[Unsung Heroes] A candid chat with a BMTC conductor

Today, I had the luck of having a candid chat with a BMTC Volvo conductor at Shanthinagar. Here is a quick summary of what all I learned:

  • Lack of confidence in the new ticketing machines: The new Verifone ticket machines [procured by Trimax, yes the same Trimax who set up BEST’s system]. Apparently, these new machines hardly last for the sale of 100 tickets before the battery dies out. This, happens on a full charge after being plugged in for 6 hours. The earlier Quantumn Aeon machines, still being used by KSRTC lasts a full two days on a full charge. The new machines are also prone to system crashes, and lack of connection to the server. He equated the new ETMs with the AC Tata Marcopolo buses, which frequently broke down [similar to BEST’s Purple Faeries].
  • Frequent breakdowns due to complete lack of maintenance: He said that all buses, including the Corona and Volvo fleet were not maintained at all and were prone to breakdowns, especially on Airport services. If a bus broke down on the road, it would lead to them getting a Challan from the Traffic Police, and if it happened in a Bus Station, BMTC would issue a memo. The fines would get deducted from the salaries of both the driver and conductor. Due to this happening, cases of staff committing suicide has also seen a significant rise. He mentioned that these would go unreported more often than not.
  • Actions taken on faulty parts: When any LED display got spoiled, conductors and depot workers normally try to fix it. They have gained knowledge on fixing the circuit after years of experience. However, if the administration, got wind of it, they’d junk it and procure a fresh piece which would normally cost anywhere from ₹50,000 to ₹1,50,000.
  • Kickbacks while purchasing buses: Apparently, babus and politicians have got huge kickbacks while buses were purchased, resulting in losses to the exchequer.
  • Lack of attention from higher ups: Complaints about faulty equipment, breakdowns, etc go unheard. Staff is supposed to fill out their feedback and personnel details and put in into a box, which goes unseen for ages.

Overall, he said that BMTC alone could fill a book in terms of mismanagement, maladministration, and general negligence on the part of the higher officials.

He further added, that due to the additional 6% Luxury tax charged by the government, which BMTC has not yet integrated into the Electronic Ticketing System, conductors have to sell the extra surcharge as paper tickets and keep a stagewise log of these extra tickets being sold.

I was told that the reason BMTC discarded the earlier machines for the new one was to enable RFID integration for the near-future Smart Card rollout, which is rather strange, because according to MicroFx and Quantum Aeon,the ETMs used earlier were RFID enabled.

 

That is all in this post. A follow up post on the BMTC ITS will come soon.

 

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The Escape Velocity of JnNURM buses

The Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission [JnNURM] is probably one of the most well known Government schemes that happened from 2005 to 2014. Anyone living in a big city would know what JnNURM is purely because of the ugly JnNURM logo being plastered everywhere, from buses to flyovers and ultimately to ultrasonic flow-meters used to measure water flow in underground supply systems.

Logo of the Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission [JnNURM].
Logo of the Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission [JnNURM]. Image in Public Domain.

Now flyovers, bridges, skywalks, underpasses, et al, are out of the purview of this article. The discussion is about buses. In 2013, it was announced that the Central government was willing to fund the allotment of an additional 10,000 buses and development of ancillary infrastructure such as Depots, Workshops and Control Rooms.

In a letter addressed to the Chief Secretaries, Principal Secretaries of all States and UTs, Municipal Commissioners and Heads of State Transport Undertakings, the Ministry of Urban Development, Government of India, laid down some important guidelines.

Among the various points mentioned in the above document; Point 3 talks about Definitions. It defines State as a State or Union Territory, a city as a City, Agglomeration, or Metropolitan area defined by the State, and Special Purpose Vehicle [SPV] as meant to run bus services within a city. It also states that existing corporations such as BEST, DTC, BMTC et al, also come under the definition of an SPV. A crucial thing to note here is Point 3.4 which talks about Para-Statals like KSRTC and APSRTC, which can operate buses under JnNURM, but would require an SPV at city level, OR could set up an SPV for a cluster of cities under Point 3.5.

