Stories behind a Ticket

By now, you know me well. I’ve written earlier about why I am fascinated by buses.  You also know that I collect bus tickets. But there is something about these tickets that is not well known to most people.

I often write notes and story ideas on the back of my bus ticket. It can be anything. Most of the time it has everything to do with the journey itself.

So, below are a few such tickets with my stories on them.

Behind a BEST ticket.

A story written on the back of a ticket on Bus. 56. We met. Our Eyes Met. Our Smiles Met. Our Hearts Met. 56 - Yay .... JS - 27 - 05
A story written on the back of a ticket on Bus. 56

Behind a BEST Daily Pass.

A story written behind a BEST Daily Pass. Kid blows bubbles on the street. Sees two men playing Uno in a Cafe. Sees two women playing Chinese Checkers next to them. Is there a Mystery?
A story written behind a BEST Daily Pass.

Behind an MSRTC [ST] Shivneri Ticket.

A story behind an MSRTC Shivneri ticket. My twin and I were returning to Pune from Mumbai. I'm lucky to have a twin. She's not the evil one though. I am. You'll see.. Someday..
A story behind an MSRTC Shivneri ticket. My twin and I were returning to Pune from Mumbai. The evil bit refers to my pranks.

Behind an NMMT ticket.

It was pouring in Bombay when I took this bus. I was lost in an alternate reality where the rain caused an apocalyptic flood. Stormy Night Here. Would I be the Hero of my own Story?
It was pouring in Bombay when I took this bus. I was lost in an alternate reality where the rain caused an apocalyptic flood.

Behind a BMTC ticket.

My boss and I have for long agreed that the Silk Board junction was never a problem. What if the traffic at Silk Board was really a Screening Mechanism to deem who is worthy of entering HSR Layout first?
My boss and I have for long agreed that the Silk Board junction was never a problem.

Behind a Delhi Cluster Bus ticket.

I was sick after inhaling a bit of Delhi's polluted air in Azadpur. Is Delhi's pollution all a plan to systematically force people to move out? A la Tughlaq?
I was sick after inhaling a bit of Delhi’s polluted air in Azadpur.

Two PMPML tickets, both from June 2014, have gone missing. One was referring to a story about an alien visiting Earth that I had written when I was 12: A Visitor From Xyralite, and the other was an outline for a story that I wrote two months later on a Nuclear Apocalypse: Silence. I will find these someday and post them here. Till then… *salutes*

 

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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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Double Fun with a Double Decker

In the past, I had explained why bus journeys are fun. But there is, one thing more fun than a bus ride. A ride in a Double Decker.

While many cities including Bangalore, Hyderabad and Delhi had double deckers earlier, only a handful of them continue to operate them, namely Mumbai, Kolkata, Kochi and Solapur.

A BEST Double Decker on Route 138 at CST.
A BEST Double Decker on Route 138 at CST. Image copyright Srikar Kashyap, CC-BY-SA 3.0 Unported.

Now, Double Deckers have been in Mumbai since the 1930s. In the last few years, there were talks of BEST scrapping them, but they decided not too, saying that they were an irreplaceable part of the city’s heritage. Among the reasons for scrapping them were: Extra cost in maintenance, difficulty in maneuvering, and the fact that they required two conductors, one at each level.

But, but but, they were not scrapped, and we are thankful that have not been because they are really really fun to travel in.

BEST earlier used to ply them on 251 of the Oshiwara Depot from Versova to Andheri Station [West], but after the merger of the Versova and Yari Road Bus Stations into one, as well as the commencement of the Metro, they were replaced with regular buses, mainly due to the reduction in passenger traffic as well as height clearances on the West. They still run on the East, connecting Agarkar Chowk to SEEPZ due to height clearance from the Metro. Most of Mumbai’s flyovers are built at a height to allow double deckers to pass beneath them.

Among the prominent routes they run on, as 310 from Bandra Station [East] to Kurla Station [West], and 138 from Backbay Depot to Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus. 138 enjoys a reputation because it not only plies within the CBD, but also because it plies along Marine Drive.

