Idea: Zeppelins in the Sky

Recently, I wrote an article for Swarajya about Nitin Gadkari’s plans to develop Highway Strips or Road Highways for defence and civilian purposes in India. You can read the article here.

A reader posted a comment, suggesting the use of Zeppelins as a mode of transport.

The LZ 129 Hindeburg on its flirst flight in 1936.
The LZ 129 Hindenburg on its first flight in 1936. Image in the Public Domain.

Now, Zeppelins [often incorrectly referred to as Blimps] have always fascinated me. A Blimp is a Non-Rigid Airship, while a Zeppelin is a Rigid Airship. Developed in the late 19th Century by the Count Ferdinand von Zeppelin, it was patented in Germany in 1895 and the United States in 1899. They made their first commercial appearance in 1910, operated by  Deutsche Luftschiffahrts-AG (DELAG). They were extensively inducted into the German military as well. They were phased out in 1937 after the Hinderburg Disaster at New Jersey. [Clip Below, else click here to view]

Post 1990,  Zeppelin Luftschifftechnik, a daughter enterprise of the Zeppelin conglomerate that built the original German Zeppelins, has been developing Zeppelin “New Technology” (NT) airships, which are semi-rigid vessels.

Now, the important thing to remember that Zeppelins were phased out, their hangers demolished and the all supporting infrastructure disbanded. They were completely phased out in favour of Fixed-wing aircraft, which is where the problem is.

Fixed-Wing aircraft, which we fly in, the aeroplanes, have a major disadvantage; fuel consumption.

As per SuchindranathAiyer’s comment: In winged aircraft, 75% of fuel is spent on “lift” which is saved by using Zepellins. Again, Zepellin have last mile advantage as they can come to Mooring Towers in the city center. They require amazingly less support infrastructure unlike Railways and Airlines. All this would reflect in low travel costs.

This takes us back to my first article on Swarajya where I spoke on the need to invest in Railways as opposed to Aviation because of the slow depletion of fossil fuels.

However, since Zeppelins consume lesser fuel, they can operate at cheaper rates, thus making them more viable as long term alternatives to both winged aviation as well as rail.

The mooring towers can be built in a conveniently accessible location, such as around Kashmere Gate in Delhi, the Sion Causeway in Mumbai, Shanthinagar in Bengaluru, Koyambedu in Chennai. The Terminal building can be built on the lines of a Metro station. The hangars can be built elsewhere where the airships can go after the trip is completed. Hangars can also be built one atop another and land usage can be minimised.

Zeppelins were phased out in 1937. Blimps are still in use, but rarely for long distance transport. While Zeppelins used Hydrogen as the gas to hold them afloat, modern Blimps use Helium to do the same.

It is 2016, technology has evolved massively, research has massively increased in the field of elements and gases as well as in safer docking techniques. Disasters like the Hindenburg crash can be averted with proper use of technology. With research being done for Solar-powered aircraft, Zeppelins too can be made Solar-powered.

The Zeppelin can be good for Short-to-Medium distance transport, such as:

  • Mumbai-Valsad-Surat
  • Mumbai-Pune-Satara
  • Panaji-Belgaum-Hubli
  • Bengaluru-Mysore-Madikeri
  • Palakkad-Coimbatore-Salem
  • Chennai-Mamallapuram-Puducherry
  • Chennai-Tirupathi
  • Hyderabad-Vijaywada-Amaravati

These routes can have intermediate stops such as multiple pick up points. For example, Mumbai [which currently has 5 Outstation Railway Termini, and 5 State Transport Bus Terminals] can have multiple mooring towers such as Sion, Borivali, Chembur, Mulund, as well as Vashi and CBD Belapur in Navi Mumbai.

The unfortunate incident involving the Hindeburg [resulting in 36 deaths] brought development in airships to a grinding halt. If disasters such as Air India Express Flight 812 [which overshot the runway at Mangalore in 2010, killing 158 people] had happened back then, would it have brought development of winged-aircraft to a halt as well?

Of course, if the sector is opened up to the Private Sector, expect several carriers to light up their buses with LEDs and call themselves LED Zeppelin. On a related note, Led Zeppelin’s self titled debut album had a picture of the Hindenburg Disaster as the album cover.

After all this, you can probably sing “Hawa Mein Udti Jaaye, Oh mera LED wala Zeppelin Helium ka”.

Zeppelins in the Sky, Definitely Worth a Try!

Zeppelins in the Sky, Definitely Worth a Try! Click To Tweet

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#TransitIssuesIN – Instagram your Transport Problems with #Blogchatter

So a lot of us have had an issue with Transit in our daily life. Buses may be late, trains may be dirty, autos may overcharge, and the list goes on.