Now, not all transcos followed the JnNURM guidelines. State level transcos as well as their city level counterparts did what was ideally not permitted.

Now let us list out all the violations that were possible; and then examine them case-by-case. This article only deals with the operating body, and jurisdictions. Another article will come soon on violations of bus specifications.

  • Not setting up an SPV to handle JnNURM buses.
  • Using JnNURM buses outside the city or area where they were to be used.
  • Using JnNURM buses for purposes other than Public-Transport.

Now that the violations have been listed, let us examine, on a case by case basis, what each transco did.

Metropolitan Transport Corporation/Tamil Nadu State Transport Corporation

An MTC Volvo on Route 588B from Broadway to Mamallapuram.
An MTC Volvo on Route 588B from Broadway to Mamallapuram. Image copyright Vinoth Thambidurai, CC-BY-SA 3.0 Unported, available on the Wikimedia Commons.

One of the earliest pioneers in the JnNURM violations, the MTC recieved a set of Volvo B7RLEs which it operated inside city limits, on routes such as CMBT-Red Hills or CMBT-Chengalpattu. It also ran on routes such as 588B from Broadway to Mamallapuram, which is acceptable as it is a city route. The issue cropped up when MTC transferred some of its Volvo buses to TNSTC Villupuram, and began using them on various intercity routes such as Chennai-Puducherry, Chennai-Hosur, and Chennai-Trichy. Perhaps its MTC which is innocent and TNSTC which is the culprit.

TNSTC Coimbatore and TNSTC Madurai received non-AC Semi-Low-floor [SLF] buses for intra-city use. These buses were not used on routes outside of their respective cities but there was no SPV created for them. Of course, one may argue that TNSTC Coimbatore’s JnNURM buses were used exclusively in Coimbatore and not in Erode or Ooty and thus TNSTC CBE is not the para-statal here but merely a city-specific transport corporation.

Puducherry Road Transport Corporation

On the lines of the TNSTC-MTC mischief-making duo, the PRTC got itself a set of SLFs under JnNURM. PRTC hardly used any of them in its capital city. Instead, it chose to ply them between Pondicherry and Karaikal. One may argue that there is nothing wrong in this as they are two parts of Pondi only. They then ran them on East Coast Road [ECR] along with the TNSTC VPM Volvos. This, made them serial offenders, just like the others.

Kerala State Road Transport Corporation

A Volvo B7RLE bus owned by the Kerala State Road Transport Corporation at Angamally Bus Station, heading for Aroor.
A Volvo B7RLE bus owned by the Kerala State Road Transport Corporation at Angamally Bus Station, heading for Aroor. Image copyright RanjithSiji, CC-BY-SA 3.0 Unported, available on the Wikimedia Commons.

Another arty and masterful violator, KeSRTC received Volvo B7RLEs for use in Kochi and Thiruvananthapuram. What did they do with these? Run them on intercity routes, of course. No SPV was created. The Central Government stepped in and objected to this violation, going so far as taking KeSRTC to court.

However, being crafty, the KeSRTC found a work-around for this. The court order affected only buses belonging to the Kochi division, prompting KeSRTC to transfer most of these buses to the Thrivananthapuram division. The reason? These buses were super-profitable and KeSRTC otherwise had only one Volvo service between Trivandrum and Bangalore, which was running at a loss due to KaSRTCs super-efficiency.

In November 2014, KeSRTC finally created an SPV called the Kerala Urban Road Transport Corporation [KURTC] exclusively for JnNURM buses, thus making it an SPV for a cluster of cities.

Karnataka State Road Transport Corporation

A low-floor Tata Marcopolo Bus belonging to the Karnataka State Road Transport Corporation -Mysore City Transport Department.
A low-floor Tata Marcopolo Bus belonging to the Karnataka State Road Transport Corporation -Mysore City Transport Department. Image copyright Srikanth Ramakrishnan, CC-BY-SA 3.0, Unported, available on the Wikimedia Commons.

