Competition or Not, Why is BEST not innovating much?

It’s not new that BEST is in serious hot water. The Undertaking has for long been in dire straits, going so far as to allow full body advertisements on every bus in the fleet to canceling all AC buses. But what is the reason? Lack of innovation? Yes.

 

The oldest transco in India has been unable to keep up with the times, forcing it into this situation. Why?

Simple. The lack of innovation due to toxic competition, with toxic being the key word. You’ll soon realise why it’s important.

BEST is an autonomous agency of the MCGM. Thus, the MCGM isn’t liable to bail out BEST if it ever needs to. Other transcos, such as DTC, MTC, BMTC, NMMT, PMPML, all get bailed out by their municipal bodies/state governments.

Further, due to BEST’s core competition being NMMT and TMT, both of which are sarkari bodies, innovation won’t happen.

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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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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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Uber Movement: Can it help us solve our Transport Problems?

Uber recently debuted its new Platform, Uber Movement (http://movement.uber.com) which will offer users access to its traffic data.

According to Uber’s blogpost on the same, Movement is meant to be a website that uses Uber’s data to help urban planners make informed decisions about our cities.

Now this might actually work out to be the best thing to happen to us!

Let us take Mumbai and Bengaluru as an example.

Both BEST and BMTC and an eTicketing system and an ITS with a vehicle tracker in place. With these two systems, the transco is able to:

  • Place the bus on a map.
  • Compute the number of tickets sold on different stages of different bus routes.
  • Superimpose the two onto a single dataset to identify where maximum passengers are and and what time. Using this data, one can come to the conclusion of time taken between two stops, and what time people are more or most likely to catch the bus.

Now, what can Uber’s data add to this dateset:

  • Average traffic conditions. While this can be ascertained using the Vehicle Tracking in Buses as well, Uber’s data is bound to be a little more accurate.
  • Alternative routes between two points. Since Uber relies on Google Maps for its navigation, it normally is able to plot multiple routes from Point A to Point B. This data can be used to launch additional bus routes.

The purpose of a Public Transport Undertaking like BEST or BMTC using Uber Movement’s data is to provide streamlined traffic flow.

Now let us take a real-world example:

Bengaluru

Building up on a previous post (Stuck in Traffic: How I Might Have Averted a Major Jam), let us assume that one would have to travel between Arekere Gate on Bannerghatta Road and the junction of 5th Main and 17th Cross in HSR Layout. As discussed earlier, there are two main routes. Traffic data from Google, Uber and BMTC’s ticket sales would be able to place things on a map. Since BMTC does not have a smart card system in place, it would be difficult to ascertain if the passengers disembarking at Jayadeva are taking a bus towards HSR Layout. If it did have a Smart Card system, or load passes onto an RFID card, this could be ascertained easily.

BMTC can then, based on traffic movements and passenger loads, introduce minibuses between Arekere and HSR Layout via Bomanahalli during peak hours.

Mumbai

Here, let us assume that one has to travel from Cadbury Junction, Thane to SEEPZ, Andheri.

Buses have two routes. Some of them like AS-422 take the Cadbury Junction-Marathon Chowk, Mulund Check Naka, Bhandup, Powai Route. Some, take the direct route by continuing on the Easter Express Highway and taking a right turn onto the Jogeshwari Vikhroli Link Road and then proceeding on to SEEPZ. Uber Movement can help BEST figure out when there is maximum congestion, and using its dataset on how many passengers and where they travel from and to, plan a more optimal route.

 

At the end of the day, Uber Movement is nothing revolutionary, it is merely Google Maps with a little more data, but more data is good for all of us.

What Uber Movement will certainly help us with is planning of land acquisition for newer transit projects, wider roads, metro lines, et al. But those are capital intensive projects. Newer bus routes would be the first step to implementing a full-scale transformation project. It will help make the city’s people smart, irrespective of whether city itself is smart or not.

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BEST Comes Up With Three Pronged Strategy To Curb Accidents

Mumbai: BEST has devised a new three-pronged strategy to curb accidents with its fleet.

A BEST bus that was involved in an accident.
A BEST bus that was involved in an accident. Photo: News18

Among them are:

  1. CCTVs
  2. Smaller Tyres
  3. Larger Mirrors
Survey report by BEST in March 2015 . Image credits: Mid-Day
Survey report by BEST in March 2015 . Image credits: Mid-Day

CCTVs

BEST has written to the state government to set up more CCTV cameras on streets. BEST wants to be able to monitor its drivers en route, monitor their driving skills and safety, and identify corridors where accidents are common. This should be extended to the buses too. One would wish that the requested CCTVs are for the exterior of the bus too, something which currently only the Volvo fleet has: A CCTV camera on the top of the rear window panel that can be monitored by a display next to the steering wheel.All BEST buses, barring the Volvo fleet have two CCTV cameras in them, as part of the agreement with Verve Compusoft for the PIS and Advertising system. However, BEST themselves are unsure as to how many of them are functional, and like the PIS, it is also in bad shape and nothing can be done due to a badly enforced contract. While more CCTVs is one thing, whether they will be properly utilised, is another thing.