The general solution till a while back would be to call up the Authorities, tell them your problems, let them ignore it and go on.

But not anymore. In today’s age and times, many Government Transcos as well as Private ones are online! You can always send out a tweet and wait till you get a reply. Such is the power of Social Media.

A group of us have planned a Hashtag for this on Twitter and Instagram; #TransitIssuesIN.

Now; the power of Social Media is a well known fact. With more government bodies and private parties getting onto the Social Media bandwagon, it is easy to ensure that this reaches the right person. And Twitter and Instagram, ensure that it remains in Public view, or to be a little legal, ‘On Record’.

How do we go about this?

Simple, let us follow a small procedure.

First, ensure you have a Twitter and Instagram account. Follow accounts of people you know, people who can help share and amplify your content. You can follow me [@Rsrikanth05 on Twitter, @Rsrikanth05 on Instagram], and the blog [@BESTpedia on Twitter].

Second, connect your Twitter and Instagram accounts. Click here to learn how to do so. However, since Twitter doesn’t show photos uploaded to Instagram as native images and only provides a link to Instagram, the best thing to do would be to use IFTTT to link the two. IFTTT [short for IF This Then That], allows you to create a Recipe to make your Instagram photos appear as Native images on Twitter. Click here to find out more about this recipe.

Third, upload your image. Let IFTTT share it on Twitter. Ensure you use the Hashtag: #TransitIssuesIN at the start of your post.

And that’s it. You’re done. Let the power of Social Media take your post up. Let us try and create a revolution that forces these service providers to sit up and take heed of the problems that they often cause, irrespective of whether it is Intentional or Accidental.

#TransitIssuesIN
#TransitIssuesIN

Why Instagram and Twitter?

Simple, both are public platforms [unless you keep your account private, which dilutes the purpose this entire exercise], both are simple, and easy to use. The impact of an image on the human mind is far superior to text, and images are more likely to be viewed in search results on Twitter.

So go ahead, take things forward!

Instagram your Transit problems with #TransitIssuesIN !!! Click To Tweet

A special thanks to Richa [http://subzeroricha.com] for letting me know of the Instagram-IFTTT-Twitter link.

A huge shoutout to #BlogChatter [http://www.theblogchatter.com] for giving me the ideas and the motivation for coming up with this.

 

#TransitIssuesIN with @Blogchatter @aseemrastogi2 @veniceriwe #blogchatter http://bit.ly/INtransissue

A photo posted by Kaboom-wala (@rsrikanth05) on


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#YogaDay special: Yoga and its contribution to Public Transport

Today is International Yoga Day, something that was recognised by the United Nations last year.

Not many people are aware of the immense contributions that Yoga has had on Public Transport.

We often hear negative news about Staff and Employees of Transcos allegedly harassing commuters. Sometimes, we also hear about bus drivers moving down people. While, I don’t want to get into the specifics of all of this, let us look into the root cause of all of this.

All of them have a common cause: Stress.
A bus driver and conductors job is most certainly not the easiest task in the world. It requires a lot of skill and patience. Drivers have to put up with traffic jams, negligent and rash drivers, bad roads, and also passengers who don’t board/disembark through proper doorways or at specific bus stops. This adds to a lot of stress.
A conductor has to deal with people not giving change, rude passengers, passengers boarding/disembarking via the wrong pathways or at bus stops, people not moving to emptier sections of the bus, etc. This, again adds to the stress.
Now, multiply these instance by multiple passengers, number of trips, depot officials asking for fuel reports and fare collections, and you have a perfect recipe for a Nervous Breakdown.

To reduce the load on the staff, several Transcos decided to take up Employee Care measures by introducing Yoga, and Meditions sessions.

MTC has mandatory yoga sessions for staff involved in accidents. They also have sessions to prevent a stress overload, as well as sessions on effective communication and life skills. Similarly, KaSRTC, too has sent its staff to Yoga and rehabilitation to help reduce alcoholism among its staff members.

Others, such as BEST, MSRTC, and BMTC too have had sessions on meditation, anger management, and relaxation to keep staff at ease during long working schedules in order to help reduce stress levels and increase productivity.

Yoga is something we should be proud of. It is pretty much a Soft Power that originated in India. It was earlier laughed off by critics, but today is accepted as an international practice.

Hats off to the government for promoting Yoga as a stress-buster and natural relaxant. If people practiced Yoga on a regular basis, it would help everyone. A stress-free and relaxed person has the ability to keep calm in tense situations, and altercations may be avoided. If everyone is in such a state, imagine the transport scenario will also be one which people would look forward to.