Among the most ethical State Transport Undertakings in India, KaSRTC has actually followed most of the rules in the book. However, it did  miss out on a few:

KaSRTC has lived up by trying to follow norms as much as possible. One just hopes that Mysore and Mangalore get their own transport corporations soon.

Andhra Pradesh State Road Transport Corporation/Telangana State Road Transport Corporation

A Volvo B7RLE operating under the brand name of Metro Luxury by the Andhra Pradesh State Road Transport Corporation in Visakhapatnam.
A Volvo B7RLE operating under the brand name of Metro Luxury by the Andhra Pradesh State Road Transport Corporation in Visakhapatnam. Image copyright LOVEofZ, CC-BY-SA 4.0 International, available on the Wikimedia Commons.

The APSRTC, during the United Andhra days operated JnNURM buses in Hyderabad, and Visakhapatnam. It continues to operate the latter, while its younger sibling the TSRTC has taken over the erstwhile capital. There is no SPV to handle city operations. One hopes that the upcoming capital of Amaravati will have its own Transco, with funding under AMRUT.

Along with this, several of the Volvo “Metro Luxury” buses have found their way to intercity routes, both in AP and Telangana.

Note: Thanks to GSR Chaitanya for pointing out that APSRTC/TSRTC did indeed have an SPV. An article on this was posted a year earlier on Love of Z, a blog dedicated to APSRTC/TSRTC buses. You can read the article here.

Buses in Hyderabad, on paper operate under the aegis of the Hyderabad Zonal Urban Road Transport Corporation.

Haryana Roadways

A Haryana Roadways JnNURM Ashok Leyland Bus.
A Haryana Roadways JnNURM Ashok Leyland Bus. Image copyright Srikanth Ramakrishnan, CC-BY-SA 4.0, International, available on the Wikimedia Commons.

Another serial offender, Haryana Roadways has both non-AC buses like the above, as well as Volvo B7RLEs, both of which, were allotted to the Faridabad division. Once again, there is no SPV here, and these buses always operate on the Gurgaon-Faridabad-Ballabgarh route. Buses that operate within Gurgaon, however, are non JnNURM buses.

Bangalore Metropolitan Transport Corporation

A Bharat Stage IV Volvo operated by the Bangalore Metropolitan Transport Corporation.
A Bharat Stage IV Volvo operated by the Bangalore Metropolitan Transport Corporation. Image copyright Hayathkhan.h, CC-BY-SA 3.0 Unported, available on the Wikimedia Commons.

The BMTC, one of the largest beneficiaries under JnNURM, is a mere crook among the no-goodniks of the Transport world. It’s only violation of the JnNURM guidelines? Renting out buses. A large chunk of BMTCs revenue comes from leasing out its Volvo fleet to the IT sector for dedicated pickup and drop trips. The BMTC quickly rectified this however by purchasing brand new Volvo buses and deputing the JnNURM ones for Public Transport. A good move to conform to norms, but the downside? The IT sector gets the really good buses, the rest of us, nothing.

Brihanmumbai Electricity Supply and Transport

A JnNURM double-door second generation Cerita owned by BEST, leased out to Air India for picking up passengers from the aircraft and to the terminal.
A JnNURM double-door second generation Cerita owned by BEST, leased out to Air India for ferrying passengers between the aircraft and the terminal. Image copyright Prateek Karandikar, CC-BY-SA 4.0 International, available on the Wikimedia Commons.

Another small-time crook in the world of the Mafioso, BESTs only mistake in violating JnNURM guidelines was leasing out its Second-Generation Cerita [yep, them Purple Faeries] to Air India to ferry passengers between the aircraft and the terminal. The cash-strapped body, with annual losses of ~₹700crore needed to monetise its fleet, and did so by leasing them out. However, word has it that the after the Air India agreement ended, BEST has been leasing out its older, First-Generation, Single-Door Cerita buses which were not acquired under JnNURM. In order to further monetise them, BEST put out full body adverts on them, thus turning them into giant, moving billboards.

