New Innings for BEST

In another revolutionary move, BEST has decided to focus on becoming more public-transport centric and turn itself from a loss making body to a profitable one. In other words, BEST has decided to become the BEST, by taking on NMMT and TMT head-on.

Update: BEST has announced reduced bus fares and passes from 01-07-16. AC passes are back to ₹150, with a new Child rate for children under 12. Happy Hours have been introduced as well. More details here: BEST Fare Revision 2016

BEST has decided a reshuffle of its AC routes, cancelling two, reconsidering a few and proposing a few more!

Now, the interesting thing is that BEST is reconsidering two routes via T2 of the Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport. BEST earlier ran dedicated AC express routes from the airport such as A1Express from T2 to CBD Belapur Bus Station and A14Express to Cadbury Junction. Among the routes being canceled are A76Express from Gorai Depot to NSCI Worli via the Bandra Worli Sea Link and AS592 from Kopar Khairane to NSCI Worli. Routes that almost got scrapped include:

  • AS9 from Ghatkopar Depot to Dr. Shyama Prasad Mookherjee Chowk
  • A74Express from Oshiwara Depot to NSCI Worli
  • A75Express from Hirandani Powai to NSCI Worli
  • A77Express from Gorai Depot to BKC Telephone Exchange

Routes that are being proposed include:

  • AS71 from Fishermen Colony, Mahim to Mira Road East, via CSIA T2
  • AS72 from Rani Laxmi Chowk, Sion to Bhayendar East, via CSIA T2
  • As415 from Agarkar Chowk to SEEPZ via Marol Depot
A lit of canceled, proposed BEST AC Routes
A list of canceled, proposed BEST AC Routes

Apart from this, 50 routes across the 27 depots are slated to be cancelled.

What started all this?

A simple change in the BEST committee in the MCGM. After close to a decade, the BJP took over the committee from the Shiv Sena. Rather ironic, given that the Sena is anti-Toll while the BJP is pro-Toll. If you recall, it was the Sena that hiked the fares of BEST in 2015, first in February and then in April in 2015.

A quick recap would show that the BJP has always been adept at providing good transport wherever it has been, be it in the form of the Mumbai-Pune or Ahmedabad-Vadodara Expressways, the BRTS corridors in Ahmedabad, Rajkot, Surat, Bhopal and Indore, BMTC and KSRTC which showed a massive turnaround under R Ashoka, the erstwhile Transport Minister of Karnataka.

Back in 2005, BEST, had introduced the Smart Card system with Kaizen Automation, in the form of the Go Mumbai smart card, which was a common mobility smart card for both BEST buses as well as trains on the Suburban Railway. These were subsequently phased out in favour of the present Trimax system that BEST uses.

Rebranding

BEST, which officially turns 70 in its current form next year, and currently has a debt burden of ₹2,250 crore, plans to change its logo as well the colour of the buses in a major move to rebrand itself.

BEST has written to the Sir JJ Insititute of Applied Arts, one of the city’s premier art institutes to guide it in the process. The colour change is part of an exercise to make BEST more acceptable among customers.

The Mumbai Monorail, operated by the MMRDA, got the National Institute of Design [NID], Ahmedabad to design its coaches. One hopes that BEST too, would reach out to NID, or maybe even the Centre for Enviornment, Planning and Technology [CEPT], Ahmedabad for some ideas in design and operations.

Passes

Among other changes, are the rates of passes, monthly, as well as daily passes.

While the Major changes are the the reduction of the Monthly AC bus pass from ₹4800 to ₹3300, a significant change is the reduction of the Magic Daily Passes:

  • Magic AC: ₹200 to ₹150.
  • Magic Non-AC: ₹70 to ₹51.
  • Suburban Pass: ₹50 to ₹36.
  • Island City/Town: ₹40 to ₹29.

However, these are valid only during the Happy Hour period of 11am to 5pm.

The question here is, if the pass is cheaper post 11am, nobody would buy a pass before that. An alternative explanation is that passes purchased between 11am and 5pm are not valid during the rest of the day, which is an inconvenience to those who might purchase a pass after 11am, but may need to use it at 9pm. I guess, an official explanation from BEST would be the best thing to wait for.

While, BEST currently has good integration with the Suburban Rail, what is desired it better integration with the Metro, Monorail, and MSRTC services.

