If I were to write a book, what should it be about?

Okie, so I apologise for not posting on the blog for the whole of August. It’s a bad habbit for a blogger. I admit, I have not written much this month either. I was down with dengue for a week (thank you Bangalore). I have, however, been featured in Swarajya’s print edition this month, do have a look here: Dharma and the Manager.

So, you now know that my writings have been featured on several other places including Swarajya, The Quint, and most importantly, the Foundation for Economic Education.

Given that I have managed get myself this far, I know that the day won’t be too far when I will be able to write for other publications.

At this juncture, I’d like to ask you, dear readers, one important question:

If I were to write a book, what should it be on?

I ran a Twitter poll on this; it surprisingly got 22 votes.

Don’t go by the poll options however, for I could only put four options there. I can write on a lot more but preferably transport and infra related.

I plan to soon write a long-form piece on a major economic concept related to transport along with another blogger, Kundan Srivastav. You can follow Kundan on Twitter, he tweets @kun_srivastav.

Till then, do drop your ideas, suggestions and more in the comments. I plan to start writing a series of essays on modern transit, maybe this can be a good start.

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The viability of EVs hinges on deregulation of the transport sector

The last two months have been very eventful for electric vehicles in India. Starting with Nagpur’s Electric Mass Transit Project, the sector has been abuzz with various entries into the electric vehicle (EV) scene. With Ola Cabs calling the shots in Nagpur, two Munjal family ventures– Hero Future Energies and Hero MotoCorp announced their foray into the charging infra sector, while public-sector NTPC Limited set up charging stations in the National Capital Region (NCR). Further, it was also announced that the Centre was reportedly in talks with Japanese investment major Softbank to procure two lakh electric buses.

Given Piyush Goyal’s announcement that India would sell only EVs by 2030, this might sound like things are on track, but are they?

Arguably, the question that arose after this statement was whether this would be feasible or not. At this juncture it is crucial to look at Goyal’s words. The target, according to what Goyal to PTI reporters was to ensure that only EVs are sold. Going by this, it would be possible to ensure that fuel-based vehicles are not sold, either through taxation or emission-based policies. There is no doubt about that. However, whether electric vehicles would be practical is something with a bigger question mark at the end of it.

So, are electric vehicles really that viable from a practical view?

Possibly not, at least not yet. The market is still not open enough for demand and supply economics to take over.

Start deregulating the market

Governments across the country have stopped private operators from plying legally. Of course, this doesn’t stop many of them from plying illegally, like the ones commonly seen on Bangalore’s roads. When the Government of Maharashtra is partnering with Ola Cabs to provide electric cabs in Nagpur, why can’t it allow Ola to operate electric buses? Private players will be able to raise the capital required for electric buses faster than government bodies and given the stark contrast between the two in terms of operations and quality of service, they would operate them better too.

Services like Ola Shuttle, CityFlo and ZipGo appeal to the middle-class by offering services such as a reserved seat, free wi-fi, cashless payments and convenient timings. If the government cannot offer these services, which it evidently seems unable to do so, let the markets take over.

Some manufacturers like Volvo Buses are even offering their buses on a turnkey basis where the operator need not buy the bus, but just pay the company who will lease out the buses. Public sector agencies may not go in for these for various reasons, but the private sector surely will.

 

Charging Points Need Deregulation Too

From all the investment that we have seen so far in charging spaces, there is a clear trend visible. Charging infrastructure is entirely in the hands of a few large bodies establishments that have money. While it is perfectly reasonable to expect the government to provide charging points as a means of garnering additional revenue, it is not desirable for the government to either be involved in, or control the entire system.

As we move towards a more market-oriented economy, we need to understand that EVs, like any other commodity needs to be deregulated massively.

To start this, we need to enable individuals to lease out parking spaces for those looking for them. Not every major provider will have a charging point in the vicinity, and not every vehicle might have enough battery power to go up to a charging point. If an individual has a vacant parking lot with a charging point, they can then choose to lease it out to someone. Leasing out vacant spaces as parking is not exactly legal in India and the closest we have come to legalising this was in 2016 when the Gurgaon Municipal Corporation proposed to make amendments in the local laws to allow people to do so.