Now that we’re done with the villainous lot, let’s head to the heroes of the hour!

Jaipur City Transport Services Limited

This SPV was set up by the Rajasthan State Road Transport Corporation in 2008 to handle city buses in Jaipur. It operates JnNURM buses, other buses as well as the Jaipur BRTS.

Atal Indore City Transport Services Ltd

A bus operated by Atal Indore City Transport Services Ltd in Indore.
A bus operated by Atal Indore City Transport Services Ltd in Indore. Image copyright Prateek Karandikar, CC-BY-SA 4.0 International, available on the Wikimedia Commons.

Set up to run bus services in Madhya Pradesh’s largest city, Indore, the AiCTSL, operates city buses, as well as the BRTS. It also operates a Radio Cab service in the city.

For a further reading on JnNURM funding of buses, please read this.

JnNURM has been scrapped in favour of the Atal Mission for Rejuvenation and Urban Transformation [AMRUT]. While nothing concrete has been set for buses, one hopes that AMRUT paves the way for more intelligent transit in the country.

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The BEST Parking Lot

So a few days after BEST announced its new bus to Imagica, it now has new plans to monetize its assets: BEST will now offer parking space for private vehicles at its Depots and Bus Stations.

BEST's Vikhroli Bus Depot
BEST’s Vikhroli Bus Depot. Image copyright Srikanth Ramakrishnan, CC-BY-SA 4.0 International, available on the Wikimedia Commons.

This is great news. During the day time, BEST depots are mostly idle with buses on the roads.

Three spaces, the Santacruz Depot, the NSCI Worli Terminus and the Bandra Reclamation Bus Station.

A very wise move. During the day, most buses of the Santacruz Depot are out on the roads, thus leaving it relatively empty and thus, BEST has done the right thing by monetising it. Similarly, Bandra Reclamation has four buses that enter the bus station: 1, 86, 212, 215, all of which terminate there. The area occupied by the Bus Station is vast though. Meanwhile at the NSCI terminal, only buses such as AS-2, AS-592, A74Express, A75Express, A7Express terminate or start here, that too at specific times in the morning and evening, thus keeping the area empty for most of the day.

Overnight parking is not an option as of now, as BEST uses both its Depots as well as Bus Stations to park buses at night. The maximum allowed time for parking is 12 hours. The rates, exclusive of service tax, are ₹200 for heavy vehicles, ₹150 for light vehicles, ₹75 for two-wheelers. This works out to an average of ₹17/hour, ₹13/hour and ₹7/hour respectively, which is quite cheap.

One hopes that BEST is soon able to monetise its largest assets, the land bank that it owns across the city in the form of 26 depots, and numerous bus stations. Earlier attempts at this included renting out unused land parcels at depots to developers. The two most prominent ones among them were the redevelopment of Seven Bungalows Bus Station where a shopping complex was built, similar to the Andheri Station (West) bus terminus, and the redevelopment of Kurla Depot after it was damaged in the 2005 floods to include a commercial complex.

Rates have not well known as of now, but will be updated, once they are up.

BEST has done a lot in the recent past to monetise its assets, from renting out buses to Diamond Traders in BKC, and Adlabs Imagica, to full body advertisements across all buses, to renting out spaces at depots. There is a Salon operating at Majas Depot.

This is a great move, and if BEST is motivated well enough, can help out in the long run in implementing the ‘Park-and-Ride’ concept in Mumbai city.

One does hope that BEST uses it’s Trimax Ticketing Machines to issue parking tickets.

Update

BEST has provided an official tariff on it’s website.

For Heavy Vehicles: ₹200/a day, or ₹5000/month for 12hrs.

