Now, to buses. Can we try and replicate the USSD Banking model for bus travel? Why not? We have two major applications for it.
For all practical purposes, we will try and take BEST and BMTC as an example here. We will also assume a simple USSD number to dial: *456#
Since both BEST and BMTC have an Electronic Ticketing System in place, this can be relatively easy. It is easier for BEST, since BEST has all its bus stops numbered as well. Example: If I am at Nehru Planetarium/NSCI/Lotus bus stop at Worli, with a Bus Stop code 07187. I dial *456#, it asks me to enter the stop code, then I type 07187, it then asks me if I want to 1.Buy a ticket or 2. Know the arrival of buses, I choose 1. It then lists out the buses arriving in the next 30 minutes. I choose AS-4. It then lists out the stops from NSCI to Backbay Depot, I choose Backbay Depot, it asks for confirmation, I say yes. It deducts ₹75 from my wallet and sends me an SMS with the ticket details. It gives a 4-digit reference number which I show the conductor when I board the bus. He enters that onto his machine and that’s all.
This is even more simpler than booking a ticket. The process is pretty much the same. Dial *456#, enter stop code 07187, choose 2 and it shows the list of buses. I choose AS-4. It shows the last stop the bus has crossed and the ETA, like : AS-4, Acharya Atre Chowk, ETA 4 min. This is similar to BEST’s existing SMS based system, but provides more real time data.
A shortcode can be created enabling faster access to frequenters.
Eg: *456*1*07187# to open the list of buses to book a ticket. Or *456*2*07187# to open the list of buses to track then.
Now comes the tricky part. Rates for the NUUP are charged, with a maximum cap set by TRAI at ₹1.5 per transaction. As far as tracking is concerned, the existing SMS system (although not functional right now) costs ₹3 per message. A ₹1 charge per transaction/lookup might be good for tracking. The issue comes for payments. Charging a rupee extra per ticket doesn’t sound like a good move. However, since BEST already charges ₹30 for the ePurse Card, and ₹10 per month for bus passes as administrative charges, it might not be a problem if it is charged as a rent from the user’s account.
What do you say? USSD Banking is here. USSD Bus Travel? Why not
It gives me immense pleasure to pen this Guest Post for my dear friend Srikanth whose penchant and fascination for buses is not hidden from us as is evident from every nook and corner of this blog and hence I decided to pen this memoir of my early experiences in buses and how they have aided me in shaping my confidence.
Flashback 1987, Place – Trichy, TamilNadu
I guess the world was a little more nicer way back then, when I boarded the local bus from my school to home, a distance of 6 kms, as a 5 year old. I don’t recall the route number now but I distinctly remember the affectionate face of the elderly conductor who always called out to be 2 stops before my stop was about to come as the buses were always fully packed and I had to stand all the way, so I may miss my stop. Also, he always tendered me the exact change. He indirectly boosted by self esteem that as a first grader I can come home alone when my mom can’t leave alone my new born brother and come to pick me.
For the next decade, buses became an integral part of my life as I commenced my journey as a hosteller in Birla’s Pilani owing to my dad’s repetitive transfers mostly around small towns of Uttar Pradesh during this period some of which lacked good schools. I recall making mostly 3 bus changes to reach Pilani from where I lived, a journey of about 14 hrs – at Rohtak, Jaipur and Loharu. I was mostly alone and handled most kinds of people enroute. Nevertheless, these long journeys brought me closer to life. I observed people around me many of whom even candidly shared their stories once the conversations were struck. I really wanted to do something for many of them who shared and I always penned down their true tales and authentic feelings that came straight from the heart.
This is where my writing journey began and got its dimensions and vision as during those long journeys I contemplated the aim of my life. I framed my ideologies during this period too for witnessing a bus full of people set on fire right in front of me during the Hindu Muslim Babri Masjid Riots evoked a million emotions in me. I decided I will make my contribution in improving our society in whichever small way I can. I started being vocal and expressing myself aloud in trying to be a face of change and for the same purpose later I started my blog which brings forth real tales of people like you and me to evoke and inspire the right thoughts in the masses.
Fast Forward – Today
Today though I very rarely commute in buses like Srikanth I too love every ounce of them. They are the best representatives of the majority of our society.
BEST today announced that henceforth all buses would stop at bus stops for atleast two minutes irrespective of whether passengers boarded or disembarked.
This announcement came following the speech by former Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh in the Rajya Sabha where he quoted British economist John Maynard Keynes and said “In the long run we are all dead” yesterday.
