The Rainbow across Pune and Pimpri Chinchwad

So the Pune Municipal Corporation [PMC] and Pimpri-Chinchwad Municipal Corporation [PCMC] have finally managed to get part of their Pet Project; the Rainbow BRTS partially operational.

The Aundh-Ravet section of the BRTS is partially open. BRTS buses make an announcement while crossing Aundh Gaon that from the upcoming stations, the BRTS doors will open instead of the regular ones.

So, let me start with a description of the entire project:

Like a standard BRTS project, this project has bus lanes. However, unlike the Katraj-Swargate-Hadapsar line, it is not just bus lanes in the centre of the road with regular bus stops and boarding. Similar to the Ahmedabad Janmarg, it makes use of level centre-boarding, i.e, it uses the doors on the right hand side, which are at the same height as the platforms. The entire system is operated by the PMPML.

Jagtap Dairy Rainbow BRTS Station.
Jagtap Dairy Rainbow BRTS Station. Image Copyright Srikanth Ramakrishnan, CC-BY-SA 4.0 International. Image available on the Wikimedia Commons.

On the Pimpri-Chinchwad side, there are five lines:

  1. Aundh – Ravet: This starts at Sangvi Phata and ends at Mukai Chowk in Kiwale, right next to the starting of the Expressway.
  2. Nigdi – Dapodi: This starts at the Bhakti-Shakti terminal and goes upto Dapodi, along the Old Mumbai Pune Highway.
  3. Wakad – Nasik Phata: This starts at Hinjewadi Phata, proceeds to Jagtap Dairy, Kokane Chowk, and then crosses the Nigdi – Dapodi Line at Kasarwadi where it terminates.
  4. Kalewadi Phata- Dehu Alandi Road: This starts from the Aundh Ravet corridor and goes over the Pavana, crosses the tracks and Old Highway at Empire Estate and then goes further.

Currently, the Aundh to Ravet line is operational. As part of this line, two split flyovers, one at Kalewadi Phata and one at Dange Chowk were built, along with a grade separator being built at Sangvi Phata. The BRTS stations, are quite similar to the Ahmedabad Janmarg. Some stations like Kalewadi Phata, and Jagtap Dairy have only one entry/exit, on the side towards to the signal, while some, such as Dange Chowk have exits on both sides. Due to paucity of space, the road goes from 6 to 4 lanes north of Tathwade Chowk station, and stations are split. There are two stations, one for each direction till Kiwale. The Ravet Chowk station is a bit precarious, because of the presence of a speed-breaker at both ends plus its location is at a curve. The Kiwale terminal, is a grand structure, located just off the starting of the Mumbai-Pune Expressway. One side of it is for BRTS buses, while the other side is for Feeder buses towards Nigdi, Dehu Road, et al.

Mukai Chowk, Kiwale Terminal BRTS Station.
Mukai Chowk, Kiwale Terminal BRTS Station. Image copyright, Srikanth Ramakrishnan, CC-BY-SA 4.0 International. Image available on the Wikimedia Commons.

The routes running along the BRTS are your regular routes that otherwise use the Aundh Ravet Road, such as 115P, 204, 276, 298, Vajra 5, etc. Vajra 5 goes all the way up to the Mukai Chowk Terminal at Kiwale, while others turn off at Kalewadi Phata and Dange Chowk towards Pimpri, Chinchwad, Nigdi and Hinjewadi. The announcement system announces the name of the station, as well as stops along the non BRTS section. At Sangvi Phata and Mukai Chowk, it is also announced that the BRTS ends. After Sangvi Phata towards Aundh Gaon and after Aundh Gaon towards Sangvi Phata, an announcement is also made instructing passengers the other side doors will be used, Right side towards Chinchwad and Left side towards Aundh.