For Light Vehicles: ₹150/day, or ₹4000/month for 12hrs.

For Two Wheelers: ₹75/day, or ₹2000/month for 12hrs.

Note: All rates are exclusive of Service Taxes.

 

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Stop and Go

So, how do Bus Conductors tell the bus driver to start the bus, and stop the bus at a bus stop?

There are various ways. In this article, I’m going to explore the different ways they are done, as well as delve a bit into the operations of buses of two non Indian cities, where a conductor doesn’t ask for a bus to be stopped, but the passenger does.

So let me start with our Desi transcos.

Starting, in no particular order:

BEST, NMMT, PMPML

The BEST Model also applies to NMMT, TMT, MBMT, PMPML, and partly to MSRTC.

A Bell-Pull inside a BEST bus.
A Bell-Pull inside a BEST bus. Image copyright Srikanth Ramakrishnan, CC-BY-SA 4.0 International, available on the Wikimedia Commons.

Here, there is a bell next to the driver, with a bell-pull that goes upto the back of the bus. The rope of the bell pull is looped through several hoops, enabling the conductor to pull it from wherever he is standing. He pulls the rope and the bell rings. A single ring signifies stop, and a double ring signifies go. In MSRTC buses, especially at night, a double ring while the bus is in motion is to inform the driver to switch off or switch on the lights. Since BEST AC buses have only a front door functional, the driver knows when to stop or move the bus, while in the case of NMMT and TMT, the rear doors rarely open.

MSRTC

This is very prevalent in the Hirakani [Asiad] buses. It is similar to the bell-pull, but with a twist. Instead of a bell, an electric bell is installed near the Driver. A wire casing runs along the roof of length the bus, with bell switches after every three seats. The conductor presses the switch once for stop, twice for go, and twice in motion for the lights.

BMTC and KSRTC

One of the most interesting methods, no bus of BMTC has ever had a bell pull for the last decade. The conductor here, tells the driver to stop or move. He or she yells, that’s right, yells! The phrases used are Hold for stop and Right for go. Of course, Hold often sounds like Hold It, or Whole Day, and Right sounds like a Britisher saying the word, with stress on the ‘r’ and the ‘ight’ sounding like ‘oit’. This happens in the Vajra as well. Few conductors carry a whistle with them, blow it once for stop and twice for go, but most of them prefer shouting it out.

MTC and TNSTC

Older MTC and TNSTC buses had a bell pull in them, with the same ringing order as BEST. However, newer buses, especially the semi-low floor buses that came with the advent of JnNURM buses didn’t have these. In these buses, the conductor officially carries a whistle, and blows it; once for stop and twice to go.

DTC

DTC is a unique case. The conductor doesn’t tell the driver to stop or go. The driver stops, and looks at the mirror and leaves. However, this does get a bit confusing, given that nobody in Delhi seems to follow the enter from the rear, exit from the front rule. I wonder how the driver manages.

 

And now, for something completely different …

MTA

Metropolitan Transit Authority [MTA] buses in New York have a system where the passenger tells the driver that he or she wants to disembark at the next stop, since there is no conductor. How I wish, the BMTC was a bit smarter in this regard.

If you are a fan of the 1990s Nickelodeon animated TV show Hey Arnold!, you would notice that in the very first episode, Downtown as Fruits, you’d notice that Gerald refrains from pulling the bell-pull to indicate the stop.

MTA buses used to have a bell-pull along the length of the bus, next to the window, which a passenger could pull to indicate that they wanted to disembark at the next stop. These were subsequently phased out in 1980, with a yellow touch-sensitive tape on the walls that passengers would use instead. Once considered a relic of the bygone era, they made a comeback in 2009. Many a passengers were surprised, especially the old-timers, who were overjoyed on seeing something from their generation return, followed by the youngsters, who had never seen them before.

TfL

Transport for London [TfL], which operates the red London bus, which is what BEST buses were originally modelled on, have a bell-switch on the support poles within a bus. Indian buses, most notably Tata Marcopolo buses also have these, but they are not in use.