Now, for the fun:

Double Deckers are fun because there is no driver in the upper level. As a kid, I was known to run up and sit up front to enjoy the breeze hitting my face. I was also branded the black sheep of my family because I once sent my cousin crying down after I told him the upper level had no conductor and only grown-up children were allowed. I do not regret doing that. During every trip of mine, I used to run up to the top, just for the air to hit my face. On one of my trips, a friend of mine from Gurgaon, who had never been in a Double Decker got in with me. He was awestruck, and spent the the entire journey with his DSLR stuck to the front window, capturing footage of vehicles moving at at 8pm at Bandra Kurla Complex.

We have been known for playing games, with the conductor being complicit in our [mis]adventures. We used to pretend that the upper level of the bus was a vehicle with a mind of its own, and that we, along with the conductor had to stop it from running into an obstacles.

Double Deckers have become an inalienable part of our culture. It is unfortunate that several cities like Chennai and Bangalore cannot ply them because of height restrictions.

Truly, these buses are a gem!

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When a Rumour spread about BEST

I was going thru the BEST website today, and was going thru the Daily Press Notes section, when I came across an interesting press note, dating to 21st February 2015. A very interesting note to say the least.

The Press Note, Numbered 65, on 21/02/15, is an appeal to Consumers of the Electric Department.

It talks of a rumour that has been spreading via Social Media to ask Consumers to check the back of the BEST Electricity Bill, where there is an alleged claim that BEST’s electricity department is charging consumers for losses made by the Transportation Department, and that if you wrote a letter and handed it over at the Head Office at Dadar TT, they would stop charging you.

BEST responded by saying that such rumours were baseless and consumers should not pay any attention to them. Fair enough right?

But, did anyone notice a deeper message?

For starters, this message came at about the same time when BEST made its first mistake. The disastrous fare hike of February 2015. This was followed by an even more disastrous fare hike in April 2015 that left BEST [especially its lacklustre AC services] completely alienated from its passengers. It was during the latter half of 2015, that BEST AC conductors at Thane Station encouraged passengers to take a TMT AC 65 or NMMT AC 131 instead of the AS 700. Even BEST conductors seem to have dissociated themselves from their own buses!

Next, as stated earlier, BESTs Transport Deficit is -₹858.02crore while the Electricity Surplus of ₹925.41crore. This ₹67.39 that is left over, along with some cash from the MCGM, as well other schemes such as JnNURM/AMRUT and from the State Government is what keeps BEST afloat. In the long run, it is true, that the Electricity Division surplus does pay for the deficit, but in a different manner. As per BESTs tariff, there is a Transport Deficit Loss Recovery Charge which is charged as a rate per kilowatt. Doesn’t this actually prove BEST’s notice false? Or was the notice only about getting the surcharge reversed on submitting a letter? Confusing, isn’t it.

But.. But.. But.. There’s something interesting to note here. BEST supplies electricity only to South Bombay. The Suburbs are served by Reliance Energy [formerly BSES], and MahaVitaran [MahaDiscom]. South Bombay is home to Mumbai’s richest people. Actually the country’s richest people.

So, let us take a look at the tariff structure of BEST, Reliance and Mahavitaran side-by-side, shall we. I’ll be comparing the regular rates for residences under the non BPL category.

BEST: Link to Tariff [Page 3]

Fixed charge goes from ₹40 to 100, the consumption charges vary from  ₹2.45 to ₹6.35 per Unit and only goes up to 8 when the consumption is above 500 units, that too for the balance units over and above 500 units.

Reliance Energy: Link to Tariff [Page 1]

Fixed charge goes from ₹50 to ₹100, the consumption charges vary from ₹2.43 to ₹5.57 per Unit and only goes up to 7.21 when the consumption is above 500 units, that too for the balance units over and above 500 units.

MSEDCL: Link to Tariff [Go thru all 381 pages.]

The format used by BEST and REL is not present and hence requires a little thinking and calculation.

While BEST might be charging more per kW/hr or Unit, it charges a minimal Transport Loss Surcharge which does not exceed ₹1.44 per Unit [Below 500 Units]. REL instead charges a fixed wheeling charge of ₹1.8 per Unit and a Regulatory Asset Charge, which ranges from ₹0.56 to 0.89 per Unit [Below 500 Units]. This brings the sum total of Reliance Energy’s charges to higher than BEST. Plus, with all the rich bigwigs and the who’s who of the social circuit living in BEST’s captive territory, does it really matter?