The system so far seems well done, though I wish the announcements would say ”Next Rainbow Station” instead of BRT station. Drivers, however, still need to know exactly when to stop the bus. Both doors have a Red-Yellow strip with stop written on them to indicate to the driver where to stop the bus so that the door sensor is aligned. I’ve noticed drivers and conductors inching forward and backward to align it so that the sliding platform doors can open. Apart from this, the doors on the left side are also being closed, something similar to Bangalore buses, though in some cases, the rear door is latched, so it doesn’t close even if the driver closes it.

The PMPML has four types of BRTS buses with doors on the right hand side:

  1. Red coloured Tata buses.
  2. Red coloured Ashok Leyland buses.
  3. Pink and White Tata Marcopolo buses.
  4. Pink and White Ashok Leyland buses.

Currently, only the first category of buses ply on the BRTS. Other buses are used on other routes, and if they are used on the Aundh-Thergaon route, they run outside the BRTS lanes, like regular buses. These buses are fitted with Hanover LED displays on the outside as well as inside. Some of them don’t have the system working so, they go with a board placed in the front.

The system makes extensive use of GPS. There are displays in each Bus Station listing the arrival of the next four buses and their destinations. However, those buses whose systems aren’t working, are often not shown by the system, and thus you might see a 276 unexpectedly arriving, en route to Warje Malawadi.

There are ticket counters at each station, which are presently not in use. Punched Tickets are still sold on the bus in the old fashioned way. The Kiwale Terminal also has provisions for shops. It has Washrooms for Passengers, along with Dustbins, which are present at several other stations as well.

Overall, I think for a project that is still under construction, and still in trials, the Rainbow BRTS has done a decent job. However, this is the PCMC half of the project, I am yet to see what happens on the PMC section along Nagar Road and Vishrantwadi, where the latter has been operational for a month.

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Travelling with your television

So, I was randomly going thru the internet when this one thing stood out: Tata Sky Transfer. I couldn’t resist, so I went thru all the possible search results and came across this video:

It is a very interesting thought and I personally feel this would work wonders to provide a comfortable mode of transport for us. As you know, we spend quite a lot of travel time to work. Now imagine this scenario, I work at the World Trade Centre in Cuffe Parade, and I live in Thane. My work times are such that I am unable to catch the A8Express, so I end up catching AS1. Now I have to contend with sitting on that bus from 8am to 10am to reach work and sit from 7.30pm to 10pm on my way back as it makes its way thru Sion, Dadar, Parel and Byculla. I’m spending close to five hours of those in a bus. Now, I, for one would be happy because I love buses. But what if you wanted to do something else?

Let us assume that I want to catch up on my Television viewing instead. Now I’m a fan of Mash, Knightrider and Scooby Doo, and I hypothetically imagine that Comedy Central, Star World and Cartoon Network are playing the three of them respectively. So, I decide to record the episodes in the morning while I catch up on my sleep. I wake up, refreshed, and head to work. I finish my days work, and head back to Backbay Depot, from where I board my AS1. I want to unwind, so I pull out my phone, and turn on the latest episode that I recorded earlier in the day. What if one morning, I decided not to sleep, I could watch Scooby Doo instead. Or maybe, I recorded an episode of Alfred Hitchcock Present the previous night and decide to catch up on some intriguing mystery before I get to work? Imagine, one day, there is less traffic, and I reach home before I can finish my episode. I get home, and finish viewing it on my large screen TV. Or what if there is crucial Football or Hockey match that is going on, and I need to watch it, but don’t have the time, or am at work? I simply hit record, and watch it in the comfort of my AS1, and maybe even my home; that too with the added benefit of pausing and rewinding whenever I want.

Overall, I think #TATASkyTransfer seems to be a good deal. Go for it, and if you take A8Express or A13Express, ditch those for an AS1 so you could spend more time watching the Telly.