Outside of India, leasing out vacant lands as parking spaces is quite common with several countries even having an app for it. If the sector was deregulated, this would solve a lot of problems for us, from congestion to charging and would in many ways make commuting easier. It might even encourage people to take up public transport for part of their journey while leaving their vehicles to charge at some parking space. This system of ad-hoc charging spots will answer a lot of demand and supply questions similar to how platforms like Airbnb helped make living spaces more affordable.

Unlike fuel, electricity as a commodity is a lot more flexible. In this scenario, electricity is not being resold– only the parking space is being leased out. Electricity is another commodity being consumed by a tenant who in turn pays for it. Further, similar to concept of peak pricing followed in the hospitality and transport sector, such pricing can be applied here too. Since most distribution companies charge different rates based on the total electricity consumption, owners can change price brackets as and when their consumption goes up.

Local bodies also could provide incentives or tax rebates to builders who provide charging spaces in residential complexes. Since many commercial and industrial complexes have charging points, it shouldn’t be much of a problem to have this emulated across all sectors.

The government needs to ponder about deregulating the transport sector heavily, if it intends for a complete EV scene by 2030.

Note: This article was written on 13 June 2017, after reading an article titled A misguided push towards electric vehicles. For some reason, I thought it would be a great idea to send this article across to Mint, which was stupid on my part. The Mint team did respond to me, but then practically sat on this article for over a month, making it evident that they had rejected the article but had failed to inform me about it.

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How can we reduce the time taken to cross Toll Plazas?

Ever sat in a 505Ltd at the Vashi Toll Naka wondering when the bus would cross?

Recently, word spread that people would not have to pay if they waited for longer than two minutes and 50 seconds in the queue at a toll plaza. While the original report stating this was later on rectified, stating that the three minute window was valid at the counter only and that too only in the state of Punjab, it did leave a lot of people wondering­ – How much longer do we have to wait to cross this toll plaza?

The Ministry of Road Transport and Highways (MoRTH) did clarify back in April that there was no provision for exemption from toll due to time delays.

In 2015, it was reported that delays at toll plazas cost the country Rs 60,000 crore a year in terms of productivity.

 

So, how do we fix this problem?

The first of them is ostensibly, the FASTag. As I had mentioned earlier, FASTag could solve nearly all the problems caused due to time delays at toll plazas. However, the issue is that it would solve nearly all the problems and not all of them.

Delays due to non FASTag users as well as the large queue of vehicles before reaching the counter need to be tackled, albeit separately.

Round fares

Toll rates need to be rounded off to the nearest multiple of Rs 10. Some toll plazas, such as the Thoppur toll plaza in Tamil Nadu are notorious for having fares such as Rs 83 or Rs 292 which cause delays due to returning change. When change is not available, operators resort to giving toffees to the driver. Rounded fares would make it easier and more efficient to pay and will plug revenue leaks. It also reduces the time taken to pull out change, count it and hand it back.

Exact Change Lanes

The exact change lane, pioneered by the Garden State Parkway in New Jersey is an automated lane where the user has to pay the exact amount. The system uses a basket where coins are thrown in by users and then mechanically counted by a machine. A photograph of the vehicle and its registration is also taken and the gates open. While the exact same method cannot be replicated in India – toll rates on the Parkway don’t cross $1.50 – a system that accepts notes, similar to those seen at Metro stations can be replicated. The only possible issue that could arise out of this is the damage to the machines. We have all seen how dysfunctional touch-screen machines and ATMs across the country get because people are not too sure how to use it.

Lane Discipline

The lack of lane discipline is undoubtedly the largest cause of delays at toll plazas. Impatient drivers cut lanes and try to fit themselves between two cars when they see another lane moving faster. Often, a driver might see an empty gap between two lanes and drive into that gap, followed by others, thus creating a new lane where none existed. At the toll plaza itself, when it becomes clear that no lane existed there, they then force themselves into existing lanes. Since the level of impatience is common across both lanes, nobody allows another to join in, thus resulting in more delays.

