MetroRide banks on AI-power to drive first and last-mile e-mobility

by Nilesh Wadhwa 21 Mar 2022


MetroRide provides incentives for women drivers, who account for almost 20 percent of its fleet.

Bangalore-headquartered MetroRide, a year-old Artificial Intelligence (AI) driven electric mobility platform is gearing up for its next phase of growth. The company runs a fleet of electric three-wheelers on routes linked to metro stations and uses AI-enabled technology to determine these routes.

Girish Nagpal, co-founder and CEO, MetroRide told Autocar Professional, “We started in 2021 and have survived two waves of Covid. In this journey we have served 3 lakh customers till date. We already have presence in New  Delhi, Bangalore and Noida and will expand to Hyderabad. We have around 150 drivers onboard with us.”

The company says its fleet has helped save around 120gms of carbon for every kilometre travelled, which translates to an average of 600gms on every ride. Customers using the tech-driven AI platform travel an average of 4-5km.

The last couple of years has been challenging given the unprecedented Covid-19 pandemic, which saw several well-established and start-ups struggle to stay afloat, and which also had a severe impact on MetroRide.  

Analytics to cut waiting time
The start-up primarily caters to office goers and students who typically have fixed travelling pattern, but the mobility platform can be used by anyone looking for an economical, environment-friendly mobility solution.

To avail the service, a customer can book a ride using the mobile app or Whatsapp chatbot. Once the booking is done, the customer needs to reach the pick-up point and the e-three-wheeler will ferry him/her to the route. Unlike traditional ride-hailing services, the MetroRide platform has a fixed route around the metro stations, usually targeting educational institutions and office areas. “There is certain predictability in our model. Typically, customer demand from Monday to Friday is very predictable as almost 83 percent of our customers are repeat ones. More often or not, we know how many customers we will be serving tomorrow. The weekdays are the peak, in that also we have a deviation of 4-5 percent but that is not too much. On the weekends, there is a dip.”

As Nagpal puts it, the best part of its business model is predictability. “We accordingly put the number of drivers/vehicles on a particular day at a particular station at a particular time. As a result of certain predictability, we know the customer flow. That's where the data, analytics and AI engine helps us in forecasting on how customers we can expect at a particular station at a particular hour on a day. Technology helps us to optimise our operations,” explains Nagpal.

 The start-up says that while it promises a ride in less than 5-minutes, the average waiting time is under 2 minutes. “In terms of pricing, we are close to Rs 18-20 per ride, which is almost 70-80 percent savings compared to other options. The average distance covered is 3-4km by a customer,” Nagpal says.

Expansion mode
In the initial days of the service, the start-up saw 100 percent women drivers, for which the company was working with different NGOs. But given the limited availability of women drivers, MetroRide opened its doors for all genders. “While we are a 'for profit' company, the focus is also very much on impact. That's why we are 100 percent electric and don't use IC-vehicles and initially started with 100 percent women fleets and were optimistic that we won't have any dearth of women employees if we are ensured the right place to work, right kind of earnings. But we were proven wrong,” shares Nagpal.

As he says, the company is now very inclusive. “We are open for everybody now but ensure that when women work with us, they have a choice in terms of the shift they choose and the payout,” explains Nagpal.

At present, the company has tied-up with OEMs like Piaggio, Mahindra Electric, Etrio, battery swapping companies such as Sun Mobility, RACEnergy, as well as charging infrastructure and retrofit companies as well. It has a fleet of 150 vehicles and hopes to reach 1,000 vehicles by end-2022.  The company is building its ecosystem. For instance, it is not just Piaggio vehicles that the company has but retrofitted vehicles as well. The company also works with partners who do the retrofit on old ICE-three-wheelers, which can be onboarded on the platform.

Nagpal says that it is not about competition but about collaboration that is driving adoption. When one gets enough people and the critical mass comes in, everybody will have a bigger pie. In his view, people are looking at competitive ecosystem and working very closely because today the goal for everyone (in EV segment) is the same. He is clear that his focus is on getting the customers onboarded and providing them with that comfort.

INTERVIEW: Girish Nagpal, co-founder and CEO, MetroRide

What are your investments and expansion plans?
Most of our investments are going towards expansion. Our footprint expansion is the single biggest agenda and we aim to ensure that we make our technology more robust and integrate this multi-modal connectivity. So, we plan to bring in different transit agencies like the Metro, for which we will be spending more on our tech platform. We are looking at raising funds in the short- and long-term. We are currently amidst our pre-Series A and in the next 6-9 months looking at our Series A. Till date, our focus as we just started a year ago has been on getting in the traction. The whole focus was on growth, but in terms of revenue we are evolving and will publish some numbers in the coming months.

In terms of investment. we are looking at raising around $15-18 million (approximately Rs 111 crore – 133 crore). We have acquired customers, given them our solutions and got positive feedback.

Hence the focus on growth, liaisoning with this transit agencies like the Metro and BMTC among others. That’s going to be the next big game-changer for us as we make the journey seamless.

Recently, we won the semi-finals of a global mobility contest – 14th Annual Global Automotive & Mobility Innovation Challenge Competition 2022 – and are the only team from India to represent the country at Michigan, USA. We are amongst the top 10 companies shortlisted globally for the competition. It gave us global recognition and will enable our plans for global markets.

The US market does not have three-wheelers for passenger transport but the one they have is for lavish, premium lifestyle product. We are looking is at commercial vehicles. Our platform is agnostic of the vehicle form-factor and can work for two-and four-wheelers.

What about the investments in charging / swapping infrastructure?
There are many stakeholders getting involved here. If you look at there are PSUs, power-grid, setting up charging infrastructure. Oil companies are also looking to install EV charging or battery swapping infrastructure because they see it as the future. As a model, there are companies who will invest in the charging infrastructure and charge on pay per use, then there are battery swapping companies who charge for the energy consumed, and then there are flat charges on the battery itself. MetroRide is a capex-light company. and we don’t invest in the EVs, setting up charging or battery swapping infrastructure, but we definitely give business to them. Our focus is on services to give users a faster and affordable ride.

How do you decide the route and how long does it take to fix a new route?
That’s where we leverage technology. In fact, there tools such as Google as well as third-party data companies and our own AI-engine. This is completely a tech play, but the final route has to be decided on ground. It is a combination of on-ground surveys and technology. When we launched our first station (route) it took us two months to do the route planning but we have now shrunk that to 2-3 days.

On an average, how much does each driver-partner make?
On average the driver makes Rs 1,100 to Rs 1,300 (takes home) per day which is 30 percent higher than what he makes on his own. The income consistency is the key, and it also varies depending on the market.

The feature was first published in Autocar Professional's March 15, 2022 issue.