Now, the most important thing in the Press Note:

BEST, in 2015 recognised the existence of Social Media. Yes. They acknowledged that something called Social Media exists. Small, as it may seem, this is a significant step in getting our Government bodies on Social Media to respond to citizens better, as I had stated in an earlier post.

What are your thoughts?

P.S: The head office of the Electricity Department is located at Electric House and the Transport Department at Transport House, both of which are part of the Colaba Depot, which was BEST’s first depot.

Rumours abound: Understanding BEST's Electricity Tariff in relation to the Transport Division. Click To Tweet

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The Joy of Solo Travel

Travel: Something we do on a daily basis. Also known as commute when done in the same city/region to head to work.

However, travelling alone, no matter where has a totally different ring to it.

I travel alone a lot. Be it long distance, or short distance. It can be in any form, auto, taxi, bus, or train. Planes can also be counted, but I’ve rarely had any fun on a plane, just earaches and snobby co-passengers. I end up sleeping while listening to music during the flight.

So now, coming back to our grounded transport. Here’s what I have discovered.

Traveling solo opens up your mind to new thoughts that otherwise wouldn’t penetrate you. If you’re traveling with a friend chances are that you will spend most of your travel time interacting with them. When you go solo, your mind is open to observing more around and learning more.

Whenever I’ve been in a long bus ride, be it something as short of Mumbai-Pune or something as long as Bangalore-Mumbai, I’ve always had interesting conversations. I’ve had discussions ranging from 3 Idiots to Nuclear Warfare.

One one bus journey, I spent 5 hours discussing the state of India’s road network with my co-passenger. He was extremely enthusiastic on discussing the road network with me. We later branched into the rail network and ultimately discussed luxury buses. On another trip, I was discussing career plans with a Software Industry. Being a Computer Science student, I wasn’t too keen on taking it up as an occupation, and I was not interested in doing an MBA. He convinced me to write the entrance exams, which I did, and got into one of India’s better known B-Schools, but didn’t take up ultimately. My favourite trip was in 2009, when I discussed the Indian Education System, Piracy, Bad Roads, Missal Pav, Batata Vada, and Free Markets with a man who was an engineer in Bosch. How cool is that?

On trains, I recall various conversations with people too. On a railway trip from Mumbai to Delhi in the Rajdhani, I had an intense debate with an elderly Tambram couple from Matunga on the pros and cons of Dairy Whitener that was given with the Tea and Coffee on the train. Yes, a 2 hour conversation purely devoted to Milk Powder. On the return journey, I was both given and giving relationship advice from a complete stranger. It might have seen awkward, but I have multiple times in the past been accorded the status of the Single Guy who gives the best Relationship Advice. Of course, knowing me, I an probably give you the BEST advice, even on an NMMT or TMT bus.

On one trip in a Mumbai local, I was gifted a copy of the Bhagvad Gita. A month later, I was gifted a copy of the Bible by someone in the Delhi Metro. I’ve read both and keep them in my library of books.

It was on one trip in the Delhi Metro that I discovered that the MG Road station in Gurgaon was renamed after Syska. This was my first encounter with branded stations on the Delhi Metro. Prior to this, I had only encountered them on the Gurgaon Metro. Excited, I tweeted out an image to The Metro Rail Guy who promptly put out a post on his website and linked it back to me! [See: Delhi Metro’s MG Road Station in Gurgaon Renamed to SYSKA MG Road]

Travelling solo has made me understand more, learn more, and have interesting conversations with people from all walks of life. I think you guys should give it a shot too.

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My fascination with buses

Impromptu Post Alert: I’m going to try and explain where my fascination for buses comes from.

It all dates back to 1998. I believe I had mentioned this on the second blog post where I spoke about why Bus No. 56 meant to much to me. This pretty much predates that. I spent my early days growing up in in Madras, known to most people as Chennai, where buses have an interesting story of their own. Earlier operated by the Pallavan Transport Corporation, and since renamed to the Metropolitan Transport Corporation, these buses [originally green in colour] enjoyed a notorious infamy similar to Delhi’s Blueline buses. They had a nickname too: Pallavan Kollavan, which literally means Killer Pallavan. My first encounter with a Pallavan bus was aroun 1997 when a bus drove off the bridge over the Adayar River at Ekkaduthangal and landed on the older bridge below. For some strange reason, this incident remained on my mind for weeks.