#YogaDay Special: How Yoga is beneficial to Public Transport. Click To Tweet

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A sneak peak at BMTC’s and MCTD’s ITS

A lot has been said about Smart Cities and Smart Transport. Earlier, a post on Smart Bus Stops made an appearance as well. This article aims to cover the Intelligent Transport System [ITS] of two Southern Cities: The Bangalore Metropolitan Transport Corporation [BMTC] in Bengaluru and the Mysore City Transport Division of the KSRTC in Mysuru.

Bangalore

BMTC has recently rolled out their [ITS]. I managed to get a chance to talk to someone in the Office of the Chief Systems Manager at Shanthinagar today.

The ITS is being implemented by Trimax Infra, who earlier implemented the Electronic Ticketing System for BEST, RSRTC, and UPSRTC.

A handheld ticket machine used in BMTC buses in Bengaluru.
A handheld ticket machine used in BMTC buses in Bengaluru. Image copyright Srikanth Ramakrishnan, CC-BY-SA 4.0 available on the Wikimedia Commons.

Here is what I gathered. The ITS is being implemented in three parts:

  • Electronic Ticketing Machines: Trimax has deployed 10,000 Verifone ETMs to 39 depots of the BMTC and trained 7,000 of its drivers. The earlier used Quantum Aeon machines were junked in favour of the new ones which BMTC claims was to enable compatibility with RFID-smart cards. Real-time monitoring of ticket sales is possible, although not being used.
  • Tracking of Vehicles: Every bus has been fitted with a GPS-based tracker which can be tracked online, or via an app.
  • Public Information System: Under the PIS, displays have been installed at major bus stations to inform the public of which bus is arriving soon. This is similar to what several BEST bus stops on the Western Express Highway have, and what Coimbatore was experimenting with in the post on Smart Bus Stops.

All three components of the ITS are already in operation with the PIS displays installed only at select Bus Stations. BMTC has decided to go for an Open Data Policy, thereby allowing developers to build apps and interfaces with an API to access the data from the ITS.

Smart Cards are not part of the ITS project. They are being done separately and are due to be rolled out in 3-6 months with all the Pass Issuing Centres being upgraded to issue Smart Cards.

A chat with a conductor later did explain the shortcomings with the ETMs, although Trimax does take quick action on faulty equipment.

BMTC's ITS: Electronic Ticketing and Vehicle Tracking get a Boost! Click To Tweet

Mysore

The Mysore City Transport Department [MCTD] of the Karnataka State Road Transport Corporation [KSRTC], also has an ITS in place, called the Mysore Intelligent TRAansport System, known as MITRA. MITRA was formally inaugurated in 2012 by the then Minister for Transport R Ashoka.

Among MITRA’s aims are:

  • Real-time monitoring and tracking of buses and help reduce road congestion and other transport issues.
  • ITS improves passenger safety, fleet efficiency, services and traffic situation through transmission of real time information.

According to the MITRA microsite, it’s components are:

  • Vehicle Tracking
  • Real Time Passenger Information System
  • Electronic Display Systems

Mysore was smart enough to implement it before the situation got out of hand and sought funds from the World Bank under GEF and JnNURM.

As part of MITRA, the MCTD recorded the pronunciation of every bus stop name, fitted buses with LED Displays, Speakers, set up display units at Bus Shelters, as well as trained its staff to handle the system. An app was also released less than a month ago for commuters to be able to get bus details as well as fare details on their phone.

KSRTC also ran a User Satisfaction Survey, which showed positive results. The entire results of the survey can be seen here.

While MITRA may not seem as fancy as BMTC’s ITS, it is most certainly benefiting commuters positively and helping promote Public Transport in Mysore. One hope that BEST learns a lesson from this, when restarting its own ITS.

Mysore's MITRA is certainly a game changer in Intelligent Transport! Click To Tweet

Both BMTC and MCTD built a huge control room with a server to handle the large volume of data. Data is crucial to any project that involves the common man, mainly for operational efficiency.