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Dial Your Officer

What do you do when you have to lodge a complaint on the bus services or you have to make requests for new bus routes ? What is the platform for communication between the service provider and the customer.
In this piece, I would like to talk to you about the successful hyper local approach of TSRTC (Telangana State Road Transport Corporation) in connecting with people who use their services.

APSRTC and TSRTC Logo
APSRTC and TSRTC Logo

Problematic History ?
TSRTC and APSRTC have always had a helpline number for people to contact and lodge their grievances. After the Online reservation portal for undivided corporation went live, The new toll free number started taking complaints only about the services which were listed for reservation. Meanwhile there were complaints from users about the depot managers and other officials being inaccessible. Heeding to the complaints, The corporation decided to make contact details (phone and email) of all of it’s major officials public. They are available on both TSRTC and APSRTC ‘s portals under the contact us drop down. This opened up opportunities for the tech savvy to write E-Mails to the officials with complaints but the real connect with passengers was still missing.

The Solution !
It was decided in October last year that officials will take calls one day every month at least in Hyderabad city and make effort to network between themselves to solve the issues raised by passengers. The first “Dial Your Officer” programme was conducted on the last Monday of October and has been continuing with out a break every month on the last Monday since then. All Telugu news papers in Hyderabad are informed about the upcoming edition of the call-in and all of them publish a small news item. The small yet significant snippets of news have the contact numbers of Depot, Regional and Divisional Managers along with the executive director. It is interesting to see how the news papers publish this news in the constituency papers of the district tabloid. The officials take calls from 5-6 pm in the evening. Not to say they do not take calls other wise, But this specific time is reserved for the passengers to lodge complaints and give suggestions.
(All telugu news paper have a tabloid dedicated for local reporting of a particular city/district. This tabloid also contains a few pages for each assembly constituency with hyper local reporting and these are changed as per the areas to which the news paper is circulated to.)
The Results
6 weeks in to the launch of this programme, we analyzed the decisions made since the start and found that this is a really novel way of engaging with people and getting to know what they actually need.

New Routes:
10 new routes were started which will connect the city in a completely different way as opposed to now and expand the network.
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ECIL-Ibrahimpatnam
ECIL is a residential-industrial suburb in the North East of Hyderabad and Ibrahimpatnam is a Nagarpanchayat bordering the outer ring road in South East known for its excessive number of engineering colleges. For both of these suburbs, LB Nagar,Uppal and Habsiguda are the nearest urban centers. There was no direct bus connecting both ends through these urban centers. Hence, the corporation after requests from people in both of these suburbs decided to start this new route connecting them with their nearest urban centers. This route has proven to be a success with more than 75% occupancy which exceeds the target occupancy at 72%.Similar to this, many requests were made by people from new and emerging residential colonies all over the suburbs. This spun the corporation in to activity and made them really think about the impending crisis post metro. The corporation started re-aligning its operations concentrating on the suburbs and connecting the core city in a much denser way. Nine other routes include direct services from Mehedipatnam and VBIT park to Medchal, Extension of services to new colonies on Bangalore highway beyond Aramgarh and more connections to the northern suburb, Suchitra to the city via Bowenpally.

Re-Starting Old Routes:
NGOs colony, which together with places beyond Dilsukhnagar on Vijayawada highway contributes to more than 40% of the total premium bus pass purchases in Hyderabad got treated with three of its older and much appreciated services getting reinstated. 300V,186 and 2/100V were restored over a period of six months.

Women’s special services:
There were a lot of complaints from the women staff of Telangana and Andhra Pradesh state Secretariats who have stayed loyal to the ladies special buses operated during rush hours about the reduced fleet strength. The number of ladies special buses have since been increased from 68 to 100 much to the joy of women employees but we still think there is more work to be done on this front.

Maintenance of buses:
Every one Including us have complained about the cleanliness and maintenance of buses, to which the corporation’s immediate response was to complete hiring new maintenance staff to clean the buses. The cleanliness of buses has definitely improved. But, we think there is still more work to be done on a long term basis to get the maintenance on track.I will digress here a bit to inform you how understaffed RTC’s mechanical staff are. There have been no new recruitments in what is called “shramik” cadre since four years and all the new placements are done through a flawed system of “outsourcing”. This apathy towards maintenance staff should end if you aspire to operate buses in good shape.
There were also a lot of complaints about the rude behavior of crew. This we think is majorly because of the working conditions.There were also complaints about how the crew itself is not informed about the various subsidized schemes the corporation offers. Hence, Training programmes to sensitize the crew have been organized at the corporation’s own staff training institute in Hakimpet.