When contacted, BEST chairman Mohan Ramchandra Mithbaokar was unavailable to comment. We were told by his assistant that the new move was to give commuters ample time to reach the bus stop. “If people run to catch a bus, it could be dangerous, they might die,” we were told. “Hence, the order was issued that all buses would stop for a few minutes to allow those running to slow down and walk to the bus. We are also planning to insure people who buy tickets in case the long run kills them,” he added.
Meanwhile, when contacted, NMMT chairman Saboo Daniel was visibly angry. “BEST thinks they can outdo us? No way! We will beat them to this. We will show that we care more for the passenger than they do. We will prevent their buses from stopping in Navi Mumbai just like we prevented their buses from entering our depots. Why, we’ll even stop our buses everywhere so that people do not have to run or walk at all! That way, nobody will die in the long run!”, he fumed. When asked if NMMT had any insurance plans like BEST, he said, “It is only needed if people run right?”
We just hope that whenever these happen, nobody will die in the long run.
At this juncture, I look back and reflect on a lot of stuff that I have done in the past and where all it has got me. Blogging (especially about Buses) has taken me places and I really am glad about it.
I managed to attend the CII Partnership Summit and Make In India Week earlier this year only because of my blogging skills. I was hired as an intern because my employers were impressed with my blog.
Last year, I managed to see Bruce Dickinson of Iron Maiden live (not performing music mind you) at BNLF because I was a blogger.
So, a bunch of thanks go around:
IndiBlogger: They got the best of me on the blog. Posts for various drives and campaigns from International Toilet Day to the Chennai Floods. Yo can see my IndiVine posts here.
BlogChatter: For their wonderful prompts and campaigns, and weekly chats. I’ve met so many fellow bloggers and learnt so much more from them. A special shoutout to my Blogbuddy teams: InkingPages (2.0) and WriteOn (3.0)!
Swarajya: For publishing my articles on Transport and matters that affect Urban Life a lot (and for sending some traffic this way). You can read my Swarajya articles here.
The Unreal Times: Undoubtedly India’s best satire portal, for giving me chance to make others laugh. You can laugh at my work here.
OpIndia: I get to do the unconventional bit of writing. That unconventional stuff can be seen here.
Yes. I’ve come a long way thanks to the writing community at large, and I am really grateful to them. Thank you guys!
And now, for an image of what drove me to start this blog:
The Delhi Transport Corporation (DTC) is not really the most ethical transco in India. Believe me. It is nowhere close to being one. Why do I say this? There are plenty of reasons. I have listed its inefficiencies earlier in Delhi and it’s Bus Melee.
As I mentioned last year (The Underrated Daily Pass), DTC’s ‘Green Card’ doesn’t have any of the security features of say a BEST Magic Pass or a BMTC Pass. The only personal detail stored on the pass is the user’s name and sometimes their age as well. On one trip last year, when I was getting off near a Metro station, the conductor asked for the pass to be returned to him. When asked why, he responded with a “You’re anyway taking a Metro, why do you need a pass after that” kind of statement. I was intially puzzled, but then it struck me. He was obviously asking for the pass back so that he could he sell it to someone else, which was confirmed when a co-passenger explained that it was normal in Delhi. While it is known that BMTC conductors in Bangalore do collect money lower than the actual fare, pocket the cash and not give the passenger a ticket (I had parodied this on The Unreal Times, click here to read), this is one step more unethical.
The exterior display of a bus, is generally used to the the Bus Route number and route. Be it the Rolling Cloth display used by BEST, or the metal plate used by PMPML/BMTC, it is always used for the route. DTC, however uses it for other purposes too. In Novermber 2015, I spotted some of them saying ‘Car Free Day 22 October’. Not counting the fact that the bus was advertising for an event that was already over, the advert was displayed on the external LED Rolling Display. While many may agree that a Car Free Day might be good (I may or may not, it depends), using a Bus’ external display is wrong. If the government wants to promote a scheme or a programme, it can, like any other advertiser, pay the Transco and put up banners, or adverts on the grab handles or behind the seats. The external LED, is a BIG no no! Of course, there are many who will point this out with MSRTCs older Shivneri/Ashwamedh fleet (prior to them getting LED displays). The older fleet had a board with the route on it, above the driver. It usually had an advert for either Manish Potdar or Chandukaka Saraf. They however, were smaller and below the routes.
And now for the big one.