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[Unsung Heroes] A candid chat with a BMTC conductor

Today, I had the luck of having a candid chat with a BMTC Volvo conductor at Shanthinagar. Here is a quick summary of what all I learned:

  • Lack of confidence in the new ticketing machines: The new Verifone ticket machines [procured by Trimax, yes the same Trimax who set up BEST’s system]. Apparently, these new machines hardly last for the sale of 100 tickets before the battery dies out. This, happens on a full charge after being plugged in for 6 hours. The earlier Quantumn Aeon machines, still being used by KSRTC lasts a full two days on a full charge. The new machines are also prone to system crashes, and lack of connection to the server. He equated the new ETMs with the AC Tata Marcopolo buses, which frequently broke down [similar to BEST’s Purple Faeries].
  • Frequent breakdowns due to complete lack of maintenance: He said that all buses, including the Corona and Volvo fleet were not maintained at all and were prone to breakdowns, especially on Airport services. If a bus broke down on the road, it would lead to them getting a Challan from the Traffic Police, and if it happened in a Bus Station, BMTC would issue a memo. The fines would get deducted from the salaries of both the driver and conductor. Due to this happening, cases of staff committing suicide has also seen a significant rise. He mentioned that these would go unreported more often than not.
  • Actions taken on faulty parts: When any LED display got spoiled, conductors and depot workers normally try to fix it. They have gained knowledge on fixing the circuit after years of experience. However, if the administration, got wind of it, they’d junk it and procure a fresh piece which would normally cost anywhere from ₹50,000 to ₹1,50,000.
  • Kickbacks while purchasing buses: Apparently, babus and politicians have got huge kickbacks while buses were purchased, resulting in losses to the exchequer.
  • Lack of attention from higher ups: Complaints about faulty equipment, breakdowns, etc go unheard. Staff is supposed to fill out their feedback and personnel details and put in into a box, which goes unseen for ages.

Overall, he said that BMTC alone could fill a book in terms of mismanagement, maladministration, and general negligence on the part of the higher officials.

He further added, that due to the additional 6% Luxury tax charged by the government, which BMTC has not yet integrated into the Electronic Ticketing System, conductors have to sell the extra surcharge as paper tickets and keep a stagewise log of these extra tickets being sold.

I was told that the reason BMTC discarded the earlier machines for the new one was to enable RFID integration for the near-future Smart Card rollout, which is rather strange, because according to MicroFx and Quantum Aeon,the ETMs used earlier were RFID enabled.

 

That is all in this post. A follow up post on the BMTC ITS will come soon.

 

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[Satire] BEST announces BEST Dish Of The Day

In a move to boost employee morale and get more publicity, BEST has come up with a new programme.

Capitalising on Masterchef’s Best Dish of the Day concept, BEST officials decided that the new program will help boost publicity and the morale of staff and their families.

A BEST staff member from the Colaba Depot excitedly announced that, the Spouses of BEST employees would be cooking under this new scheme. The dish which manages to satisfy the judge or judges the most will be awarded BEST Dish of the Day and will then be sold in BEST’s Mobile Food House [Phirte Upahar Grih/फिरते उपहार गृह ] to tourists who use BEST’s Mumbai Darshan service. It will have a big banner with BEST Dish of the Day, and बेस्ट डिश ऑफ़ दि डे , written on it.

BEST's Phirte Upahar Grih, Mobile Food Van, Canteen On Wheels.
BEST’s Phirte Upahar Grih, Mobile Food Van, Canteen On Wheels. Image copyright Neeraj Pattath, CC-BY-SA 3.0 Unported, available on the Wikimedia Commons.

According to sources, negotiations are underway to rope in Akshay Kumar, who hosted the first season of Master Chef in India as the judge for the program. Sanjeev Kapoor is also rumoured to have been contacted. One staffer even suggested that the Undertaking should try and rope in British food writer and celebrity chef Nigella Lawson to increase BESTs visibility to the world.

When contacted, BEST General Manger Jagdish Patil’s assistant responded by saying that his boss had gone for a food tasting. He said, “BEST has a brand name, and we must capitalise on this. Boss was joking about how Navi Mumbai cannot have an NMMT Dish of the Day, because it sounds stupid. He did say that TMT could capitalise on its brand name because its buses were falling apart like a bunch of rusted, loosely held TMT rods. This is one area where they cannot copy us, or outperform us.”

When contacted, NMMT General Manager Shirish Aradwad seemed a little irate. “They cannot focus on buses, now they are focusing on food also? We’ll make sure their food doesn’t enter our Depots just like we stopped AS-505 from entering the CBD Belapur Bus Stand. They say they’ll sell the dish made by spouses on the Mobile Catering Van, right? Well, we’ll get every employee of ours, to cook food and sell it on every bus. We’ll provide every bus with a stove running on the bus CNG tank and a chimney so that conductors can cook in between stages and drivers can cook while waiting at signals. We’ll even rewire the Bell Pull to stir the food when the conductor is selling tickets.”, he retorted.

One hopes that whatever happens, happens soon, and all of us have our tummies full.

