BEST to partner with Zophop for real-time updates

BEST has an update for their long lost initiative of informing commuters when a bus will arrive, to attract more commuters to use buses. BEST will now show real-time locations of AC buses using a third party android application called Zophop. It is interesting that BEST is partnering with third party private firms to inform the commuters than maintaining the tech in house which can result in heavy IT expenditure. Even though we have our very own GPS satellites in space, tracking a bus still seems like a challenge.

Intelligent Transportation Systems (ITS) is the new hot discussion among many cash deprived transit agencies, every agency wants to use them to improve operations and attract commuters. BMTC has recently launched their own ITS system with a whopping cost of 89 crores to track buses. But none of these systems can help the agency if they are not implemented in the right way. Every agency is experimenting with the setup with no major success stories in sight.

In the past BEST has sold the rights of advertising to a third party firm Verve Soft Pvt Ltd. which has placed GPS units, TVs in the buses. This firm has launched a website and app called BEST Passenger Information System (http://bestpis.in/) with little or no useful information. This lack of useful information resulted in many third party applications to track locals and bus timings in Mumbai like m-indicator, smartshehar, ridlr, Zophop and citizen led initiatives like ChaloBEST.

BEST partnering with one such firm is an interesting development, yet is it only sharing the data with zophop or will it also share it with others? Several people have approached BEST for data and have been shunned away in the past. From an anecdote, IIT Bombay was paying a hefty amount to buy GPS data of BEST for their research work on a real-time multimodal trip planner. As a public agency BEST cannot favour one private player and the partnership terms need to be transparent, so that any other private firm like Google Maps can also access this real-time data to show updates for commuters.

For BEST to share this real-time data with others, it should be noted that the data rights need to be with BEST. From what is known BEST has already sold these rights to Verve Soft Pvt Ltd. and may not have any rights over it as BEST has not spent any money on GPS units and might be receiving money through advertising revenues. Several transit agencies abroad have been sharing their real-time data to commuters by making it open to anyone including researchers and individual developers. Even though BMTC has announced an intention for such an open data policy to share data with third parties, it hasn’t been executed yet. Third party partnerships and open data policies will likely be adopted by many transport agencies in the near future in India. BEST is already experimenting with such practices, but it needs to be more transparent in doing so as a public agency.

Disclosure: The author was an employee/Director at Zophop briefly in 2014 and helped source transport data while at the firm.

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Author: Srinivas Kodali

Srinivas Kodali is a civil engineer, an independent researcher focusing on Intelligent Transportation Systems. In the past he was a project associate at Intelligent Transportation Systems Laboratory, Indian Institute of Technology Madras.

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