While enforcing lane discipline is the duty of the Regional Transport Authority (RTA) while issuing driving licences and the traffic police, these are long term changes. At the toll plaza, different approaches need to be made to enforce lane discipline. In order to solve lane discipline, physical changes need to be made.

Lane separators

Lanes at toll plazas need physical barriers separating them from one another. These barriers which are usually not very long need to be at least 100 metres long so to prevent lane switching and ensuring smoother flow. Further, they need to be removable so that in case a lane shuts down due to a technical glitch, they can be shifted to another lane.

Reversible lanes

The concept of reversible lanes has been in use in India, most notably at the two toll plazas along the Mumbai-Pune Expressway. Reversible lanes refer to lanes that can be used in either direction. At toll plazas, depending on the volume of traffic per direction, certain lanes on the side with lesser traffic can be “reversed” and the side with more traffic. Therefore, depending on the volume of traffic, lanes can be reversed accordingly and more vehicles can be accommodated in the same space.

Staggered toll plazas

Another concept that has slowly seen implementation in India, at several locations, staggered toll plazas are toll plazas where some lanes in the same direction cross the main toll plaza and then have a separate set of counters of their own.

(can insert a Google map screeny here)

This system was referred to by Ralph E Gomory as the addition of lanes ‘upstream’ or ‘downstream’ of a toll plaza and has been use in New York City where it was reported to have reduced congestion.

 

Reducing delays at toll plazas can greatly reduce travel times, increase productivity and ensure faster shipment of goods and services across the country. It just remains to be seen if government agencies and concessionaires are willing to go the extra mile and implement some measures to reduce the waiting time at toll plazas. Toll plazas cannot be eliminated, but the delays can be.

Now for buses: The only time I’ve seen government buses use any non-cash form of payment is on the AC Express series on the Bandra-Worli Sea Link. Otherwise, while they are generally exempted in several areas such as the MEP toll plazas, they still have to stand in line.

The solution is simple. Get FASTag. Enforce FASTag lanes. That way, these buses won’t have to stand with the rest of the vehicles and can go through without any hiccups. All state-owned buses too should get them. It would make things a lot easier, wouldn’t it?

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Transit Review: Hello There

Dear Reader,

Thank you for subscribing to Transit Review. It makes me feel happy that you have trusted some of your valuable time on a weekend to read about transport.

While I was hoping to launch the newsletter this week, several unscheduled and unforeseen events prevented this from happening. However, rest assured, things will be on track, and next week, we hope to see things rolling out.
A special thanks to the x number of subscribers (0<x<50; solve for x). Your support is is the sole reason this newsletter even exists.

In This Week’s News:

Heavy rains continued to have absolutely no impact on transport in the city of Bangalore, as always. The city’s transport system only struggles during periods of incessant drizzle.

Elon Musk commended India’s ‘We will go fully electric in transit by 2030’ plan. Of course, whether we will succeed in it and whether we will have that much electricity by 2030 and more importantly whether it will be green or not…. Never mind.

Nagpur has launched India’s first ever ‘electric mass transit’ project. Someone tell Maharashtra that mass transit is not mass transit without buses.

That’s all from this end folks. Till next week. Adios.
Please send all comments, feedback, angry mails, by hitting reply.
If you want to write or would like to commercially exploit this newsletter, feel free to drop a line by hitting reply.

Thanks, and regards,
​Srikanth

Transit Review from BESTpedia (Volume 1)

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Newsletter: Transit Review

Yo folks,

Some of you may be happy, some may be not-so-happy about the fact that this blog does not have email newsletters. To be honest, email newsletters telling people what has been published may or may not work. However, what does work, is a newsletter, one that has some good content.

