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Aziz Arman: The Developing World’s Public Transport Crisis and the Rise of Tech-Enabled Transportation Servıces

Could bus-sharing be the solution to Bangladesh’s urban congestion?

With the promise of reducing the number of vehicles on the road and overcoming the chronic shortage of state-run buses, bus-sharing services are rapidly gaining traction in fast-growing cities

Affordable public transportation is critical for urban development anywhere. Especially for most of the low-salary populace living in the less expensive peripherals of urban areas, access to mobility is integral for them to gain income opportunities imperative to socioeconomic growth. Despite this, transit networks are greatly failing to expand in tandem with the thriving population in developing countries of the Global South.

The UN has predicted that 90% of all urban growth from 2018 to 2050 will take place in cities across Asia and Africa - yet despite this, 1 billion people still live more than 2km from an all-weather road. As cities with humongous populations grow up around ageing infrastructure, city dwellers are increasingly forced to bear with hours of endless traffic, hazardous road conditions and unbearable pollution profound social and economic implications.

Bangladesh contains about 1000 people per square kilometer, making it the most densely populated country in the world. Dhaka streets are overflowing with vehicles, yet there still aren’t adequate means of transportation for its inhabitants. The immense pressure on the streets of Dhaka is a notable mobility challenge, impacting the lives of billions and costing 6% of its annual GDP.

According to the World Bank, traffic congestion due to a lack of reliable public transport eats up 3.2 million working hours per day. In just 15 years, the number of motorized vehicles plying on the roads has increased fourfold, yet roads only occupy 7.5% of total land area – significantly less than many other major cities around the world.

In this dire situation, the pre-eminent solution is tech-enabled bus servıces. They hold significant potential to revolutionize urban living and accelerate sustainable socio-economic development. 

Diagnosing the chronic public transport crisis in Dhaka

Home to one of the most populous emerging megacities in the world with a population of 21 million, Dhaka, the capital of Bangladesh, is facing an emerging transport crisis.

Every year, as 400,000 new residents pour into the capital, the city’s ailing bus system continues to buckle under the exponential rise in demand. The inhabitants of this bustling city are forced to choose between two options- to opt for public transportation or arrange private vehicles.

While private vehicles aren’t suitable for low-income families, public transport remains unpredictable, dangerous, and dilapidated. The unreliability of public transport services is viewed as the most compelling factor that led most to choose private transport instead.

While private vehicles occupy 70% of road space, they carry only 5% of passengers. In comparison, buses occupy only 5% of road space yet carry 30% of passengers.

Solutions from the tech ecosystem: The rise of technology-enabled bus solutıons

In cities facing starkly similar public transport crises such as Cairo, local innovators are capitalizing on technology to offer urbanities alternative transport choices.

Within this growing mobility-focused tech ecosystem, technology-enabled bus servıces are beginning to stand out as one particularly compelling solution.

By matching bus routes closely to commuters’ needs, technology-enabled Bus servıces such as Jatri, Swvl, and Airlift are gaining mass popularity by offering reliable, affordable, and efficient transport for millions of commuters.

Last year, Pakistan witnessed the launch of its first bus hailing service, Airlift. Within eleven months, it has secured $12mn in its Series A funding round – marking one of the largest tech investments ever seen in South Asia.

The same year, Cairo-based startup Swvl raised $42mn fresh funds in its Series B funding in the largest-ever funding round for an Egyptian startup. Other bus-sharing applications such as Shuttl in India, Gona in Nigeria, and ClickBus in Brazil have all followed suit with major investments and millions of users. This growing success of technology-enabled Bus servıces has not gone unnoticed by transport tech giants – both Careem and Uber have sought to get a stake in the fast-growing market by launching their own bus services.

Following the lead of other developing economies such as the likes of Egypt, India, and Ghana, Bangladesh is beginning to look towards harnessing tech solutions to solve its chronic transport problems. To date, the ride-sharing industry is worth an estimated $260 million and accounts for 23% of the transport sector in Bangladesh.

Evidently, Bangladesh’s transport sector holds significant opportunity for tech innovation. Nowhere is this potential clearer than in the success of Jatri, the first smart bus ticketing and tracking platform in Bangladesh.

The startup’s success has caught the eye of global investors ın the seed round raısed earlier in 2020. Now with backing from VC heavyweights including Superangel, Falcon Network, and other renowned angel investors, Jatri is setting its sights on regional expansion to transform public transport in the other emergıng markets.

Jatri is at the forefront of introducing this service in Dhaka city. With its innovative app and flexible features, Jatri is providing the bus commuters of Dhaka the one solution they always desired- estimated time of arrivals and digital payment system for buses. Commuters are encouraged to purchase their bus tickets through the app, allowing cashless and quick transactions. Jatri’s bus tracking, however, is its most captivating aspect. Jatri offers all app users continuous real-time updates of the bus location, making the requirement of bus schedules obsolete.

Apart from digital ticketing, Jatri supports offline ticketing too. Commuters without smartphones can opt for POS machine ticketing at bus counters, antiquating the need for conductors checking tickets multiple times. The Jatri app provides a multitude of solutions to bus companies such as fleet management, accurate data analytics, computations of financial issues, and more. As the payment system is completed digitally, all transactions are handled by banks- thus making the activities of bus owners much easier and manageable.

Jatri is on its way to transform urban mobility for good. It provides transport solutions for corporate workers, allowing them to maneuver the streets of Dhaka with the aid of technology. As buses carry 47% of all passengers in the city, Jatri plans to innovate newer features to compel users to opt for buses. Jatri is on the path of becoming a super app amassing major bus-based platforms and verticals as well.

The growing success of Jatri demonstrates how technology based bus servıces can transform urban living for communities that live and work within them. As the number of shared buses takes over the city, commuters will enjoy efficient and pre-planned commutes.

On the other hand, the city authorities will gain economical advantages by reaching a wider number of people using public transport. A reduced number of vehicles lead to substantially less pollution. This will also lead to a significant reduction in carbon emission with time.

All the while, as commuters opt back into public transport over personal vehicles, diminishing congestion and carbon emission levels can enhance the essential public health and economic growth required to achieve sustainable and equitable development.

Aziz Arman is the Co-Founder & CEO of Jatri.

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