Fast forward to 1998, shift to Bombay, also known as Mumbai. The city that I today consider my home. I had been to Bombay back in 1996, but it was when I shifted in 1998 that things started falling into place. Staying in Vashi, the first thing that was done was to find a school to get into. The school we found, was in Santacruz. Thus, my first trip in a BEST bus, a 505 Ltd from Vashi to Bandra occurred.

A BEST Bus No. 505Ltd in its current avatar, with a scrolling LED display.
A BEST Bus No. 505Ltd of the Bandra Depot heading from Bandra Bus Station to CBD Belapur in its current avatar, with a scrolling LED display. Image copyright Srikanth Ramakrishnan, CC-BY-SA 4.0 International, available on the Wikimedia Commons.

Slowly, as I grew up, trips by buses increased. First, it was the school bus. Since we had multiple school buses going to the same destination, with different routes, several of my fellow bus mates started having mock rivalries with students in different buses. It became a matter of prestige when our bus reached before the other one.

Slowly, I started taking BEST buses when I missed the school bus, or had to come back late. I used to take BEST buses for various classes and my attachment to them began. Of course, living in Bombay meant that there would be an extra attachment to BEST because there were proper marked bus stops, both shelters and unipoles everywhere.

This slowly escalated to a point where I preferred my 56 to the school bus.  I used stuff all the tickets [then and now considered a Collectors item] in my backpack. I was once caught by a Ticket Checker and he went thru around 300 tickets in my bag looking for the right one. I’ve never had such a collectors fetish for any other city’s tickets.

Come 2008, and a shift to Bangalore. I have to take a bus home from college. I discover that the city’s buses were [and still are] lacking in many ways. No direct buses home! I had to switch buses for a 5km distance. This acute badly managed set of buses got me interested in how to fix the issues. I wrote numerous times to the BMTC and then Transport Minister R Ashok. I posted on Facebook, and Skyscrapercity. Not that it made much of a difference though. I had a box of BMTC tickets, and unlike BEST, had no special attachment to them. I decided to build a model plane [curiously named the Flightplane Vajra after BMTC’s Vajra buses from where most of the tickets originated]. I designed the template with a regular sheet of paper, and thickened it with layers of bus tickets. Of course, the plane never did get built, its fuselage and wings are lying in different sections of my cupboard, mainly because I abandoned my Engineering dreams to take up a BSc.

In 2009, I came to the conclusion that buses were the future of Transport. I badgered anyone around me who was willing to listen. It was the year I made my first long-distance bus trip from Bangalore to Bombay, one that was to occur frequently in the years to come. I just hunted around looking for validation for my theory. I thought I was right when Mercedes Benz launched their buses, but it fizzled out. Later on, Scania’s entry and its presently strong market share have proven me correct. The biggest validation I did receive, however, was in 2016, when R Jagannathan of Swarajya wrote an article titled Why The Future Of Urban Transport Is The Bus, And Not Necessarily The Metro. I lurk around Swarajya too, writing on transport and urban affairs.

Post Bangalore, I moved to Coimbatore. I took to buses again. I traveled around the city, the suburbs, nearby districts, exploring towns, villages, rivers, farmlands, temples, etc. During Republic Day 2013, I traveled 350km by bus to Ulundurpet and Villupuram to take a photograph of two Toll Plazas.

I made a few trips to Ahmedabad in this period where I got addicted to traveling by the Janmarg. Being my first BRTS experience, it had a profound impact on me.

Then came the next move to Pune. Along with Pune, came a few trips to Dehradun, Delhi and Gurgaon. I made full use this time, with complete travel across all cities, taking as many buses as possible. The Pimpri-Chinchwad BRTS has a special connection to me.

By 2015, I had decided that I *just had to* start writing about buses somewhere. Starting a blog seemed to be the most apt thing to do, and thus, I did.

