India’s Shuttl raises $36M to expand its app-based bus aggregator

Shuttl, a startup that runs an app-based bus aggregator service in India, said on Monday that it has raised $36 million in a new financing round as it looks to scale its business in the country.

Toyota Tsusho Corporate and SPARX Group, through its Mirai Creation Fund II, and some unnamed investors* have funded Shuttl’s ongoing Series C financing round, the four-year-old startup said. Shuttl, which is based in Gurgaon and counts Amazon as one of its investors, has raised about $70 million to date.

Shuttl operates about 2,000 buses that clock over 100,000 rides each day in six cities in India. Customers book their rides through the app and on-board the bus through specified bus stations.

The startup has experimented with a range of safety features such as an emergency button that automatically slows down the bus until completely stopping at the nearest bus stop. It also tested a live feed that any passenger could share with their loved ones.

Another feature requires drivers to identify themselves before starting the journey and take an instant alcohol test. Passengers, who are required to book a ticket in advance of riding the bus — different from how traditional buses operate in India — are also authenticated before they can get on with their rides.

These safety features have made the service especially popular among women, Amit Singh, cofounder and chief executive of Shuttl, told TechCrunch in a recent interview. More than 40% of Shuttl’s passengers are female, who find the rides on its buses a safer commute option. This is a promising feat, as women only make up for about 20% of India’s workforce, according to industry estimates.

Singh said that Shuttl, which recently added new routes in New Delhi, Chennai, and Kolkata, will use the fresh capital to grow within and beyond its circle of six cities.

Unlike Ola and Uber, Shuttl has been slow with its expansion. Singh explained that Shuttl’s business is different from any other app-based transportation service provider. “If they sign up a large number of drivers, they can service a city rather quickly. For buses, it is different. For one, a bus is not going to show up to a customer’s door. So you have to first figure out different routes. You have to identify a route, establish pick-up points, train drivers, and persuade customers to follow these routes,” he added.

But he is optimistic that Shuttl is inching closer to reaching “escape velocity” — which when it has hit, it would be able to scale at a faster pace.

In a statement, Shigeru Harada, chief operating officer for automotive division of Toyota Tsusho Corporation, said, “Shuttl has taken the lead in solving for traffic congestion and air pollution through a technology-enabled mass transport solution. We look forward to work together with them to disseminate relatively energy efficient MaaS solutions, such as Shuttl’s app-based mass transportation service, through our global network.”

Earlier this year, Shuttl started to provide meals on its buses. Singh said he continues to explore what all value-added services the startup could offer to customers and also to make best use of its logistics network.

As for numbers, Shuttl doubled its revenue in the fiscal year that ended in March. Its revenue crossed 100 crore Indian rupees, or $14 million.

*Update: An earlier version of this story said that Shuttl had raised $18 million. A spokesperson has since clarified that the startup has raised $36 million as part of the new financing round and meant to say that the two named investors alone had infused $18 million. It did not identify other investors.