With Arvind Kejriwal going hammer and tongs against the current Demonetisation drive by the Central Government, calling it India’s largest scam, a new twist has emerged. Before I get into the actuals; let me remind you: DTC’s non AC fare is ₹5, 10, 15, and AC fare is ₹10, 15, 20, 25. This fare is from the DTC website, last updated August 2016. A regular monthly pass costs ₹800 and 1000 for the two categories. The most expensive pass is the Airport Express Coach (NCT+NCR) which costs ₹1800.
The Aam Aadmi Party has been accused of using the Delhi Transport Corporation (DTC) to exchange illegal ₹500 and ₹1000 notes for valid notes.
In a letter to Lieutenant-Governor Najeeb Jung, Delhi BJP leader. He alleged that the DTC deposited ₹3 crore in old ₹500 and ₹1000 notes. Jansatta, a Hindi Daily claimed this was the method used by the AAP to covert money it had received as donations.
The letter claimed that with fares ranging from ₹5 to ₹25 and most commuters giving change, it would be difficult for the Corporation to deposit revenue in the higher denomination notes.
The letter said, “It has been found that the most part of the revenue submitted by DTC is in banned currency notes. This raises suspicion of wrongdoing and the money may be connected with the donations collected by ruling party (AAP).”
He asked the Lieutenant Governor to ask the DTC management to come clean on the issue to prevent maligning of its reputation.
If this is true, it is a true black spot for Indian Transit.
BEST today has announced that the old ₹500, and ₹1000 notes can be used till 24-11-16 to buy Bus Passes/Renew Bus Passes.
The higher value notes, that had been pulled out of circulation for most purposes on 08-11-16, were to be valid in Government Hospitals, as well as to buy air tickets, railway tickets and bus tickets at airports, railway stations and bus terminals of State Transport Undertakings respectively.
BEST announced this by sending a text message to existing passholders and prepaid card holders.
While the demonetisation of notes presents us with a great opportunity to go cashless, it will take time to start.
For a list of Point of Sale (PoS) Counters from where you can Buy/Recharge/Renew Bus Passes and ePurse Prepaid cards, please refer to Page 11 of this document.
Note: You will be required to provide your Name, Address, Phone Number along with the Serial Number of the notes.
Propaganda is a very misused, overused and abused word today. Politicians use it all the time to attack each other. In such cases, we should take a closer look at the word Propaganda itself.
Merriam-Webster defines Propaganda as ideas or statements that are often false or exaggerated and that are spread in order to help a cause, a political leader, a government, etc.
Of course, we can take the liberty of interpreting Propaganda as a more open nature of promoting oneself or ones interests to an audience.
The most well known example of Propaganda is the 1940 film The Eternal Jew, directed by Fritz Hippler and produced by the Minister of Propaganda Joseph Goebbels under the Deutsche Film Gesellschaft banner. The film was nowhere near subtle, and portrayed Jews as Uncivilised, Parasitic and worse. However, times have changed and propaganda in its current form is very subtle, often using bias to have its way.
In the recent times, propaganda has managed to make its way into the Transport sector too. When we say Propaganda in the Transport sector, we do not refer to naming stations, airports, roads and bridges after people. Mumbai has one major railway station and its airport named after Chhatrapati Shivaji. Bangalore has its central bus station and airport named after Kempegowda. This is a global phenomenon. New York’s major airport is named after former President John F Kennedy while it’s secondary airport is named after the 99th Mayor Fiorello La Gaurdia.
The propaganda we look at is subtle, and in some cases, not so subtle.
A Nationalistic Bus?
At first glance, the Atal Sarige operated by the Bangalore Metropolitan Transport Corporation [BMTC] looks like its livery is is draping the bus with the National Flag. But. It’s wrong. If you take a second look, you’d notice that the colour scheme is White, Green and Saffron/Orange. The party colours of the Bharatiya Janata Party [BJP]. Further, the name itself is a giveaway. Named after former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee of the BJP, the bus was meant to serve the poorest of the poor.
Note: If you’re Mumbai, the highest fare is on a bus with its route number starting with AS, and if you’re in Bangalore, it’d be the opposite.
And now, for a little Aesthetics.
Pink is known to be a very soothing colour. It is often used to calm inmates in prison.
However, the Telangana State Road Transport Corporation [TSRTC] bus above did not turn pink to soothe its commuters. Telangana State was formed in 2014, and the party that won a majority in its Assembly Elections was the Telangana Rashtra Samithi [TRS], whose party colour is Pink. Thus, everyone who sees the bus will remember the colour pink and every time there is a campaign by the TRS, people will be calm, because, Hey, Pink is a soothing colour.