Presenting, Transit Review. (No, unlike the earlier post about a new magazine titled Transit, this ain’t no joke)

A weekly newsletter, (currently planned for the weekend) Transit Review is basically a a quick write-up of what’s going around in the commuting scene, giving what I hope can be considered a fresh new perspective of transport and commuting. After all, you need to get to work right?

I promise not to spam you, but merely make you read a small write-up (not more than 1,200 words I promise).

So if you think you’re game to be made a Transport Zombie like me:

Go ahead; sign up. Be nice, share this page as well.

Note: If you came from Facebook Instant Articles, you probably won’t be seeing the sign-up form below this. In that case, please visit the following link to sign up:

http://tinyletter.com/TransitReview

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Transit Review is proudly powered by a combination of TinyLetter by MailChimp and WordPress. (Not to forget the various buses I take).

Note: Please add the following email address to your contacts to prevent the mail from landing up in your spam or promotions inbox.

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Local Economies, Explained

Alright, I know this isn’t really bus-related, but it is transport economics related. So here goes.

Men selling goods at a traffic signal in Mumbai
Men selling goods at a traffic signal in Mumbai. Image copyright Vikramdeep Sidhu, CC-Attribution 2.0 Generic, available on the Wikimedia Commons.

Ever head of the local economy or the local ecosystem? Or its variants: The Traffic Signal Ecosystem or the College Ecosystem?

Any establishment that witnesses footfalls develops an informal ecosystem around it. The traffic signal ecosystem is among the best visible examples. At a traffic signal, it is not uncommon to find people selling toys, books, newspapers, flowers. The same is often visible at railway level crossings. Similarly, the temple ecosystem sees people selling flowers, camphor, fruits and other offerings outside a temple. A college ecosystem sees numerous housing units (hostels), eateries, stationery shops, tea shops, juice stalls, chaat vendors, etc. in the vicinity of a college.

If one were to take a stroll outside Andheri station in Mumbai, they would see umpteen outlets ranging from book stores, newspaper vendors, tea stalls, juice vendors, eateries, vegetable vendors, shoe stalls (cobblers), people selling stationery, clothing, jewellery and more. This is more or less the same across all major railway stations from Mumbai Central to Ahmedabad Junction to New Delhi. It is common sense that any major project will develop an ecosystem of this sort around it. A popular joke says that when Neil Armstrong first set foot on the moon, he was greeted by a Marwadi tea vendor. Point proven.

Whenever any government announces a major development project (mostly infrastructure), it is invariably met with a lot of scepticism and criticism. While scepticism stems from corruption within the system, delays in execution and the fact that some money is siphoned off within the political and bureaucratic ecosystem, criticism is more often than not based on unfounded claims.

To give a context to this discussion; I am referring to an article carried by Swarajya in January this year about the economic benefits of the Mumbai-Ahmedabad High Speed Rail (HSR) corridor, also known as the Bullet Train. While the direct benefits of the project to the economy of the belt has been discussed earlier, there are a few things that need to be addressed. As with any announcement related to a major infrastructure project, it met with a fair amount of scepticism, and predictably a lot more criticism, for various reasons. Among the various phrases thrown out describing the project, were “White Elephant”, “Showpiece”, “Waste of Money”, and “Hypocrisy” (due to the two cities being connected). Let us address these issues, keeping just the ‘Bullet Train’ in mind.

The Formal Impact

The formal impact refers to the people formally associated with the project once operational. Metro projects employ hundreds of staffers. Metro projects employ engineers, maintenance workers, public relations spokespersons, security staff, ticketing and administrative staff, locomotive pilots, etc. Given the magnitude of the project, plus the level of automation involved, the number of people formally employed will be huge. The engineers form a bulk of any mass transit project, and have a round-the-clock duty to ensure that services run uninterrupted.

Why can’t the money be used elsewhere?

On one hand we demand better services from the government, and on the other hand, we criticise it when it decides to spend money on a project that will benefit thousands.

These big ticket projects will definitely go forward in getting more people employed, be it in the formal or the informal sector.