Here is my philosophy behind taking buses:

  1. You learn the city. I don’t look at a city by its stores, malls and cafes. I look at it for its topography, its layout, the culture of each locality.
  2. Buy a Daily Pass, board a bus and just scoot off! Take a camera or a phone, and click random photographs while traveling. You learn a lot of interesting stuff.
  3. I learnt Kannada and Marathi thanks to buses. I went from knowing just Aai Kuthe [Where is your mother] to Bus kramank 56 ghe, ani Khar dandachya bus stop utara [Take Bus 56 and get down at Khar Danda bus stop. I know my Marathi is still weak].

So, that’s the story behind my bus-mania!

This post is dedicated to three very special friends:

  • Geetzy, who although doesn’t take a bus, encourages me to remain positive. To put it in perspective, don’t fret in traffic. You are in a bus with a Pass, not in an Uber, paying by the minute.
  • Nidhi, who till date is the only person who has understood my craze, and has bought a pass to accompany me in a bus with her camera.
  • Sammy, who clicked a photo of a bus when I badgered him to do so.

So go ahead, share my craze among your friends. We all have a passion or obsession. What’s yours?

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How serious are we about Security?

How serious are we about security while traveling?

Everyone has been through a security check at airports, often having to go thru multiple levels of checking, scanning, and frisking. But what about others?

X-ray Luggage screening device at Suvarnabhumi International Airport, Bangkok
X-ray Luggage screening device at Suvarnabhumi International Airport, Bangkok. Image copyright Mattes in the Public Domain, available on the Wikimedia Commons.

It is rare to see functional Security systems in Railway stations across the country. Mumbai’s Suburban Rail witnessed a series of horrific bombings a decade ago while BEST buses have been the target of bomb blasts twice: 2002 and 2003, both outside Ghatkopar Station.

So what do we do?

Stringent security checks aren’t always feasible. You can do it for an airline because of the lesser crowd. But can you imagine doing that for every passenger at Mumbai Central or New Delhi station? It’s humanely impossible, mainly because of the volume of people.

Metro systems do have a decent security check in place. Delhi Metro uses the Central Industrial Security Force that the Airports across the country use. The Airport Express also has CISF guards, but they are stricter, and the security checks are more in line with the airport security checks. Mumbai’s security is handled by the Maharashtra State Security Corporation do a good job too. Bangalore, Chennai and Gurgaon employ Private Security agencies who, depending on the situation, may or may not be great.

But this will be a herculean task across bus stops right? Maybe, but there can be a workaround for this.

A simple workaround would be installing CCTV cameras in public spaces, starting with Bus Stations, Railway Stations, Malls, Shopping Areas, etc. where the public throngs in huge numbers. This can then be gradually rolled out to other sections of the city.

An addition to this would be using an Infrared camera along with the CCTV camera. An infrared camera is able to capture images in low light which a normal camera would not be able to see. Along with this, a thermal image scanner can also be employed. A thermal scanner will show the monitoring guards, different heat levels of anything within range. Combined with the CCTV and Infrared, it might help pinpoint explosive devices or weapons. Of course, installing lakhs of them across each bus stop would be a pain. The plus side is that this set-up can then be used for tracking buses, as well as curbing violations of traffic rules.

What do you say?

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Saving the BEST: A look back

Saving the BEST, a wonderful article by Rajendra Aklekar, journalist and author of the highly acclaimed book ‘Halt Station India’, appeared on Sunday’s edition of The Hindu. I’m going to attempt to reinterpret his article with a little bit of my own thoughts in the process.

Mumbai has traditionally been dependent on its railway lines for commuting. This dependency has been justified by their reach, optimal efficiency, and reliability. This makes them more than just a Rail Network. It makes it a lifeline, because it brings together the entire Mumbai Metropolitan Region.

The story with the road is similar. BEST buses have been on the roads for quite a while now. Motor Buses were to make their first appearance in 1913, operated by the Bombay Electricity Supply and Tramways Company Limited [BES &T Co. Ltd] which was set up in 1907, but didn’t turn up till 1926 because of World War I. Prior to this, the Bombay Tramway Company Limited operated horse-drawn trams in Bombay from 1873 with Electric Trams appearing on the scene in 1906 after BES&T took over the BTC. Today, BEST’s ubiquitious red buses form the last mile [or kilometre] connectivity for millions of passengers from both the city itself, as well as its suburbs and satellite towns.