Of course, knowing the British, it is not surprising when I heard of a driver who left a note saying BELLS NOT WORKING, If you want Bus to stop, Yell Ding Ding.

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The Underrated Daily Pass

Daily Passes are something that drives every Transco today. It is not only beneficial for the transport body, but also for the commuter. A Daily Pass allows a commuter to travel unlimited for the day it has been issued at a nominal cost. In the long run, it is very useful. Some cities, like Bombay, and Bangalore, have special Daily passes for regular buses and AC buses. Now, there is a lot more to Daily Passes than what is visible on the pass itself.

The biggest headache for a transco is the resale/reuse of passes. To prevent this, several of them implemented select measures. Now, let us have a look at some of these measures.

PMPML

A daily bus pass of the PMPML.
A daily bus pass of the PMPML. Image copyright Srikanth Ramakrishnan, CC-BY-SA 4.0 International, available on the Wikimedia Commons.

PMPML has had Daily passes right from the PMT-PCMT era. Even back then, it had mandated a PMT/PCMT issued Identity Card for the Daily Pass. With the subsequent merger of the PMT and PCMT into the PMPML, the PMPML started issuing the ID cards and Daily Passes. The old PMT era Daily Pass is today used as a PMPML Weekly Pass with the start and end dates punched out.

The PMPML Daily Pass, is a Pink or Off-white coloured ticket, with space for the date, month and last three digits of the ID card printed on it. This is valid on all buses including the Rainbow BRTS, Katraj-Swargate-Hadapsar BRT Volvo buses, but are not valid on the AC Pune Darshan and CityAir Airport connectivity buses. The pass is valid on the entire operational region of PMPML, outside the municipal limits of both Municipal Corporations. To prevent its resale, the ID card number is punched out. The pass cannot be used on the same date a year later because the ID card would no longer be valid by then.

MTC and TNSTC

An MTC Daily Pass in Chennai.
An MTC Daily Pass in Chennai. Image copyright Srikanth Ramakrishnan, CC-BY-SA 4.0 International, available on the Wikimedia Commons.

MTC and TNSTC have both had Daily passes in large cities including Chennai and Coimbatore for a long time. In Coimbatore, these passes require a local ID proof in order to be purchased and are valid only if the holder shows the ID card  as well. In Chennai, known as the Travel As You Please ticket, they require an MTC ID card for Weekly/Monthly passes which costs ₹5 [according to the website, while I paid ₹20 for it]. The pass costs ₹50 per day and is not valid for night services. There is no Daily/Weekly/Monthly Pass for Volvo buses, which is surprising.

BMTC and KSRTC

A BMTC Gold Day Pass.
A BMTC Gold Day Pass. Image copyright Srikanth Ramakrishnan, CC-BY-SA 4.0 International, available on the Wikimedia Commons.

BMTC is undoubtedly the leader when it comes to Daily Passes. It has a wide variety of Daily Passes, something like their wide variety of buses as well. They currently have three major daily passes for people who do not have any other pass. This includes a regular daily pass for non-AC services that comes in two forms: One for those who own a BMTC ID Card, and one that costs ₹5 more for those who don’t have a BMTC pass. Those who purchase the former have to write their ID number on the pass, and all passholders have to sign the pass. The Vajra Gold Day Pass costs twice, and is valid on all buses except the Daily Rounds, and Vayu Vajra buses. A pass that is priced between the two exists for AC-Suvarna/Tata Marcopolo AC buses. ID Cards are of two types: One is the Loyalty Card that costs ₹25 for a year and is valid ONLY with the non AC Daily Pass, while the ₹100 ID Card is mandatory for a Monthly Pass as well. Today, BMTC conductors only sell the Gold Day Pass if the commuter has a valid Government issued ID or BMTC ID. Due to high sale volumes, BMTC changes its pass everyday. Each day of the week has a different, colour-coded pass with the day of the week written in Kannada/English and the serial number of the pass starting with a different series for different days of the week. BMTC also has a Saral and Sarag pass that it issues with the BMRCL. Saral is a Gold Daily Pass that allows unlimited travel on the Namma Metro, while Sarag is the same for non-AC services. All Daily Passes are valid throughout the operational area of BMTC. In 2009, BMTC and KSRTC had jointly released a ₹70 rupee pass that was valid on all non-AC BMTC as well as non-AC KSRTC Karnataka Sarige busees in the nearby districts. The AC pass now costs ₹150 including a 6% Luxury Tax introduced by the Central Government.