And now, for the most interesting, and perhaps most noteworthy form of Bus-based propaganda.
Welcome to Tamil Nadu, where all the various divisions of the Tamil Nadu State Transport Corporation [TNSTC], the Metropolitan Transport Corporation [MTC] of Chennai and the State Express Transport Corporation [SETC] are like Chamelons. Remember the phrase “गिरगिट की तरह रंग बदलना” (Girgit Ke Tarah Rang Badalna)? That’s what TNSTC/SETC/MTC buses do. Change colours; Every time the government changes. It’s like an unwritten part of the party manifesto.
Here’s a picture of an MTC bus taken in April 2011 below. It’s blue in colour. Blue is also a soothing colour, although I fail to understand why anyone would want to say ‘Feeling Blue’ to refer to Sadness.
This picture was taken in April 2011, a month before the All India Anna Dravida Munnethra Kazhagam [AIADMK] government won the elections. Colour combinations were aplenty across Tamil Nadu. Some buses bore different shades of blue and yellow, some were white with Red, Yellow and Orange stripes across them, there were many.
Now, they are all uniform. While, I did mention Fragmentation in an earlier post, it would be great if each city had its own identity in terms of colours. Here, Tamil Nadu is one single entity in terms of coloured buses.
All long distance buses, including all SETC buses are now Green in Colour. They’re light green in colour with dark green stripes, or dark green in colour with light green stripes, depending on how you may want to look at them. Local buses, including all MTC buses all sport the same Brown-Beige combination which makes it look like the bus wasn’t washed at all. Perhaps a plan to not wash the buses regularly.
Below, is one such repainted bus, taken in 2013, belonging to TNSTC Coimbatore.
See, what did I tell you? Where did this come from? Some people tell me that the colour has to do with what happened before this repainting. Barely three-four months before the buses got this brown colour, they had a different colour.
Notice the colours? Notice the photo of Jayalalithaa on the windscreen? I know it’s a bit difficult to see it, but can you see it. In the picture, Jaya is seen wearing a saree that is the same colour as the Maroon on the bus. Her complexion matches the beige on the bus. Tada! When the paint jobs were done, all buses sported a huge photo of the Chief Minister on the front windshield on the left hand side.
And now, finally …
Green Leafy Vegetables Buses
They say, greens are good for health. They say Green is a sign of Eco-Friendliness. But, the leaves here don’t exactly say that do they?
While MTC curiously chose to name these buses as ‘Small Bus’, not ‘Mini Bus’, they also decided to put a few leaves on it. No points for guessing why. The AIADMK’s Party symbol is: Yes, that’s right, Two Leaves! But, wait! You can see four leaves on that bus! Simple: 2+2=4. The more the merrier. Two more leaves is just going to reinforce things into the commuters head.
Now, notice something common among all these Transcos mentioned? They’re all State-level bodies, not Municipal ones. You’ll never see BEST, AMTS, or PMPML like this. Why? Decentralisation of transport management ensures that while Municipal Bodies have the wherewithal to run the Transco, they won’t have the time or resources to go behind such trivial stuff. They’ll have more important stuff such as banners, roads, naming of Chowks to work in their favour.
On an unrelated note: Searching for Purple Faeries on Google leads you to the Tag Purple Faeries. I call this, Purple Propaganda..
The world’s oldest democracy is going to vote soon. Two years ago, the world’s largest democracy voted. What is the difference between the two? Well, without going into the nitty-gritties of both, let’s just focus on one point: Fragmentation.
In India, elections be it General, State Assembly, Municipal or Presidential are conducted by the Election Commission of India. Each state has a Chief Electoral Office [CEO] who is repsonsible for voter enrollment, candidate declarations, etc. While each state has a different way of getting the Enrollment done [Karnataka enabled Voters to submit scanned copies of their documents and fill the form online, as far back as 2013], the Election Process is Uniform across India. In the United States, the system is totally different. The Constitution, under Article 1, Section 4 gives complete power to the State governments in matters relating to voting. The Federal Elections Commission oversees the election in general, enforcing term limits, disclosing campaign finance information, etc.
Due to this decentralised nature, each state has its own method of conducting elections. Some states may use Electronic Voting Machines, so may use Ballot Papers, etc. This may result in some anomaly. The Butterfly Ballot issue of Palm Beach County Florida [explained here in the American Political Science Review] is one such example.
In places where Electronic Voting is followed, the voter has to fill up an optically-readible ballot paper which is then fed into a machine.