BEST decides to award the BEST Dish of the Day! Click To Tweet

Note: All content in this article is fictitious, and must not be taken seriously. This article is satire, and should ideally be treated as such.

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From Ferry Tale to Ferry Go Round

Ferries. No, not Fairies. And most certainly, not them Purple Faeries.

Water transport is something that defines most coastal cities. New York has one of the most comprehensive Water Transport networks. In India, Kerala, with its backwaters, has a huge Boat-based transport network. Kochi even has an integrated, Road-Rail-Water Transit Hub in the form of the Vytilla Mobility Hub.

Now, when I talk of water transport in this article, I’m talking of Boats and Catamarans. Higher-end vehicles like Hovercrafts will be dealt with separately. I am mainly talking of passenger traffic, since I’m looking at it from an Urban perspective.

Union Minister for Shipping, Road Transport and Highways, Nitin Gadkari has repeatedly called for greater emphasis on water-based transport.  This resulted in the passing of the National Waterways Act, 2016. The fundamental reason behind this being the fact that it is cheaper. However, there are multitude of other reasons that work out in favour of water-based transport over road or rail.

Ferries, can run faster than trains, which run faster than buses. Ferries can carry a greater load of people than buses and and in the long run are more reliable. Will the Electronic Boat recently launched by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, it’s high time, India took up water based transport seriously.

Now, the focus of this post is going to be on four specific cities; Mumbai, Chennai, Pune and Ahmedabad, mainly because of my experience in them. They can emulated to other cities too, such as Hyderabad and Bengaluru.

The Kerala State Water Transport Department owns and operates boats and ferries as well as the infrastructure. The Maharashtra Government started planning for this in the right way by getting the Maharashtra State Road Development Corporation and Maharashtra Maritime Board to set up the necessary infrastructure, while private agencies would operate the services.

Mumbai

BEST Ferry across the Manori Creek.
BEST Ferry across the Manori Creek. Image copyright Nichalp, CC-BY-SA 2.5 Generic, available on the Wikimedia Commons.

Mumbai, as stated earlier, has several rivers flowing through the city, as well as in the vicinity. The Mithi, Oshiwara, Poisar and Dahisar lie entirely on the island, while the Ulhas River flows around the island.

Barring the stretch which passes under the runway of the Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport, the Mithi, once dredged, cleaned of toxic sludge, as well as encroachments, can provide connectivity from Terminal 2 of the airport, Marol, and Seepz Village. Similarly, the Oshiwara can provide connectivity from Oshiwara Depot to Oshiwara Station, the Poisar from Poisar Depot to Malwani, and the Dahisar river can connect Ram Mandir in Borivali to the Dahisar Bridge Bus Station. The major hurdles on this stretch would be clearing encroachments, widening the river, dredging it, and ensuring that pollutants don’t enter it. Another major hurdle would be to demolish low lying bridges and have them replaced by higher ones.

The Ulhas river, which meanders through the Pune, Raigad and Thane district, empties into the Thane Creek. The towns of Kalyan-Dombivali, Karjat, Neral, Badlapur, and Ulhasnagar lie on the banks of the Ulhas. In rural pockets, the Ulhas provides water for agriculture. The rest of it, is filthy, much like the Mithi. Back in 2014, a Shiv Sena MP has asked the MMRDA to conduct a feasibility study for Water-based transport from Kalyan to Mumbai and Virar using the Ulhas river. If planned properly, this can link the far flung town of Karjat to the Versova Bridge via the above mentioned cities and Reti Bunder, thus making travel in the MMR easier. This has been notified as National Waterway 53.

Periodic maintenance of these water bodies will also help prevent another 26th July in future.

Today, the only existing mode of transport is in the form of boats and catamarans connecting Ferry Wharf and Gateway of India to Elephanta Island, Rewas, and Mandwa on one side, and Madh Island, Marve, Manori. The former is operated by private bodies while the latter is operated by BEST.

Chennai

The city of Chennai, has two major rivers and one canal linking these two. The Cooum river runs on the north of the city, the Adyar through the Central portion,and the Buckingham Canal connects to two while also providing connectivity to Kakinada in the North and Cuddalore in the South.

The Cooum, passing through the fringe areas of the Core city, such as Poonamallee, Maduravoyal, Koyambedu, Anna Nagar, Kilpauk, Egmore and Park is polluted for most of the year. The Adayar, passes through less denser areas such as Ekkaduthangal, Adayar, Mylapore, Guindy, etc and is less polluted.  It also passes beneath the Runway of the Chennai International Airport. The Buckingham Canal, meanwhile is relatively cleaner in the Northern fringes of Chennai, and south of Thiruvanmiyur. The section between the two, mostly passing through Central Chennai is pretty much unnavigable because of two reasons: Chennai Central station sort of sits on top of the Canal; The pillars of the MRTS line almost eat away the canals width.

