Move over ride-hailing. Bus-hailing apps are picking up steam. The momentum is strongest in developing countries, where concerns about pollution and traffic congestion are mounting. Many developing countries also have a long history of mass transit use.
This new mobility sector has a long way to go before achieving the scale of its car-hailing predecessor. But a growing number of venture capital-funded start-ups are staking a claim. India is taking the lead. Last week Gurugram-based Shuttl, an early entrant, reported it had landed $7.2 million as part of a Series B funding round, according to DealStreet Asia. Participants included Sequoia Capital, Lightspeed India Partners and Times Internet Ltd., a subsidiary of Indian media house Bennett Coleman and Co.
While the dollar figure is small compared to the hundreds of millions being invested in ride-sharing companies, it is notable for being the latest in a series of fund raises Shuttl has completed in the past 12 months. The start-up secured $1.4 million from Trifecta Capital in January, following a round of $11 million led by Amazon India, Amazon Alexa Fund and Dentsu Ventures in July 2018.
Founded in 2015, Shuttl has raised a total of $43.8 million, according to CrunchBase.
Big players are circling the market. Last year Uber launched a bus program in Cairo, Egypt as well as Monterrey, Mexico, and the company plans to add staff to its Seattle-based “high capacity vehicles team,” as the Uber bus program is called, GeekWire reported today.
“We’re seeing the growth of this product take off faster than UberX did when it launched in [those cities] – really early on, there are signs of product market fit,” said Miraj Rahematpura, a product manager on the high capacity vehicles team, according to GeekWire. “We’re super excited to scale to a lot more cities.”
Uber and Shuttl, which is owned by Super Highway Labs, have a shared history stemming from Uber’s recent acquisition of Middle East on-demand cab hailing rival Careem for $3.1 billion. Last fall Careem acquired another Indian bus shuttle service app, Commut, in a deal that brought the latter’s talent and technology under the Careem umbrella, while shifting its customers and drivers to Shuttl, Bloomberg reported.
That acquisition helped Shuttl grow services featuring around 700 buses that provide 45,000 rides per day on 130 routes in eight cities. The latest funding round will be used to expand the company’s geographical reach, and serve more consumers across Indian cities.
Also known as microtransit and on-demand buses, bus-hailing startups typically feature private shuttle buses that run multiple routes. Like Shuttl, customers use an app to find and purchase tickets for seats.
Co-founder Amit Singh has said his goal is to reduce pollution and traffic in crowded cities like Delhi by encouraging people to take mass transportation.
The apportioning of Commut assets is not the only example of a changing market. Ola, Uber’s main competitor in India, shut down its bus unit Ola Shuttle last year. (Ola is now reportedly in talks with Uber to acquire the latter's operations in India.) Several other bus-hailing startups remain – Shuttl’s competitors include Bengaluru’s ZipGo and Mumbai’s Cityflo.
The sector is trickier to crack in the U.S., where most cities lack sufficient urban density and a history of transit ridership. In January, the app-based shuttle service Chariot shut down, two and one-half years after being acquired by Ford for a reported $65 million. Uber shut down a carpool service called UberHOP more than three years ago.