In India, a standard uniform system is following using the Electronic Voting Machines developed by Bharat Electronics Limited and the Electronics Corporation of India Limited.
Now, while diversity is a good thing, for it results in better quality of products and services, fragmentation is not really that good in reality.
Now that we understand the issues relating to a fragmented system, let us come back to Indian Transport.
Transport in India is largely a fragmented segment. Excluding aviation, which is governed by central policies and is full of private players, and the Indian Railways network, let us focus on the Buses and their operations.
Depending on which part of India you are in, the bus you board would be operated by either the State Government or the Municipal Corporation. The exception is Chandigarh, where the CTU comes under the Union Territory Administration, and in the absence of a Legislative Body like in Delhi or Puducherry, it comes under the Union Government.
But it is not this fragmentation that I am talking about. This is due to the various levels of decentralisation that is prevalent across our country. The fragmentation that I am talking about is what is prevalent within a single Transco, or a single City division/SPV of a State level Transco.
To give an example:
BEST is among the most defragmented Transcos. Every bus used the same ticket machine, every conductor issues the same kind of ticket and every bus or conductor accepts a Smart Card, be it a Pass or a Prepaid Card. The fragmentation arises in matters such as the LED display: Some buses have a full length LED display on the front, some have the tiny one visible in new buses, and irrespective of whether these are functional or not, some still use the old Rolling Cloth system for displaying the route and number.
In the case of BMTC, fragmentation is higher. Not all buses are properly hooked on to the Tracking platform, some buses still use the old Quantum Aeon ticket machines or worse, some still issue the old punched tickets.
Simmilarly, NMMT shows some amount of fragmentation. While earlier, only AC services had Electronic ticketing, now, all have it. But, only AC bus tickets can be booked using an app, while others still have to go through the machine.
Delhi too, is a good example of fragmentation. While regular buses, Cluster Buses and the Blueline buses are all operated by different entities, they essentially operate on the same route. However, buses operated by the DTC still use manual fare collection, with a handful of ticket machines thrown in for good measure in the last few months. The Cluster buses operated by the DIMTS have ticketing machines, can be tracked online, but there is compatibility of their systems with the DTC ticketing process. Blueline/Metro Feeder and other private buses, don’t have any form of connected ticketing.
Now, this brings us to an important point. Common mobility.
The Government of India had rolled out the More Card in 2012 as a common mobility card. Initially restricted to the Delhi Metro and Route 56 of the DMRC Feeder Bus, it was launched post the failure of the Go Mumbai Smart Card. While Mumbai has gone ahead with its Smart Card System, although extremely fragmented [one card each for BEST, Metro, Monorail and the Suburban Rail], it has managed to make cashless travel in almost all forms of transit. Autos and taxis are not covered, although Ahmedabad has gone ahead with such a proposal. I haven’t seen the More Card anywhere in Delhi in the last two years, and I have seen all Metro Feeder buses issue regular paper tickets.
In 2015, the Ministry of Urban Development came up with another proposal for a National Common Mobility platform with collaboration from the National Informatics Centre [NIC], Centre For Development of Advanced Computing [C-DAC], Bureau of Indian Standards [BIS], and the National Payments Corporation of India [NPCI]. The new system is proposed to use Europay, MasterCard and Visa [EMV] Open Loop system with a stored value system. It also took into account the deficiencies with cards in Singapore. It took the Octopus Card from Hong Kong as a base for its working, in order to support Passes as well; a crucial feature of BEST’s RFID Cards. While C-DAC will develop standards for existing Metro Rail systems, the problem will arise with other modes of transport. Ferries in India don’t use eTicketing. They still use the old fashioned ticketing. Barring Mumbai and Kerala, no other area of India has a proper water transit system or anything resembling one in place. Similarly, with Tolls, will this be accepted at toll plazas operated by other bodies except the National Highways Authority of India [NHAI]? Will it be compatible with FASTag? With each Transco using different ticketing machines [BEST uses Balaji, BMTC uses Verifone, both supplied by Trimax], will the entire system be compatible with each other?
Further, with vehicle tracking. A National Mobility platform will require the Vehicle Tracking System in place. BEST uses a GPS device fitted onto a bus, BMTC and DIMTS use the location from the ticketing machines. All this results in a jumble that nobody would seem to understand.
Let us hope that provisions are made to ensure backward compatibility of systems so that money is not wasted in procuring new technology.
Moral of the story: The odds of Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump winning are the same as the odds of getting into a BMTC bus and getting either a printed ticket, or the regular ticket.