Slowly, but surely, yellow scooters with red stripes are slipping through the traffic on Indian roads again. After gathering dust, flat tires, and dead batteries through the initial months of the lockdown, mobility startup Bounce’s now-sanitised dockless two-wheelers are back—to 40% of the ridership it had in Bengaluru before the pandemic, claims co-founder Vivekananda Hallekere. Rival Rapido’s bike-taxi business is at 50-60% of its pre-Covid level, The Ken has learnt.

Mobility-as-a-service (MaaS) companies like Bounce and Rapido were among the worst-affected when Covid-19 made landfall last year. 

They spent the first few months of the lockdown cutting costs and figuring out alternative revenue sources. Bounce laid off 130 employees—22% of its workforce—liquidated thousands of scooters, and tried various new schemes like offering long-term rentals. As for Rapido, with its core bike-taxi business drying up, it got its fleet of riders to deliver food and packages for partner companies.

 Fortunately for Bounce and Rapido, they didn’t have to scrape together short-term, overnight schemes for too long. Investors The Ken spoke with said that while their long-term thesis about last-mile mobility never changed, the pace at which customers have come back to mobility platforms has surprised them. 

Indeed, Bounce and Rapido’s swift recovery stands out. A highly-contagious virus and business models reliant on ‘shared’ assets like two-wheelers and helmets should have spelt disaster. Mobility experts and investors The Ken spoke with pin down three likely reasons for the recovery:

1) India’s daily infection count has reduced from a peak of 100,000 cases in September to 11,000 in February. This has eased government-imposed movement restrictions and made people less anxious to travel in public and shared modes of transport

2)   Almost 90% of India’s employed workforce is in blue- and grey-collar jobs like manufacturing, hospitality, and sales. Which means they can’t work from home, and need an efficient, reliable way to get around

3)   Private services like Bounce and Rapido can promise better and more frequent sanitisation of their assets over public transport

 That isn’t to say Bounce and Rapido weren’t affected by Covid-19. Both businesses were growing exponentially, and were in the enviable position of being category creators when the pandemic hit. Bounce’s 22,000 scooters used to clock clock Techcrunch Indian bike rental startup Bounce raises $105M Read more 120,000 rides a day in six cities in January 2020. Rapido had expanded its bike-taxi operations to 85 Indian cities and grown grown Financial Express How bike-taxis are gradually gaining rider confidence Read more  to 2X the size of rivals like Ola Bike and uberMOTO.

AUTHOR

Olina Banerji

Based in Delhi, Olina writes about mega-trends in urban mobility, education, skilling and the environment, with a focus on how institutions and innovations can help cities grow sustainably. She is a graduate of the London School of Economics, and has worked previously with India Today and global non-profit Ashoka.

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