The remaining section of both rivers and the Canal can be utilised for transport in and around the city of Chennai.

The Cooum, by virtue of running parallel to both Poonamallee High Road for most of its part and partly with the Egmore-Beach Railway track, can decongest both the road and the track, as well as the upcoming Metro. The Adayar can connect the Airport, Nandambakkam, Ikkaduthangal, Little Mount, Kotturpuram, Adayar, and terminate at the Theosophical Society.

The Buckingham Canal, on the other hand, can connect Ennore, Wimco Nagar with Basin Bridge on the North, and Thiruvanmiyur to Lattice Bridge, Kannaki Nagar and Sholinganallur in the South. Part of this is part of National Waterway 4.

Like Mumbai, Low Level Bridges would need demolition, the entire water bodies widened and reinforced, and dredged. Periodic maintenance would prevent Chennai from being inundated like in 2015.

Pune

The city of Pune has three major rivers flowing through it, The Mula, The Mutha and the Pavana. The Pavana flows through Northen Wakad, and Chinchwad before merging into the Mula at Kasarwadi. The Mula flows north of Balewadi, separating Pune from Pimpri-Chinchwad at Aundh and Khadki. The Mutha flows from Warje towards Deccan and Shaniwarwada, separating Old and New Pune. The Mula and Mutha meet each other at Sangamwadi from where they flow as the Mula-Mutha.

All three rivers feature a few low lying bridges, most predominantly on the Mutha, which would need be demolished.

The Mula can provide connectivity from Hinjewadi, Wakad, Balewadi, Aundh, Khadki, to Sangamwadi. The Pavana can connect Punawale, Ravet, Chinchwad, Sangvi and Kasarwadi. The Mutha can connect Warje, Kothrud, Karvenagar, Erandwane, and Shaniwarwada. From Sangamwadi, they can provide connectivity to Koregaon Park, Kalyani Nagar, Mundwa, etc.

Ahmedabad

Sabarmati Riverfront Project.
Sabarmati Riverfront Project. Image copyright Harshit Gohil, CC-BY-SA 3.0 Unported, available on the Wikimedia Commons.

Possibly the best city in India in the matters of Riverine management, Ahmedabad stands out in an interesting way. It is possibly the only city in India without low level bridges, and doesn’t need dredging.

The Sabarmati River, which originates in the Aravalis of Rajasthan, runs dry for most of the year. The Sabarmati Riverfront Development Project, under the Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation, involved construction of a concrete wall and concrete basin for the river within the city limits, to control its course, as well as facilitate easy maintenance. Part of the river width was reduced to provide for a Promenade and a Riverside Project. There are barrages at regular intervals on the river to regulate the flow of water. The river receives its water via a canal which brings water from the Narmada river at the Sardar Sarovar Dam. This Narmanda Canal flows under the Sabarmati River at their meeting point.

The Riverfront extends to The Torrent Power Park in the North and near Khodiyarnagar in the South. Plans are afoot to further extend it up North to Gandhinagar via GIFT City. There are two Boating Stations on the banks, used for joyrides on the river. This can be converted into a serious transport station, which in future can be extended up to Gandhinagar.

 

This article was mainly to highlight inner-city, river-based transport options. The benefits of running transport ops are it would help keep the river clean, and keep water flowing, thus, reducing chances of deluges.

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[Unsung Heroes] The Mechanics on the Expressway

This happened last week on the Mumbai Pune Expressway.

We had left at around 8.45 from CBD Belapur towards Bangalore. We were driving our Mahindra XUV500. We had reached the Expressway at around 9am. We crossed the Khalapur Toll Plaza by 9.30 and entered the Food Mall to fill up some Diesel and have breakfast.

Once we left, we soon entered the ghat, and reached the lone section of the Expressway that witnesses long pileups during peak hours: The hairpin bends on either side of the Amrutanjan Bridge.

Now, the Amrutanjan Bridge was the site of the Reversing station for the Grand Indian Peninsular Railway [GIPR] back in the days of the British. The station was dismantled when the track took a new route and the bridge, along with a new bridge adjacent to it, became part of the Delhi-Chennai National Highway 48 [the erstwhile Mumbai-Chennai NH 4]. Due it its age, the Archaeological Survey of India [ASI] has refused to give the MSRDC the permission to modify the bridge. The MSRDC subsequently formulated a plan to build a tunnel that would bypass the entire section and hand over the existing stretch entirely to the NH.

