with more than 1 million weekly rides. Intercity is at 70% recovery. Recovery in our core business is also very encouraging and continues to scale up quite rapidly. The low-cost portfolio is recovering faster.
Which cities are powering recovery?
We are in 89 cities with the launch of six new cities recently. We are seeing recovery in both tier-I and II cities. Obviously, use cases like travel to work, airport or business haven’t yet recovered. We are seeing differential recovery, but broadly from a geography perspective, the recovery is universal. Some cities like Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata have seen faster recovery, some cities like Bangalore and Hyderabad, which, which tend to be far more indexed around commuter use cases are at marginally lower recovery.
How did the pandemic impact your business plans?
The pandemic has made us accelerate some of our previous plans and created a lot of opportunities for us to respond to the crisis. With product market fit like two-wheelers and three-wheelers growing so fast, we are confident of actually launching more cities and take our service much more deeper into India’s heartland.
We are going to lean into more low-cost categories much faster. A small-scale pilot has been launched to get rider and driver feedback on whether that product and service resonates with them. The pandemic has forced businesses in the mobility sector to relook at our priorities and operating model very closely. One is the health aspect and win back the confidence of drivers and riders and start using our services on scale.
The pandemic has also got us to change our operating model in terms of business priorities like linking parcel delivery services where people can transport goods. Uber essential, Uber Medic. We have hired 150 people in India over the last six months that include and will be hiring more technical talent in the coming senior directors, managers, software engineers, product managers and data scientists among others.
Our expansion to 200 cities by 2020 was impacted by the pandemic but we are on course to achieve this.
How aggressive is Uber in the EV space?
This is a landscape which is evolving very rapidly and a lot of startups are participating in the space. The government’s–state and central– have come up with policies which are going to encourage and facilitate adoption of newer and more particularly sustainable modes. We believe partnerships will be the right way for us to drive India towards sustainability. We have partnered with Yulu, Mahindra Trio, Sun Mobility, Lithium, OEMs, EV Infrastructure players for charging and battery swapping, fleets and financiers among others.
It will not be a Uber standalone as we recognize that this is a joint accountability and all of us will have to come together in a very meaningful way. We have partnered with Lithium to deploy over 1,000 EVs across Delhi NCR, Mumbai, Bengaluru, Hyderabad and Pune. Recently, we have also rolled out hundreds of e-rickshaws in Delhi NCR and Greater Kolkata for first and last mile connectivity. As of now, we plan to have approximately 3,000 EVs and E-Ricks (across two, three and four wheelers) on our platform by the end of 2021.
Have government policies helped your EV pursuit?
I would say in general that the broader ecosystem is very supportive of the migration to sustainable modes of travel, whether it be the Delhi government’s EV policy recently or Telenganan’s. All of those are markers of reasonably progressive forward looking policies, which are with different state governments are coming out with, but this will require the OEMs to make investments in bringing form factors and vehicles which will be sustainable.
Partnerships will help shape the dialogue, direction and the narrative. I would believe that over the next 12-24 months the space will evolve further for us to collectively be able to have a more definitive view on the pace at which the broader electrification of the Indian mobility ecosystem will happen. But it’s a trend which is irreversible.
What are your concerns in terms of a full recovery of the business with new policies like work from home?
It is still very early days and we at Uber are very cautious that the pandemic is still with us. In terms of outlook, I think it is very tough to right now kind of comment on what 2021 will entail. As a platform which is still less than 1% of what the total trips which happened in a city, the headroom for Uber to continue to innovate and grow is still very material.
If I take a two-three year view, we remain very bullish on the relevance of ride sharing and think it is the best alternative for India to move forward as it is complementary to public transit. I think that thesis still holds as much as it was nine months back.
This article was first published on livemint.com