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Stuck In Traffic? Here’s Elon Musk’s Boring Way To Move Vehicles

Boring? Why not!

Nobody likes being stuck in traffic, especially in large cities. Elon Musk, founder of Tesla Motors and SpaceX too, got stuck in a traffic jam. The net result? He started The Boring Company.
What is this Boring business all about?
Unlike other players in the transport sector, such as Uber who are looking to develop aviation-based transport solutions within cities, Musk’s approach is somewhat lower than expected.
The Boring Company, also known as Tunnels R Us and To Be Continued, is a tunneling firm formed in 2016 after Musk tweeted out that traffic was driving him nuts and that he would build tunnels to escape traffic.

Tunnels under a city, that’s it?
Not quite. TBC has a more comprehensive plan in store. It’s a vast network that involves a lot of tunneling, construction and automation.
TBC’s plan is simple:
One, start tunneling under the city. Build a network of tunnels along with access points.
Two, build a network of guided pathways under the ground, that operate using these tunnels. There are select entry-exit points where the tunnels can be entered from above the ground.
Three, a system of automated ‘carts’ will allow vehicles to drive onto them, take them underground and enter the network.
Sounds familiar? Indeed, the last time Musk was stuck in a traffic jam, in 2013, he came up with the design of the Hyperloop, a futuristic high-speed transport system which he then explicitly open-sourced, allowing anyone to work on a prototype. The system is being designed for speeds of up to 200km/hr, and knowing Musk, will in all probability work on the principle of Magnetic Levitation, which is also the backbone of the Hyperloop.
The system is still in its initial stages however. TBC is currently building a tunnel that is 30 feet wide, 50 feet wide and 15 feet deep under SpaceX’s corporate headquarters in Los Angeles as it would require no additional permits. In February, a photo of the tunneling was posted on Twitter.

Why a tunnel based system?
Musk has stated in the past that the existing system of transport is largely two-dimensional, and that the tunnel system would be able to set up a three dimensional transport network. He said that without tunnels, everyone would be stuck in traffic forever, adding that it would be the ‘key’ to solving the urban gridlock. He also said that tunnels going 20 or 30 layers deep would be suitable for any city, no matter how big it was.
Musk has stated in the past that the existing system of transport is largely two-dimensional, and that the tunnel system would be able to set up a three dimensional transport network. He said that without tunnels, everyone would be stuck in traffic forever, adding that it would be the ‘key’ to solving the urban gridlock. He also said that tunnels going 20 or 30 layers deep would be suitable for any city, no matter how big it was.
Going up versus going down
At the same time, Uber has been advocating an aviation-based on-demand transport system. While an aviation-based transit system within a city may seem more feasible than a tunnel-based one, getting a working aircraft that can fly short distances with multiple stops is equally far into the future. At the same time, aviation is highly fuel-intensive, a constraint that terrestrial, ground-based transit systems can overcome.
At the end of the the day, Musk’s boring plan is similar to an underground metro rail system, except that it carries cars instead of people. It is like a cross between a Personal Rapid Transit (PRT) system and a Mass Rapid Transit System (MRT).
It is still unclear whether the system will work on magnetic levitation or not, but given that the proposed speeds are in the range of 200km/hr, one would assume that it would have to be maglev-based.
Too futuristic?
The system is certainly too futuristic a design. Musk’s last idea, the Hyperloop is still years away from commercial operations, and this too is of a similar nature.
There are lot of problems that need to be solved before it can be practically viable. Current tunnel systems under the ground are usually limited to a few levels deep. Having 30 levels is a huge challenge. Further, such a vast network of tunnels has never been done before. The most crucial requirement- ventilation underground at such depths need to be looked at.
However, what makes it more practical than Uber’s plan is the very fact that it is a grounded system, similar to road and railway networks. A system that is grounded is more efficient in the long term as well as safer in the event something goes awry.

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BEST Tries Out New Colours; Asks For Feedback

Mumbai: BEST has repainted a few of its buses with a new colour scheme and has asked for feedback on them.