Bus Bunching:
Bus Bunching has been a perennial problem in all major Indian cities operating large networks in mixed traffic. People complained about this and RTC got its act together to rationalize a few routes to avoid bus bunching to an extent it can control. We should all understand that it cannot accurately predict the traffic conditions but working towards increasing internal efficiency will help both the passengers and the corporation. For example, prior to route rationalization some 12 depots were operating on route no 218, which is the north west south east corridor of the city. This resulted in weird timings as opposed to a clean cyclic time table. Efforts were made to restrict these services to only eight depots and there is a clear improvement on ground with a clean cyclic time table. Route rationalization has been an ongoing effort since then all over the city and we hope to see more reliable services very soon.

All of the above mentioned issues were voiced by regular commuters easily only because of the easy access provided by TSRTC. Now, If you all have any issues regarding the operations, Never hesitate to voice them. TSRTC is always welcoming in taking your complaints. For example,Local travel groups have always been active in meeting the depot managers to get their issues sorted.Start engaging with your corporation now ! Go ahead and talk to them. Make this “Dial Your Officer” programme a start point.

“Dial Your Officer”
Last Monday of every month, 5pm-6pm.
Find the contacts : here

Dial Your Officer: An initiative by the TSRTC to listen to its Commuters Click To Tweet

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The Bygone era of Victoria Carriages

Victoria Carriages, while not exactly a form of transport, are seen on the roads of Bombay, especially in and around Colaba, where they are used as tourist vehicles.

Usually Silver or Golden in colour, they are mostly seen in and around the Gateway of India, ferrying foreigners around the area. Some of them are lit up, with psychedelic or neon lights, that are turned on in the late evening. They are horse drawn, mostly by white-coloured or brown-coloured horses.

A Golden Victoria pulled by a Brown and White horse on BEST Marg in Colaba.
A Golden Victoria pulled by a Brown and White horse on BEST Marg in Colaba. Image copyright Srikanth Ramakrishnan, CC-BY-SA 4.0 International, available on the Wikimedia Commons.

Victorias, sometimes incorrectly referred to as Tangas or Tongas, have existed in Mumbai since the times of the British. They have been an integral part of the city’s culture, much like the Double Decker buses that BEST operates, and today exist, solely as a reminder that they once were a premium product.

In 2015, the situation changed completely. A division bench of the Bombay High Court, after hearing a petition by a city-based NGO “Animals and Birds Charitable Trust” along with the globally vocal “People For the Ethnic Treatment of Animals [PETA]”, deemed the use of these Horse-Driven Victorias for joyrides as completely illegal. It gave the State Government a year to phase them out of the city and also directed them to find suitable rehabilitation for these horses. The ruling also mandated the closure of stables within the city where these horses were housed. Maintaining that using horse-driven carriages for joyrides solely for human enjoyment was avoidable and punishable under Section 3 and 11 of Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, the bench directed the Government of Maharashtra to come up with a solution by December 2015 and submit a compliance report by January 2016.

The reaction to the ban has been mixed.
Half of the reactions are averse. People claim that the ban will affect livelihoods as well as horses. Interestingly, these include a lot of the people who were vocally against the decision of the government to ban Cow-Slaughter, but at the same time protested the killing of Dogs at the Yulin Festival.
The other half of the crowd is happy that the horses can now lead a dignified life rather than be forced to pull around carts around the city. The perception is that if Cycle-Rickshaws can be banned for being a Nuisance, so can Horse-pulled carriages.

Now, what can be done?

Granted, one more part of the city’s rich heritage is also going, but perhaps there can be a workaround.

The tacky model.
If you’ve ever been to Bangalore, you’d see in parts of the city that there exist Victoria-like carriages built on top of a car, complete with an array of Horses fixed to the front. They are commonly seen at weddings and other social functions. A bit tacky if you ask me, especially for the poshness of South Bombay.

