Driving Change: Sustainability Initiatives in Travel and Transportation

Driving Change: Sustainability Initiatives in Travel and Transportation

Driving Change: Sustainability Initiatives in Travel and Transportation

Surya Khurana, MD, Flix, 0

Surya is a seasoned leader with a decade-long track record in business expansion and team development across diverse industries. He excels in launching markets and products, driving supply-demand growth, strategic planning, government relations, fostering partnerships, and amplifying sales. Surya holds a Harvard Executive Education in Strategy and Leadership.

In an email interaction with CEOInsights India, Surya addresses sustainability hurdles, promotes collaboration for eco-solutions, and foresees integrated mobility and AI shaping future transportation. Below are the excerpts from the interview –

What are the primary sustainability hurdles in travel and transportation, and how should the industry effectively tackle these challenges?
The cost of e-buses, significantly higher than diesel buses, remains the most important challenge. Lack of available funding from the government and ecosystem, that makes sustainable alternatives more accessible, is a major hurdle. This is followed by inadequate charging infrastructure at convenient locations for long-distance coach services. As a result, there is anxiety within bus operators and retail buyers of electric buses about buying an expensive asset without clarity regarding battery life, battery recycling norms and related scenarios.

In the intercity bus space, perceived uncertainty, and lack of transparency in data and reporting on existing operational and financial performance of operators is leading to increase in estimates of lifecycle costs of EVs by financing entities. Private operators can work together with travel tech platforms to provide transparent data and reduce the overall cost of financing.

How does technological innovation contribute to sustainable practices in travel and transportation? How should companies leverage technology for eco-friendly solutions?
Until a decade back one could not have relied on an app to transport for last minute trips to nearby towns or even a planned trip to the airport – there were more assets for less people, efficiency was low and access was limited. Technology has enabled the growth of e-ticketing and ride booking platforms, reducing the number of individual vehicles on the road and promoting more efficient use of transportation resources. Utilizing data analytics and artificial intelligence, transportation companies can optimize logistics, reducing empty miles and fuel consumption. Advanced route planning algorithms also contribute to fuel efficiency by minimizing travel distances and avoiding congested areas.

Companies should use their data and talent to explore alternate ride options. Along with piloting the first long-distance e-buses and testing solar energy and bio-gas, Flix is involved in the development of a hydrogen fuel cell coach through the funded project HyFleet, in line with its technology-open approach. Further, travel tech players
can enable fleet transformation by facilitating cross-sector partnerships with climate smart OEMs and encouraging the public to choose collective mobility through their owned media.

In your view, how does the synergy of companies, governments, and stakeholders drive sustainability in travel and transportation?
On the medium to long term, all actors involved in reshaping mobility, ranging from manufacturers to the government to the operators themselves, should jointly set up conditions for travel tech players to invest in fleet transformation by testing alternative fuels and latest emission standards. For eg, while the BS4 emission norms allow a motor vehicle to emit not more than 80mg/km of NO2 (nitrogen oxides), the BS6 emission norms have reduced it to 60mg/km. Therefor three BS4 buses emit as much NO2 as four BS6 buses. On the e-buses front, government should support with infrastructure such as more bus terminals and parking yards for private players, as well as, resolve persistent permit and fare capping related issues. At the state-level, governments should look into phasing out of old State Road Transport Undertaking (SRTU) buses, as the bulk of SRTU fleets are old and inefficient.

We live in a world where sustainable transportation is at the core of some organizations and a 'good-to-have' for others.

How should companies balance meeting consumer demand for sustainable travel while ensuring business growth?
It will be key to build business models that can adapt to changing consumer preferences and market dynamics. This not only allows incorporation of more sustainable practices over time, but offers modular services that enable consumers to choose sustainability options based on their preferences. Financial support from the government will reduce short-term risks to some extent. For eg, in the intercity bus space, currently there are different standards that each operator is held do, which makes it challenging to offer a similar proposition. We live in a world where sustainable transportation is at the core of some organizations and a ‘good-to-have’ for others. Unless there is a more cohesive policy around this, it will continue to be a trade-off for most corporations, which will succumb to investor and shareholder pressure.

Anticipating future trends, what kinds of innovations will significantly shape the sustainability landscape in travel and transportation?
In India, increase in online bookings for buses will be the most important driver for sustainability. MaaS platforms that integrate various transportation modes, including public transit, ride-sharing, and bike-sharing, offering consumers a seamless and sustainable travel experience will shape the sustainability landscape most significantly. Contactless and integrated ticketing solutions for multiple modes of transportation will also play a key role.

Artificial intelligence will increase efficiency by creating models that inform business decisions with a higher degree of accuracy to ensure a more balanced market place and will also increase access, reduce the friction and help in bundling individual modes of transport together – more seamlessly.