However, things are changing. BEST is already in knee-deep trouble, getting passengers, especially for its lacklusture AC services that have been beaten by NMMT and TMT, although BEST is seemingly gaining a steady foothold after the recent fare revision. Further, app-based aggregators, including Ola, Uber, ZipGo, Shuttl, rBus, are all eating into BESTs revenue. To add to this, the Mumbai Metropolitan Regional Transport Authority [MMRTA] is now allowing private buses to ply point to point within the city without a permit.

The fault here lies in not only the competition, but also BEST. Corruption, Politics, Unions, all have made the Red Bus seemingly irrelevant in today’s life.

To put it in figures, BESTs Transport Deficit is -₹858.02crore. Its Electricity Surplus of ₹925.41crore is what is keeping it floating, along with some cash flowing in from the MCGM.

While it common to understand that Public Transport, being considered Public Service is bound to go thru losses, why are BESTs coffers in such a precarious state?

As Mr. Aklekar puts it, it all has to do with the management of BEST. It has an Administrative Wing and a Committee that is a Political Body. The two often overstep their boundaries, since it is blurred, and cause skirmishes, which leads to losses.

Along with this, it is also BESTs lack of keeping pace. NMMT and TMT went the BMTC way by procuring high-end Volvo buses while BEST remained with their scam-tainted Punjab-made Cerita fleet that were procured under the name of ‘Kinglong’ buses. This, along with the fact that BEST had abysmally high fares for their dilapidated buses just made things worse. BEST’s ITS was a total failure, because it required users to send an SMS and was full of bugs. Later on, it got shut down. Of course, let us not forget BEST’s tryst with Electronic Ticketing, which for a Municipal Level Transco, is a commendable effort, one worthy of a case study.

While BEST doesn’t provide WiFi on buses, something the Mumbai Metro does, I have seen a bus with a White Box behind the Driver saying WiFi. Maybe this was a one-off trial.

While Mr. Aklekar points out that BEST didn’t have a public time-table, I did find out that BEST did indeed have one, visible on its website when searching for a route, and also visible on the Mobile app m-Indicator. Of course, the increased traffic on the city’s roads have practically rendered timetables useless. Last September, the day after Anant Chaturdashi, I ended up catching the 9.30 AS4 from NSCI to Backbay at 10.15 thanks to the traffic.

When Delhi can track its Cluster buses and Autos, why can’t BEST? 3500 buses aren’t hard to track. BEST can set up a system on a Public-Private Partnership and licence its API for others to use if they’re unable to give it out for free.

He also talks of bus stops using electricity for advertising. The power can also be used to light it up for the safety of commuters, as well as a Public Information system for arrivals. I believe this should be easy, atleast within town limits, given that BEST supplies power there. BEST can also explore the possibility of solar powered bus stops.

Why can’t BEST go the Ola-Uber way and tap into the Google Maps API to show where a bus is? Get an app, track buses, guide commuters to the nearest bus stop. Let them buy a ticket with the app! Paper tickets are great. Make them greater. Print some ads on them. BEST used to do so with their earlier punched tickets. Why not now? Print a WiFi password on it as well, so that commuters with a ticket can use it. Passholders can probably have it using an app!

While I had earlier stated that I would be favour of participation from the private sector to keep the city’s transport in shape, the case with BEST is peculiar. The decentralised nature of the Mumbai Metropolitan Region allows each Municipal Corporation to run their own buses. Why can’t BEST, NMMT and TMT coordinate their bus services? Why do they have their toxic competition?

BEST represents the city of Mumbai in many ways. It is a Heritage structure in itself. If not for anything else, BEST, its red buses, their bell pulls, the Double Deckers, makes the Undertaking unique in India. Even the Purple Faeries make them unique.

BEST needs to get its act together. Or else India’s Oldest Transport Body, a crucial part of Mumbai’s Heritage, Culture and History would be lost to the annals of time.

 

Click here to read Rajendra Aklekar’s article Saving the BEST.

Click here to buy Rajendra Aklekar’s Halt Station India

 

 

 

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BEST slashed its AC fares by half. What happened then is obvious!

BEST recently slashed its AC fares by 50%. The results of this, while obvious, are quite shocking.

BEST also introduced several new routes: AS-71, AS-72, AS-318, AS-415.