 

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Public Transport and Cleanliness

They say Cleanliness is next to Godliness. Well, I wouldn’t disagree with that. When PM Modi started the Swachh Bharat Abhiyaan, I, for one was really happy. Here was a mission, endorsed by the Prime Minister himself with half the parliament supporting it. Indeed, it would mean that we could soon progress towards becoming a cleaner nation. However, this movement alone won’t suffice, for a lot remains to be done. Here, I am going to have a look at how cleanliness affects us while commuting.

Commuting is a very sticky situation from a cleanliness point of view. Lakhs of people use Public transport, we do not know where they come from, we do not know what they have  touched, nothing.

Among various factors, germ transmission is very high in public transport. Among various carriers for germs, apart from the air, especially in air-conditioned buses and trains, are currency notes and coins. Due to their extremely long life, since they are in circulation for periods extending to several years, they are hotbeds of germ activity. Similar to bank currency,  are the reusable tokens that are used in modern rapid transit systems. However, that isn’t all. If you use a ticket vending machine at a railway station, like in Mumbai, or the automated machines on the Metro, you would still be performing germ transactions. Possibly, the cleanest mode of payment would be using the Coupon Vending machine, since you won’t be touching the Coupons, or, using the UTS app. In BEST, I carry my prepaid card inside a small plastic packet, so if I buy a pass, I put it into that packet and keep it there behind the pass. Other sources of germs are the grab handles of course, since most people hold on to those, as well as the seats themselves, especially the fabric ones. Thankfully, on most long distance routes these are fumigated after each ride, but I still recall cockroaches behind the last seat of a Volvo B7RLE owned by TNSTC between Madras and Pondicherry in 2012.

Now, this brings us to another source of contaminants: Insects, Pests, Rodents, et al. Cockroaches on a TNSTC Volvo is  noteworthy, for it signifies that they are providing services on par with Greyhound buses. Similarly, there have been cases of rodents in transit systems. These, could lead to serious health issues.

Then there is the case of people spitting everywhere, inspite of boards asking them not to spit, or litter, everywhere. These give rise to other problems, they may not be contagious, but I sure wouldn’t want to step on them.

In PMPML and BMTC buses, I have noticed that there is a lot of junk on the floor of the bus. These include dust, hair, wrappers if food items, tickets, and what not. Most people may not realise it, but these can cause dust mites to spread as well as cause respiratory issues.

So, what exactly needs to be done?

For starters, we can not litter in buses and trains, as well as in stations. Find a dustbin, and dispose of trash in that. Transcos should ensure that they provide dustbins at all stations/stops and handover maintenance and disposing of trash to a private party. Metro rail and BRTS services have totally banned consumption of food and water on their premises as well as during transit. It would further help if major bus stations, BRTS terminals, and Metro stations had clean, paid, well maintained toilets on their premises for commuters to use, thus preventing the need for people to do it in the open.

However, the situation can be brought under control, if commuters changed their mindset. For example, I always carry a packet of tissues along with a plastic cover to store used ones when I’m sick. I also carry a Hand Sanitizer with me, but I realise it isn’t practical for everyone to carry a bottle of Dettol with them everywhere.

Prime Minister Modi indeed started a noble mission with the Swachh Bharat Mission. While previous governments may have done it, nobody made it such a major affair till now, and that must be commended. It is up to us citizens to honour our PMs wishes and help keep the country clean. So, stop littering, and keep our country, and its transport systems safe. Maybe, it’s high time someone kept a bottle of Dettol Hand Sanitizer next to the ATVM or Ticket counter for people to use after purchasing a ticket.

What are your opinions? Do post them in the comments section below.

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NMMT Limited: Will it succeed?

NMMT Limited; after my previous post on BEST, seems to be an interesting development. Note I am only calling it NMMT Limited; the word Limited is just a figment of my imagination.