KSRTC MCTD's Daily Bus Pass for Volvo buses.
KSRTC MCTD’s Daily Bus Pass for Volvo buses. Image copyright Srikanth Ramakrishnan, CC-BY-SA 4.0 International, available on the Wikimedia Commons.

KSRTC in the Mysore City Transport Department has a similar arrangement. It has two passes, one for AC buses that costs ₹96 [with the Service Tax] and one for non AC buses that costs ₹50. The pass is valid throughout the service region of the MCTD and is valid on all MCTD buses. Compared the Bangalore, both the pass rates as well as the fares are low.

TSRTC

TSRTC Travel As You Like [TAYL] Ticket.
TSRTC Travel As You Like [TAYL] Ticket. Image copyright Srikanth Ramakrishnan, CC-BY-SA 4.0 International, available on the Wikimedia Commons.

The Telangana State Road Transport Corporation has a Daily Pass System in Hyderabad, referred to as the Travel As You Like [TAYL] Ticket. It is printed using the ETM. It is of two variants, one priced at ₹70 for non-AC, regular, and Metro Express buses and the ₹150 pass which is valid on Sheetal and Metro Deluxe Volvo buses. The pass now costs ₹160 after a 6% Luxury Tax introduced by the Central Government. The conductor asks for the passengers age and mobile number, both of which are printed on the ticket. The passenger is required to write their name as well as sign the pass. The pass is valid in the Twin city regions of Hyderabad and Secunderabad.

In June 2016, TSRTC announced that Daily Passes would be valid 24 hours from the time of issue. Later on, they announced that the passes could be purchased upto 7 days in advance.

BEST

A BEST Magic AC Daily Pass issued on Sunday.
A BEST Magic AC Daily Pass issued on Sunday. Image copyright Srikanth Ramakrishnan, CC-BY-SA 4.0 International, available on the Wikimedia Commons.

The story with BEST is a different one altogether, atleast today. A few years ago, BEST had daily passes similar to the current PMPML passes except there was no ID card. There were two types of Daily Passes, the Regular and Limited Pass for ₹25, which as the name suggests was valid on regular and Limited Routes, and the Corridor Pass at ₹40 which was valid on Express and Corridor services. The pass was punched with the date and gender, and to prevent misuse, the conductor would scribble a description of purchaser on the back. However, later on BEST began insisting on ID proof and asked commuters to write the ID number on the back of the pass. All this changed when BEST went digital in 2011-2012.

Once BEST went digital, they made it mandatory for commuters to have an RFID card for ALL passes. A horizontal ID card was issued for monthly and quarterly passes while a vertical one was issued for prepaid cards. Both can be used for Daily Passes. Till February 2015, BEST charged ₹50 for a non-AC Daily Pass and ₹150 for an AC pass. These passes are also referred to a Magic Daily Pass [AC and non-AC]. After February, BEST increased the rates to ₹70 and ₹200 respectively. All Daily Passes are valid throughout the operational area of BEST including Navi Mumbai, Thane, and Mira-Bhayander.