Earlier, NMMT and TMT AC buses would always run full while BEST buses were like Chauffeur services, with one or two passengers in some of them. The reasons were clear: BEST used its Purple Faeries while the other two use Volvos, and further, BEST charged one and a half [1.5x] times what the other two charged.

But not any more. BEST’s minimum AC fares have come down from ₹30 to ₹15 while NMMT and TMT charge ₹20.

The Net Result?

BEST’s AC buses are seeing a higher patronage. BEST, whose ridership had fallen from 43lakh to 30lakh, is now trying to get it to 45lakh.

Take a look below and see how two AC buses are performing.

AS-318

This is AS-318 at Bandra Bus Station [East] towards the Bharat Diamond Bourse in Bandra Kurla Complex.

As you can see in the picture, the bus is quite full.

BEST bus AS-310.
BEST bus AS-310. Image copyright Coolguyz.

AS-415

This is AS-415 from Agarkar Chowk to SEEPZ. As you can see, the bus is full of passengers.

BEST bus AS-415.
BEST bus AS-415. Image Copyright Coolguyz.

When was the last time you saw a BEST AC bus full of passengers? 2009? 2010.

With BEST getting the new Tata Starbus Hybrid fleet soon, things are just going to improve.

Of course, as stated earlier, BEST needs to get rid of the Cerita fleet soon and go for more powerful Ashok Leyland, Corona, Scania and Volvo buses to sustain this increase in passengers.

BEST slashed its AC fares by half. What happened then will NOT blow your mind! Click To Tweet

Images courtesy Coolguyz from Skyscrapercity.

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Strike it Off!

Strikes. Strikes by Auto Rickshaw drivers. Strikes by Bus Transport employees.
Strikes. An old Blackmail method used by the Communists and Socialists [the Left] that unfortunately works even today.

There are two common reasons why Transport related employees strike:

  • Competition from the Private Sector or others.
  • Demand for Hike in Wages.

Competition from others

Frequently seen in cities like Mumbai, Bangalore and Delhi, both, employees of state run transcos, as well as auto/taxi drivers have often protested against others disturbing their Monopoly.

Recently, autos and taxis in Delhi went on a strike demanding that the government shut down app based aggregators such as Ola and Uber.

The irony of the situation is that such strikes force the public to turn to the aggregators, totally defeating the purpose of the strike. In cities like Mumbai and Pune, an auto or cab strike might affect businesses because both run by the meter. However, the use of non Kaali-Peeli cabs and auots is quite high in the city.  In Delhi, Bangalore, Chennai, these strikes would be problematic, because the autos in the city rarely go by meter. In the long run, an Uber or Ola would cost lesser than an auto anywhere in Delhi.

Demand for Hike in Wages

The other reason for a strike, a more legitimate one, is the demand for a hike in wages.

Recently, employees of BMTC, KSRTC, NW/NE-KRTC in Karnataka went on a 3-day strike demanding a 35% hike in wages. Though the strike lasted only three days, it was declared as indefinite, and would have gone on had the Government of Karnataka not convinced the striking staff to accept a 10.5% hike. This strike made life miserable for people in Bangalore. Autos began fleecing commuters, something that they are experts at. To compound the issue, the Karnataka Government’s draconian 1950-era rules for Cabs and Aggregators just made life miserable. With some universities choosing to remain open, life looked very dystopian.

In Ocober 2015, BEST employees threatened to strike because the higher-ups held back their Diwali bonus. Common sense prevailed and the strike was called off.

This kind of strike is a bit legitimate, since employees do deserve an occasional pay hike.

Now, what can be done?

What can be done about a strike?

A Strike or Bandh can cripple a city, or in this case, a state. It kills productivity, and destroys the economy. Of course, there are some people who claim that Strikes and Bandhs are Good for the Environment.

Here are some methods to help limit strikes and their impacts on the society and its economy.

  1. Decentralisation
    A decentralised transport system limits the impact of a strike. A strike by BEST employees won’t affect transport in Nagpur. However a strike by BMTC will affect Mysore since BMTC is essentially a subsidiary of KSRTC.
  2. Salaries must be on par with inflation and the private sector. Bus drivers and conductors aren’t the ones with the easiest job in the world. Pay them what they’re worth.
  3. Take strict action against those striking. Just because employees belong to a government body, that doesn’t let them strike as and when they feel like.

 

 

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