 

Back in 2014, NMMT had a meeting with several IT service providers, including Trimax, ARS, and Atos to set up an Intelligent Transport System [ITS], which would have brought NMMT more or less along the lines of BEST. However, nothing of the sort has taken place so far. I still see NMMT issuing punched tickets, they have no Bus tracking mechanisms like BEST, and their buses are mostly rickety. However, a recent article in ToI stated that NMMT was in talks with App Developers to create an app to book an AC Bus ticket. A rather interesting development indeed.

In November 2014, ten months ago, NMMT was issuing punched tickets on its Volvo bus on Route AC-105. I was given 3 tickets of ₹20, one of ₹10 and one of ₹5 for a ticket worth ₹75. This was two months after I had got my BEST smart card. The situation was the same in April 2015.

A 5 rupee punched ticket issued by the Navi Mumbai Municipal Transport
A 5 rupee punched ticket issued by the Navi Mumbai Municipal Transport. Image copyright Srikanth Ramakrishnan, CC-BY-SA 4.0 International. Image available on the Wikimedia Commons.

Now, with punched tickets, and no Electronic Ticket Machines in sight, this could only mean that NMMT is manually handling accounts as well. With such a system in place, how do they expect to go straight to App based bookings? How will the conductor add it to his or her tally? Or will they treat the passengers similar to the way they treat a passholder for a limited route or distance? There are a lot of questions involved in this, so let us have a look at the possible problems that might occur.

 

Let us take an NMMT route with significant competition along it and examine what might happen:

Route: Borivili Station [East] – Thane Station [East] via Ghodbunder

There are four buses that run primarily on this route:

  • BEST 700Ltd: This is a non-AC service, with limited stops. [50 stops]
  • BEST AS700: This is an Air-Conditioned service with fewer services than 700Ltd. [44 stops]
  • TMT AC65: This an AC service with fewer stops than AS700. [18 stops]
  • NMMT AC121: This is an AC service with the same number of stops as AS700. [44 stops]

Now, given the competition along this corridor, we can say that just like the Bangalore-Chennai or Mumbai-Pune corridor, if one misses one bus, rest assured they will have another one, assuming they are not a Pass holder or a BEST prepaid card holder. For most people living in Borivili, being passholders, AS700 would be the ideal choice. For those living in Thane, AC65 would be the ideal choice. NMMT ideally would be catering to commuters between Borivili and Airoli, or Thane and Airoli.

Now, NMMT is planning an app for its commuters to buy tickets. The purpose of the app can vary. It may be to allow cashless travel, or paperless travel like the Indian Railways UTS app for the Suburban Railway lines across Mumbai and Chennai. However, if this was the case, then why is NMMT still issuing punched tickets? Another purpose of the App can be to reserve a seat, similar to CityFlo or rBus. However, my question is, if NMMT is still on punched tickets, this will lead to a big mess. For example: What if all the seats in the bus are full, and a commuter waiting for the bus has reserved a seat using the app, and walks into the bus to see there are no seats free? The app-user cannot be denied a seat since they paid for it, and the conductor cannot ask a seated passenger to get up. Similarly, if the app is indeed for paperless ticketing like the Railway app, how does it help in curbing frauds? The UTS app currently works in two ways:

  1. One is the GPS method, which works on select routes, mostly the Western and Central lines wherein you have to be either inside the station premises or within a certain radius of the station in order for the app to work. The ticket doesn’t need to be printed and showing the app screen is enough if a TTE comes along.
  2. The second method is the Printed Ticket method. This works on non GPS enabled routes, where after a ticket is bought, it needs to be printed. A reference number is given, which can then be entered into an Automatic Ticket Vending Machine [ATVM] at the Origin Station. The ticket cannot be printed anywhere else to prevent frauds.

How does NMMT plan to do this? The first method would be problematic since not all buses are equipped with GPS, unlike their purple counterparts with the BEST. The second method would be cumbersome for the conductor to punch in a number into their machine, if they have one, to log it. Since, they use punched tickets, the conductor would have to note down the number on a sheet to submit to the depot manager.