The problem with the Amrutanjan Bridge is that the six lane [three per direction] Expressway splits up. The old bridge splits each 3 lane carriageway into two carriageways of 1 lane and 2 lanes. This, coupled with the fact that there is a constant incline in the gradient, plus several sharp bends/hairpin bends and the Khandala tunnel, make driving on this stretch a pain at times. It is not uncommon to see traffic piled up for a few kilometre on either side.

Amrutanjan Bridge
The Amrutanjan Bridge over the Expressway. Image copyright Lok Satta

Now, even though I have been a regular user of the Expressway for the past two years, it has been almost a decade since we drove down in it in a car with luggage. Getting caught in traffic while ascending the ghat was a usual occurrence, mostly happening at night while returning to Pune in a Shivneri, but I have witnessed it once or twice during the day. Having mostly driven on highways in South India for the past few years, the Bhor ghat [the ghat in this stretch], was a bit of an uncommon ground for us. While driving up the slope, the clutch got regularly pressed. After a while, we could smell something burning. We passed it off as engine heat, and turned off the air conditioning and rolled down the windows,  till we began to see smoke coming out of the front. We quickly changed lanes to the left, with one of us standing next to the car and stopping traffic.

A guy on a scooter came over and told us that our clutch was burning and that it needed immediate attention. He also said he would charge us, but only after he fixes it, and we do a test drive. He quickly went under the car, did some tinkering, opened up the bonnet, took out the battery and used water to cool down the clutch. Upon finishing it, he drove the car up for a while, with his associate taking his scooter and following us. We did a test drive as well till the Kalra exit after which we paid him and left. He assured us that the clutch was in good condition for a drive upto Bangalore.

We decided to go for a second opinion and stopped at the Mahindra service centre at Wakad in Pune. Initially, he just smelt it and said the clutch would require replacement which could take 6-8 hours, depending on the load. He then took it into the service centre to check the condition of the clutch. After a while, he came and told us that the clutch was in good condition and that the timely action on the Exoressway had ensured that the clutch remained usable. He said that the car could be driven upto Bangalore, but we’d have to be careful with the clutch. The caveat: Either press the clutch fully, or don’t press it at all. No half clutch for braking, and if we had to brake, we were to use the Hand brakes only.

So, what?

Now. These kind of incidents will keep happening as long as the Amrutanjan Bridge problem exists. The only way to solve the problem is to bypass the stretch altogether with a tunnel. When the Expressway first opened up, it had far fewer takers than it has today because there were numerous people who preferred the old highway. To counter this issue, the MSRDC came up with a solution. Hand over the Old Mumbai Pune highway and Expressway to IRB’s SPV Mhaiskar Infrastructure for Operation and Maintenance on the Expressway and Build-Operate for the Highway. The old NH was four laned from Shedung to Khopoli and Lonavala to Dehu Road, and made a Toll Road. Naturally, all traffic started gravitating towards the Expressway which was the better alternative among two toll roads. If the tunnel is built and the existing section is handed over to the NH, traffic will still remain the same given the increase in the number of vehicles.

With such conditions, it would good if MSRDC and Mhaiskar Infra regularised the services of these mechanics. By virtue of waiting at the side for a vehicle, they come under the category of both Pedestrians and Two Wheelers, both of which are technically banned. Thus, if the higher ups regularised them, it would make life simpler for IRB/MSRDC, the commuter, and these mechanics. After all, they have a specific skillset, that they out to use efficiently. Around the time when our car got stuck, there were atleast half a dozen cars, jeeps and SUVs in the half kilometre stretch ahead of us with the same issue.

 

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[Unsung Heroes] New feature: The Unsung Heroes

Inspired by incidents that occurred over the last few days, a new feature is coming up. It will be a fortnightly feature; titled The Unsung Heroes of the Transport World.

The first one will be out in a few hours. The feature will talk about various people, from conductors, mechanics, officials, common citizens, police personnel, etc.

All posts under this feature will be tagged under Unsung Heroes and have [Unsung Hero] in the post title. They’ll all be on the main blog and not a separate one [like features on the Stupindex].

Please do post any suggestions in the comments section. I will follow up and do my research. Guest posters are more than welcome to join in!

 

 

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Free the Bus and Tax the Car: More harm done than good

I was asked to write this piece as a sequel to the post Public Transport and Capitalism.

Now, before I proceed with the article, a little disclaimer.

I am a staunch supporter of private investment. I support what I call Regulated Capitalism. I ride a cycle to work. I drive a car when I go long distance. I take a bus if I feel like it. If I’m too tired, I take an Ola or an Uber. I may sound blunt and harsh in this article, but sometimes, one needs to do that in order to put across a point.