The jugaad model.
Horseless tangas and carts do exist in Gujarat. A visit to the Somnath temple would show how the innovative locals replaced the horse with a motorcycle. Not as tacky as a horse, but hey, it’s closer to the solution, and with some sprucing up, might be able to keep up with South Bombay.

All said and done, I am for the ban, solely on the grounds that horses should not be used for pulling around heavy carriages and fat humans on them. Yes, I call them fat, because well, the average human is fat. But, as visible from the above two points, I’m all for innovation of something new to keep the Victorias running, albeit without the horse. Maybe the Japanese can help us with a Robotic Horse, seeing that they are experts at building Robotic Animals and are helping us build our Bullet Train.

A Victoria carriage, all lit up at night.
A Victoria carriage, all lit up at night. Image copyright Karan Dudeja (WiKD), CC-BY-SA 3.0 Unported, available on the Wikimedia Commons.

The future of these Victorias, while indeed bleak for the immediate part, can be a bright one, provided the manufacturers and operators are willing to come together and invest some time, and thought and come up with an  innovative solution, and not sit down as if it is a lost cause. There is hope. When BEST has not phased out its Double Deckers because of the Heritage value that they posses, then Victorias too, can stay.

Victorias on the Streets of Mumbai will soon be history. Click To Tweet

The Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, Section 3 lists the Duties of persons having charge of animals, while Section 11 talks about Treating animals cruelly.

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BEST ups its Ante!

In a move that will revolutionise Mumbai’s transport, BEST has finally decided to go one level further and upped its services majorly.

Starting with the plan to ply Electric Hybrid buses in BKC, BEST has gone step further to convert some of its existing fleet into Electric buses.

In a very bold and revolutionary move, the Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai [MCGM] has allocated ₹10crore to retrofit existing BEST buses with a a Lithium battery powered engine. A batch of five buses will be converted first on a trial basis. BEST has stated that the cost of conversion from Diesel or CNG to Electric buses has gone down from an earlier figure of ₹65lakh to ₹35lakh.

Back in February, shortly after the #MakeInIndia week, BEST announced a design overhaul for its buses. The existing 12 metre long buses have an overhang beyond the rear tyres of the bus that often gets damaged when the bus gets rear ended. In order to eliminate this, 300 new buses which are 11 metre in length are being procured. These new buses will also be fitted with plugpoints for charging phones.

A BEST Minibus running on Route 377. The new buses are expected to be slightly longer than these.
A BEST Minibus running on Route 377. The new buses are expected to be slightly longer than these. Image copyright Karthik Nadar, CC-BY-SA 3.0 Unported, available on the Wikimedia Commons.

Another major development is the proposal to introduce app-based ticketing on BEST buses.

BEST has announced that it will bring out 22-seater AC midi-buses with app-based booking on them.

The MCGM has budgeted ₹25 crores for 50 buses, that will be air-conditioned, fitted with a GPS-based tracker, besides offering WiFi, newspapers and drinking water. Conductors would wear a different uniform than the standard Khaki that they wear normally. This is a great exercise for branding the buses, and will help BEST create a better image for their fleet. The buses will primarily run on routes connecting Metro stations and local Railway stations, thus mainly acting as feeders.

Interesting ways have been taken by BEST to improve its image, especially for its ailing AC fleet that still continues to be dominated by the Purple Faeries.

With the completion of the Oshiwara Railway bridge as well as the conversion of the DC traction along the harbour line to AC, Railway services are going to get more efficient and BEST will have to match up to the Purple Dragons than run on the tracks. BEST will need to make its Red Warhorses and Red Minions [Regular and Minibuses] work smarter to ferry more people and earn more revenue to keep the city as awesome as it has been.

BEST is firing up a new weapon to make Mumbai better. Click To Tweet

However, the greatest bit of Publicity that BEST can get right now is that after Uber founder Travis Kalanick took a BEST, a BEST Double Decker was used to ferry Prince Henry, Duke of Cambridge and his wife, Catherine, Dutchess of Cambridge.

Catherine, Dutchess of Cambridge and Prince William, Duke of Cambridge on a BEST Bus in Mumbai.
Catherine, Dutchess of Cambridge and Prince William, Duke of Cambridge on a BEST Bus in Mumbai. Image copyright respective owners.

