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Ticket to Ride

For the Bangalore-based engineer with Texas Instruments, it became a blue-sky moment. “The bus operators, travel agents and customers were all losing out because information wasn’t available to every- body,” he says. So he enlisted his college roommates turned engineers to create a centralized online bus-booking system. Seven years later, Redbus has roped in more than 700 oflndia’s roughly 2,ooo bus operators to become the country’s biggest e-bus-ticket seller, with 3 million tickets sold, 400% growth since 2008 and $30 million in revenues this year.

In India, where rapid growth and ur- banization have saddled megacities with smog and congestion, a better bus system is as good for the environment as it is for travelers. The Energy and Resources Institute found that increasing bus trips from 62% to 8o% of travel in Bangalore would reduce fuel consumption by n% and C02 emissions by 13% over rs years. “Redbus is a crucial step in making trans- portation more sustainable in India,” says Susan Zielinski, a transportation expert at the University of Michigan. “People need to take more buses. They aspire to own cars, but the idea of everyone own- ing their own vehicle is an illusion be- cause of space constraints.”

Still, as Indian incomes rise and the government pours billions into crum- bling roads, more affluent travelers see cars as an escape from rickety, unreliable buses. Only 4.7% oflndian households have a car now, but annual car sales are expected to quadruple to 9 million by 2020, according to the Society of Indian Automobile Manufacturers, especially as more low-cost models hit India. The implications for the environment are grim: cars and two-wheelers contribute 6o% to go% of C02 emissions in Indian cities, compared with 3% to n% for buses, according to Geetam Tiwari, a civil-engineering professor at the Indian Institute of Technology Delhi.

Online ticketing could help boost investment in higher-end, greener bus fleets, says Redbus investor Parag Dhol of Inventus Capital, who estimates India’s bus market is growing 25% per year. “The stigma is, you only ride a bus if you can’t own a car,” says Zielinski, “but better-quality buses can make alternative forms of travel sexier even to car own- ers.” Since adopting Redbus’ reservation system last year, Goa’s state-owned bus operator has increased profits and rolled out snazzier Mercedes-Benz and Volvos featuring softer seats and smoother rides. Volvo is increasing coach production in India fivefold to s,ooo per year. Indian busmaker Ashok Leyland has teamed up with plasticsmaker Saertex India to make soo lighter-weight buses. Dhol calls Redbus the center of”a new ecosystem,” one that hopefully will help India avoid a Malthusian traffic jam.

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