Smaller Tyres

BEST has decided to get smaller tyres for its buses, as a alternative to installing a speed governor. While this might be great for certain routes, care must be taken and larger tyres must be present on buses that ply on Express or Long Distance routes such as A74Express or A8Express which ply on the Bandra-Worli Sea Link and the Eastern Freeway as well as go on top of almost every flyover on the Western and Easter Express Highways respectively.

6,500 new tyres will be fitted in 775 Tata buses (out of the total 3,800 buses that BEST has) and will be procured at a cost of ₹4.72 crore. The older nylon tyres are 9.00 x 20-14PR while the newer nylon tyres will be 9.00 x20-16PR.

Speed Governors are mandatory on heavy vehicles like buses, trucks and trailers under the Central Motor Vehicle Rules of 1989.

Mirrors

The Undertaking will also install newer mirrors. The new mirrors, with a dimension of 380mm x 190 mm is being tested. The existing mirrors are 40% smaller. If they are found to be useful, it will be retrofitted into 303 new buses and then gradually into the rest of the fleet as well.

Overall, BEST seems to have done a great deal of study to reduce accidents. We wish them all the BEST (pun intended) and hope they succeed.

 

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Dindoshi To Get A Makeover

The Dindoshi Bus Station (next to the Dindoshi Depot) on the Goregaon-Mulund Link Road near Oberoi Mall is all set to get a facelift.

Dindoshi Depot Render by WRI India
Dindoshi Depot Render by WRI India

Below is a slideshow on the whole subject:

In the above slideshow, a lot of emphasis is laid as to why Dindoshi was chosen for this. Dindoshi Bus Station is among the busiest bus stations in Mumbai. The plan takes into account the number of buses entering and leaving, the different routes along with the existing facilities at the bus station. The depot and terminal occupy 3242.9 sqm., and witnesses approximately 8331 passengers a day.

The existing terminal has a terminal building, bus bays, bus parking bays and a passenger boarding area. For pedestrians, it is a bit dangerous due to the large gap in the central median outside the depot as well as vendors on pedestrian pavements. It is a little difficult to spot as well, due to its inconspicuous look. Further, due to a single entry point for drivers and buses, it is accident prone. Passengers further have to often board buses in the parking bay, thus making them walk across the open area of the terminal where buses are in motion. Due to haphazard parking, buses may also collide with each other.

Several changes have been proposed to the layout, in two phases:

Phase One

Phase One lists the basic changes that need to be made:

  • Improving pedestrian safety while accessing the terminal
  • Changing bus circulation and the pattern in the terminal
  • Reorganising the terminal layout for better accessibility and safety
  • Amenities for both passengers and staff

Phase Two

Phase Two involves commercialising the entire structure.

Multiple concepts have been provided in the entire plan, which can be seen in the Slideshow.

 

Overall, this is a good move. If it is done in the right way, with proper accessibility for pedestrians and those who are visually or physically impaired, it would be a big boon for the city and for BEST.

 

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USSD Bus Travel: Is it worth a try?

Last week, I wrote an article on Swarajya about a little known Banking System that exists in India: USSD Banking, aka the National Unified USSD Platform (NUUP) that allows anyone with a basic GSM phone to perform financial transactions. You can read the article here: No Smartphone? You Can Still Transfer Money Using A Basic Mobile Phone

A user dialing *99# to access NUUP.
A user dialing *99# to access NUUP. Image: Srikanth Ramakrishnan/Swarajya

Now, to buses. Can we try and replicate the USSD Banking model for bus travel? Why not? We have two major applications for it.

  1. Ticketing.
  2. Tracking.

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#

Ticketing

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.

Tracking

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.

Shortcodes

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.

Pricing

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

 

 

 

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[Satire] BEST Buses To Stop At Bus Stops For Two Minutes

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.

A boy running to catch a bus (Representative).
A boy running to catch a bus (Representative). Image copyright Fengalon. Image in Public Domain.

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.

BEST to take additional measures to prevent people from dying in the long run! Click To Tweet

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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BEST: Old Notes Can Be Used For Bus Passes

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.

SMS from BEST notifying that Old Currency of ₹500 and ₹1000 can be used for bus passes.
SMS from BEST notifying that Old Currency of ₹500 and ₹1000 can be used for bus passes.

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.

Read: Going Cashless In Transit: Blurring The Line Between Digital And Physical Approach by Srikanth Ramakrishnan on Swarajya

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