All this leaves a lot to wonder. Is NMMT equipped to handle all this? Can they outdo BEST at BEST’s own game?

Only time will tell us.

 

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From Bus Tickets to Temple Management

This is a rather odd post on BESTpedia, but nevertheless, a rather offbeat topic that deserves a mention.

As a precursor to this post, I’d highly recommend reading this article to get a good understanding of Temples and their relevance in India: The Temple As Infrastructure

Trimax IT, the company that successfully set up India’s most advanced Electronic Ticket System for buses in India, as well as some of of the Intelligent Transit Systems, has something known as the Trimax Temple Management System (TTMS).

Now what exactly is this Temple Management System? As the name suggests, it is a framework set up to manage a temple. Why a temple? In India, where each village has atleast one, if not two temples, managing these temples become a herculean task. Temples, big or small, due to their nature, receive a vast number of visitors, and often, managing all the tasks, from the pujas to the archanas to the donations require a large amount of management. In smaller temples, manpower is normally not an issue due to small crowds, and hence all this can be done by one person, or at the most, a handful of them. However, in large temples, where thousands of people visit on each day, it would be a herculean task.

 

So what all is involved in managing a temple?

Let’s try and list out what all are involved; and figure out how it is handled.

  • Accounts: All temples receive money; donations, puja costs, miscellaneous costs. Accounts need to be maintained.
  • Expenditures: Expenses from production of prasad to salaries of the priests are included here.
  • Government relations: No temple can function without support from the government.
  • Safety: A temple must take the safety of devotees seriously.
  • Security: Temples are often targets for terror attacks.
  • Recording Special Functions

 

Now, how do all these fit into a temple management system, and if done manually, how would it work?

A temple would need to hire a bunch of people for each role: Accounts, audits, government relations, et al.

Back in 2008, I cam across this software package called HOMA – Hindu Temple Online Management System. HOMA was designed by a company called Ventech, which was started by a group of Indian-origin engineers to run Temples in the United States. HOMA, among other things, has profiles for various people like board members, priests and devotees.

Now, to Trimax, which has implemented the system in the Siddhivinayak Temple in Bombay. The system is quite advanced, and, like the ticketing system of BEST, it includes a prepaid ‘Aashirwad Card’. Trimax also set up an online portal for performing Pooja. Now this isn’t the first time, an online portal has existed for Pooja, I have heard of, and my family has used ePrarthana before, and I know the Tirumala Tirupathi Devasthanams have an online booking system as well.

However, Trimax, as part of its deal, seems to have done a lot more:

  • An online portal.
  • A prepaid card.
  • Security systems, safety mechanisms, including Fire safety.
  • Live Streaming of Darshans!

Temples are an important part of our economy, and thus, managing a temple in such a manner, is indeed remarkable. I am waiting for more Indian firms to invest in temple management systems.

Till then, I quote a friend of mine: Siddhivinayaka is the mouse-wielding tech savvy lord.

Post this; I’d suggest a reading this article by R Jagannathan on why Temples need Smart Entrepreneurship.

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BEST Limited: A futuristic vision

After Uber and Ola started eating into BEST’s AC profits, it’s time for the Red Bus [not the Bus Booking Website], and also the Purple siblings to face some more competition, this time from it’s own brethren. The future of something as elementary as Transport seems to be in the hands of apps these days. After aggregators such as Lyft and HeyTaxi, for four wheelers and two wheelers respectively, now there is an app for a bus as well. It seems like more bad news for BEST.

Many of these services, such as rBus, CityFlo, Shuttl, ZipGo, are primarily running their services in the Bandra-Kurla Complex, where, BEST has only 2 AC services; AS5 and A77Exp. These buses seem to be a general public equivalent to the MetroZip service for employees in Hinjewadi which took away revenue from the PMPML.