 

 

The Press Note is mentioned below:

As

Press Note on New Colours
Press Note on New Colours

As per the Press Note, the newly colour buses will run from 27 April to 30 April on Route 111 between Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus to Gateway of India. Feedback on the new livery can be sent to probestundertaking@gmail.com

Now, for the new livery itself. BEST has replaced its trademark red colour with a white livery and yellow stripes.

Non AC BEST bus with new livery
Non AC BEST bus with new livery

Along with this, the BEST logo on the side has also changed marginally.

They seem to have repainted some of the Purple Faeries as well, in spite of them being pulled out of service.

Howver

AC BEST bus with new livery
AC BEST bus with new livery

However, the new livery looks grand on the Cerita bus.

Let’s see what happens. Don’t forget to send your feedback.

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BEST Suspends All A/C Routes

No, this is not an April Fool’s joke. Not even close to one.
BEST has announced that beginning 17 April 2017, operations of all AC buses will be suspended. This information was announced via a Press Note dated 13 April 2017.

BEST Press Note suspending AC services
BEST Press Note suspending AC services

This is a really sad thing. Mumbai is a huge city with a large number of vehicles. Cancelling AC buses would mean people will opt for cars/bikes/taxis.

BEST was among the first to introduce AC buses, way back in 1998. Things began going downhill when in 2007, then General Manager Uttam Khobragade (named in the Adarsh Scam along with his daughter Devyani Khobragade of the US Underpaid Maid infamy) procured Cerita buses by fakely claiming that they were Chinese Kinglong buses.

This is really a sad day for Mumbai. BEST had done all that it could in the last few months, from slashing fares, to introducing Happy Hours, to reintroducing cancelled AC bus routes. This is indeed a bad moment for us.

Featured Image: AS-524. (Photo Credit: Sameer More)

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Vehicle Manufacturers To Launch Deradicalisation Program

Vehicle manufacturers across the world have come together to launch a ‘dereadicalisation program’ to prevent trucks from ramming into people.

Given the alarming rate at which occurrences of trucks ramming into crowds have been happening off late, major manufacturers across the globe have come together to form the Association For Super-prevention Of Self-radicalised-trucks (AFSOS). AFSOS will have units across the world, to cater to local markets areas in order to prevent such incidents in future.

The Indian branch, AFSOS India (AFSOS-I), comprising of members from Indian auto majors such as Volvo, Scania, BharatBenz, Ashok Leyland, Tata, Eicher and Mahindra is launching a five-step program towards countering such problems in the future. Named the Deradicalisation in Indian Road Trucks (DIRT), the program aims to do the following:

  1. Train the trucks to not ram into living objects. Life is life. Live and let live. Do not ram yourself into living objects.
  2.  Train the trucks in non-discriminatory practices. Do not discriminate people on the road as holiday-revellers or people who are in-sync with your beliefs.
  3. Train the trucks to serve their purpose. A truck is mainly used to carry goods. Do that. Don’t go ramming into people. Who’ll carry the good then?
  4. Train the trucks to meditate, or even do yoga. Given that we have finally come to terms that meditation is calming (something Yogis have been saying for years),  let the trucks do Yoga.
  5. Train the trucks to love one another. Love is paramount. Love is peace.

AFSOS-I has decided to refrain from asking Liberal voices to pipe down. They have decided to speak up, after AFSOS-US blamed immigrant trucks as the problem. AFSOS-I has decided to promote ‘Multivehicleism’ to fight ‘Racist Vehiclephobia’, after following a poll by noted Editor and Commentator of ABP News, Kanchan Gupta.

 

P.S: Find this insensitive? Think this is a mad post in a case of terrorism and people losing lives? Let’s not blame trucks or guns then; they’re just tools. As they said in the olden days, Guns Don’t Kill People, People Kill People. Trucks don’t kill people, people kill people.

P.P.S: Afsos is a Hindi/Urdu term for Regret or Tragic, mostly the former.

 

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