Notwithstanding its constant denial, Uber is moving fast on introducing ride-sharing on vans and buses in India, with a likely launch of the service within three months, according to two persons in the industry briefed on the matter. San Francisco-based Uber, the world's most valued startup, is thus opening another front in its direct battle with home-grown rival Ola.
According to the two persons cited above, Uber is considering launching large people carriers in Kolkata, for which it has entered into a tie-up with Force Motors to provide its driver partners with vehicles such as the 13-seater Trax Cruiser.
An Uber spokesperson, however, denied plans of entering the new category. "We were in talks with Force for large vehicles that are on the UberXL platform in Kolkata. We have no such plans on the anvil," she said.
However, the Trax Cruiser is much larger than the vehicles it typically offers under the UberXL category, such as the Toyota Innova, Maruti Suzuki Ertiga and Mahindra Xylo, which have seating for up to six people.
An email sent to Force Motors did not elicit a response till the time of writing this story.
One of the people cited above said that about a fortnight back, Uber held a meeting of various stakeholders in the transportation sector in Kolkata for feedback on starting bus and van services in the city. The other person said Uber might launch this service under the UberPOOL category.
There were media reports in October last year about Uber's plans to enter the bus and minivan aggregation space, but the company had told Medianama that it didn't have any immediate plans to enter the category. Uber's rival Ola is already operating in the segment, offering services for city commute, office transportation and outstation trips through Ola Shuttle. A bunch of small players, including Shuttl, ZipGo and Cityflo, are also operating in this segment.
A senior Uber executive had earlier told Techcircle that ride-sharing and localisation of its offerings would be top priorities for the company in India this year.
Uber has been steadily expanding its offerings in India. It launched cab rental service UberHIRE in eight cities this week. It recently also said it would soon start on-demand food delivery UberEATS in the country.
The company last week appointed former Tata group executive Madhu Kannan as chief business officer for India and emerging markets, with a focus on expanding its business in the country, its largest market outside the US.