Now, let us treat BEST as another organisation here, not a public transport unit. At the end of the day, the Brihanmumbai Electricity Supply and Transport [BEST] undertaking is an autonomous body under the aegis of the Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai [MCGM]. It would be wise to compare BEST vs the rest with either the Mumbai-Pune corridor or the Bangalore-Chennai corridor:

  • Mumbai-Pune: MSRTC has buses plying between Pune Railway Station or Swargate and Dadar, Borivali or Thane. There are numerous other companies on the same route, such as Neeta, Metrolink, Prasanna, Purple, MTDC, Konduskar, and even KSRTC. Rest assured, if you miss one bus, you’ll have one of the others waiting for you at any given time.
  • Bangalore-Chennai: KSRTC alone has 40+ services in a day between the two cities, with others such as TNSTC, SETC, Sharma, National, KPN, SRM, and various others. Again, rest assured, if you miss any one, you can get yourself a seat on any of the others.

Now, coming back to BEST, let us look at their connectivity to BKC alone, this being a premium Central Business District, with major financial services, the National Stock Exchange, and the Bharat Diamond Bourse, among others having their base here. The area can be compared to Electronics City of Bangalore, in terms of contribution to the economy, both local and national. It is but natural, that connectivity, especially the premium kind is present.

BEST has a branded bus service on the lines of the Fort Pheri, labelled BKC-1, 2, and 3 connecting it to Bandra Bus Station [East] and Kurla Station [West], but these are non AC services, and thus, not enough.

Now, let us look at the larger picture here, and not just the BKC region. Now, CityFlo and rBus have multiple routes criss-crossing the city. What do they offer, that makes them a better option?

  • Assured seating.
  • Air Conditioned service.
  • Online or in-app payments.

Now, this can be compared with a BEST bus, say A74Express from Oshiwara Depot to Worli [Lotus]. There are two buses at 8am and 8.30am from Oshiwara and two at 5.35pm and 6.05pm to Oshiwara. The route and timings are based on timings of offices located in and around Worli. A vast majority of the commuters are pass holders and there are a few who buy tickets, many of them opting for a Daily Pass, thus implying that they have a Prepaid card. Due to this nature, you invariably get a seat to sit, and very rarely do you see people standing in these buses. The bus is air-conditioned, either a Cerita, or a Volvo. If you are a pass or prepaid card holder, payment is again, a cashless affair. So what makes a passenger prefer these buses over a BEST?

The app affair

Wouldn't it be great if these two were together on an app instead?
Wouldn’t it be great if these two were together on an app instead?

BEST may not have an app, but as far as routes, and timings are needed, it does not need one. m-Indicator is easily the most useful app on my phone. It keeps me connected with details of BEST, NMMT, MBMT, VVMT, TMT and KDMT buses, as well as suburban trains across all lines, plus Metro, Monorail, Ferries, and also gives me details of Indian Railways trains departing from the city. The only thing missing is MSRTC timings. Indian Railways meanwhile, has an app, aptly titled UTS to let users book Unreserved Tickets on suburban trains in Mumbai and Chennai. The app uses GPS to ensure that you are at the right station.Now, imagine if BEST were to offer that kind of a convenience. Buy a daily pass from your phone, and show the BEST app to the conductor. He scans the QR code and keeps going. Cumbersome, given that BEST has invested heavily in its Ticket machines for a long time. What if, like the UTS app only allows you to use GPS to book tickets, the BEST app allowed you to use Radio Frequency Identification/Near Field Communication [RFID/NFC], known to many as S-Beam on Samsung phones to load this, onto your BEST ID card? Purchase the pass on your phone, flash your ID and then show the card to the conductor, who verifies it like he does for normal passes. Sounds cool no?

While all this is indeed far fetched, I dream of a day when BEST operates Public Transport services differently. It offers the basic bus services to its regular crowd, but also premium services, similar to those of a private bus operator for those willing to pay.

 

What do you say? It’d be great to see your responses in the section below.

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