When @KensingtonRoyal took a BEST bus in Mumbai Click To Tweet

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[Satire] Taxi Services in India take a Hike

Taxi and Ridesharing services in India have decided to upgrade their services in India to give a boost to the ailing market. Both Multinational entities as well as their local counterparts have decided to take the game to the next level.

UberMob and OlaMafia

Uber and Ola have launched their new services: UberMob and OlaMafia, although it is unclear at this point as to who launched what first. Touted as the first legitimate Taxi service for Gangsters, both companies are looking to great successes with the new launch.

On condition of anonymity, an employee at Uber stated, “We want Indians to experience the same feeling that people living on Staten Island experience.” When contacted, an employee of Ola retorted, “We just want our customers to experience an Uber ride in Delhi”. Industry sources stated that the two were keen on emulating an American local cab fleet that protested against Uber with taxicabs designed like cars owned by mobsters, complete with doors without handles on the inside of the car. Uber officials were rumoured to be deputing their notorious Delhi service provider range for this, while Ola has been said to favour its Bangalore fleet’s drivers.

Excited Uber employees also leaked out news that the company was willing to try out something drastic, like attaching a city bus after Uber CEO Travis Kalanick was seen taking a ride in a BEST bus. Ola employees, coincidentally, within minutes leaked out plans to expand OlaBoats to include a submarine, specially for Mumbai and Chennai rains.

Handicar

Handicar from South Park.
Handicar from South Park. Image copyright Comedy Central.

American Network Comedy Central announced its foray into the Personal Transport space with Handicar. Handicar, which formed the basis of a South Park episode, involves a Wheelchair user with a Cart attached behind it. Drivers wear a cap, known as a “Handicap”. Users are a provided a complimentary snack and beverage.

A South Park Studios animator anonymously stated that the company intended to redraw the Handicar with Toon Boom, and print it using a 3D printer. Handicar drivers would also be provided with a Mask of Timmy’s face which would be fitted with a Voice box that would randomly yell “Timmy!” with different variations and tones. They were keen on starting the service in India because they liked the booming ride-sharing industry and the fact that it would be easy to run the vehicle without a permit.

When contacted, Kyle Broflovski and Stan Marsh were unable for comment. Eric Cartman was attending the funeral of Kenny McCormick. Kenny was last killed when his orange parka got caught under the wheels of a Handicar.

Handicar is coming to India! Click To Tweet

Mooch

In a Desi-twist, Avinash Sharma, who claims to be the “Sharmaji ke bete” who scores higher than all the boys around him, announced a new service named ‘Mooch’. Twirling his mustache, he said, “Mooch is a brand name, identifiable by both its name and appearance. The Mustache is a true man’s identity. Mooch seeks to create a brand of it.” When asked if the idea of Mooch might violate trademarks of Lyft in the USA, Sharmaji’s son replied, “There the cab has a mooch, here the driver has a mooch. The cab has a fluorescent pink mooch that lights up and our drivers will have a jet-black [Kesh Kala] mooch that will be waxed nicely. Only drivers with a mustache similar to mine will be employed.”

Recruitment is going on to hire mustached drivers for Mooch. 35 drivers have been selected so far, across a two week period, with many of them emerging from Kanpur and parts of Chhattisgarh as well as from the Satyamangalam forest which used to be the former hideout of the notorious bandit Veerappan. Training is being given to potential drivers to groom their mooch well.

Presenting Mooch- The Mustached way to travel! Click To Tweet

B’Ve

Started by a student as a dedication to his professor of a prestigious Media College, in Western India, B’Ve is touted to be an upper luxury hatchback service. While no major details are available at this time, it is rumoured that all drivers are to have long hair in a Bandana and drive Maroon-coloured Hyundai i20s.

(S)mooch

A rather cliched startup, this is a product of AyyoLabs. We aren’t trying to imitate Mooch”, says founder Raghu Iyer. He adds, “(S)mooch is much more than ride-sharing. It’s life-sharing. It’s a combination of a ride-sharing app as well as a dating app. Couples looking for a ride are randomly matched on the basis of what they enter on their profile. The profile data is cross-checked and verified with their parents, and Kundlis. The service is right now only available for TamBrahms”.

Ride-sharing is old, it's now time for life-sharing! Click To Tweet

With such massive changes in the transport industry, we have a lot coming in in the near future.

Apart from this, you also have the choice of taking Hawala Travels.

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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