Now, to get to the actual post.

In the light of the recent Tamil Nadu elections, I went thru two manifestos; that of the DMK and PMK.

If one takes a look at the 2014 Manifesto by the BJP in Maharashtra, you’d find no such thing; for two obvious reasons:
1. The BJP is unapologetically anti-populist.
2. Public Transport, barring ST is a Municipal matter in M’rashtra.

Now, after this, there has been some lengthy debate of sorts on various forums and social media about one single thing: Free bus travel, extra taxes on cars.

Now, this, is not a solution to the problem in anyway. If it all, it does anything, it will massively compound the situation into an unimaginable mess.

Now:

The Problem

Inadequate public transport is the problem that plagues most Indian cities. This includes Bombay, Delhi, Madras, Calcutta. Other cities, such as Bangalore and Pune developed their notorious and infamous two-wheeler culture purely because of lack of good public transport. Even Bombay and its BEST buses are not extremely efficient in an absolute manner, but in a relative one: Relative to other cities, relative to its own siblings [NMMT/TMT], relative to the larger network that it is a part of [Suburban Rail+Metro+Monorail]. The fact that BEST buses run crowded during peak hours alone shows the immense scope for further rationalisation and efficiency.

Now, Public Transport is not a preferred mode of transport by everyone. Among the various reasons, are the following:

  • Lack of connectivity: By far, the most common reason. This can be seen particularly in the city of Bangalore. Most buses in the city go to either Kempegowda Bus Station or KR Market. Buses to various parts of the city originate in these two terminal points. Thus, for someone who lives in Arekere, to go to Electronics City, a journey by bus will involve three trips: Arekere to Jayadeva Hospital, then to Central Silk Board, then to Electronics city. Similarly, if I were to go from Four Bungalows to Mulund Check Naka in Mumbai, I’d have to take a bus to Andheri Station [West], and a changeover to a bus from Agarkar Chowk to Mulund.
  • Irregular or unfavourable timings: Another important factor is the unsuitable timings that a bus or train may have. For example, if someone living in Shanthinagar wanted to visit the Bannerghatta National Park, and decides to take a Volvo [V-365], they may have to wait for a while to get a bus, especially in the afternoon. Similarly, if I were to go to NSCI Worli from Santacruz East in the afternoon by an AC bus, A74Express, A75Express and AS2 run only in the morning and evening.
  • Crowds: Public transport often gets crowded and overcrowded. I myself at times can’t stand too long due to a foot injury. In such times, I prefer to take an Uber or Ola over a bus or a train. If everyone takes a bus or a train at the same time, we get the Peak Hour rush, which anyone living in any major city in India can attest too.

The Solution

  • Diversification of Public Transport: Public Transport shouldn’t be restricted to certain corridors. It must be divided into multiple corridors of different types, from buses, trains and what not. Mumbai is the best example of this. The Suburban Rail forms a major corridor. Metro and Mono act as secondary corridors as well as feeders to the Suburban Rail. Buses act as both tertiary corridors [Eg: 28, 56, AS1, AS4, etc.] and feeders [anything that heads to the station, or a major bus station or a metro station].
  • Park and Ride: Integrate public parking lots with Major transit corridors. Build bus stations and railway stations with parking lots. Encourage people to drive to the Station and then take a bus or a train. A separate post on this will come soon.
  • Co-existence: Allow both private and public transport to co-exist freely. They need each other in order to survive. However, focus on improving the quality of public transport so that it remains a viable alternative for buses. Listen to passenger feedback, enable faster financial management.

How not to mess up the system.

  • Free public transport: Public transport can be subsidised to a certain extent, but not too much. Examples of good subsidies are: Discounted fares for students, senior citizens, frequent travelers, bonus cashback to those who use prepaid/cashless methods of payment. When bus transport is made free, it ensures that even those who do not have any work traveling will travel for the heck of it. This causes overcrowding, bleeds the corporation of its revenue and results in bad services, which can and will only result in the number of private vehicles going up.
  • Overtaxing vehicles: Taxation of private vehicles is good as it again, provides revenue to the state, and ensures that older vehicles that can cause pollution are taken off the roads. If private vehicles are overtaxed to prevent people from using or owning them, it will compound the already messed up system. The rich, will get away because they can afford it. The poor, well, they get the free bus. The middle class will get affected as they always do by most Socialist policies, because the bus is too crowded and they cannot afford a car.

That’s all for now from me. This is a lengthy rant aimed at those who think that being socialist wrt transport is cool.

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