However, in September 2015, the BEST decided to introduce a new change in the non AC Magic Pass. As per the new system, the BEST now has three kinds of non-AC passes:

  • The regular ₹70 Magic non-AC pass that is valid throughout BESTs operational limits including Navi Mumbai, Mira Bhayander and Thane.
  • The ₹50 Suburban pass that is valid in the Suburban limits, and upto Mahim/Sion/Rani Laxmi Chowk in the South and Dahisar/Mulund Check Naka in the North.
  • The ₹40 City pass that is valid in the Island city region, again upto Mahim/Sion/Rani Laxmi Chowk.

No daily pass on Sundays or Public Holidays requires an ID card. Anyone can buy a pass. Since it isn’t tied to an ID card any longer, it needs to be carefully preserved throughout the day, and the conductor must enter the right gender. Of course, if you give your ID card, it logs it onto your ID card, and automatically detects your gender and the conductor can still validate the card with the ETM.

The Magic AC pass remains the same, however, on Sundays, half the AC buses are cancelled, thus making the Magic AC pass pointless. I personally feel BEST should either charge less for the AC pass on Sundays or go the BMTC way and charge extra for non ID passes on all days. Any pass can be purchased on any bus because they are all digitally printed.

MSRTC

MSRTC has a 4 day, 7 day, Monthly, quarterly and annual pass called the Travel Wherever you Like Pass. They have been in operation since 1988. The current form of the pass is similar to BEST’s Daily Pass system. Users are required to have a Smart Card for it.

For pricing, two seasons have been created:

  • Congested Season: 15 October to 14 June.
  • Non Congested Season: 15 June to 14 October.

Pass rates vary per season. The cost of the passes is mentioned on the MSRTC website.

DTC

A DTC AC Green Card.
A DTC AC Green Card. Image copyright Srikanth Ramakrishnan, CC-BY-SA 4.0 International, available on the Wikimedia Commons.

This is probably the first time I’m mentioning DTC on BESTpedia, but being one of the transcos catering to a large city in India, I guess this needs to be mentioned.

The DTC refers to its Daily Pass as a Green Card. The DTC Green Card is neither green, nor is it a card. There are two variants. ₹40 for non-AC and ₹50 for AC. Yes, you read that right. The Delhi AC Daily Pass is cheaper than Bangalore, Pune or Mumbai’s non-AC pass of ₹70! But then, it is hardly surprising, given that Delhi has been spoilt by subsidies solely by being the Capital of India. The Green Card is available with the conductor of the bus and a non-AC bus conductor sells both types. It looks like a regular ticket, and the conductor writes the commuters name and age on it, while marking the date and month. That’s it. No other measure to prevent resale. The downside to this is:

  • Very few AC buses compared to regular ones.
  • Due to it being so cheap, AC buses are as crowded as their non-AC counterparts.
  • Neither pass is valid on the Orange-coloured Cluster services, which form roughly 1/3rd of the buses.
  • This pass is ONLY valid within Delhi borders, and not in the rest of the NCR.

CTU

Daily Bus Pass issued by the Chandigarh Transport Undertaking for the Tricity Region.
Daily Bus Pass issued by the Chandigarh Transport Undertaking for the Tricity Region. Image copyright Srikanth Ramakrishnan, CC-BY-SA 4.0 International, available on the Wikimedia Commons.

Another first on BESTpedia, this is the first time I’m mentioning the Chandigarh Transport Undertaking. The CTU, under the UT administration operates buses throughout the Tricity region comprising of Chandigarh, Panchkula and Mohali.

The CTU has two kinds of Daily Passes: A green coloured one for non-AC services that costs ₹30 and a pink coloured one for AC services, priced at ₹40.

Both passes are valid throughout the Municipal Limits of the Tricity Region comprising of Chandigarh, Mohali, Panchkula, Zirakpur, Saketari, Manasdevi, and Mullanpur. For routes that go beyond the Municipal borders, such as to Landran, the pass is valid only till Sohana, where the Municipal Corporation’s jurisdiction ends.

Similar to the DTC Green Card, only the Passenger’s name is written on the ticket. The date is both written, as well as punched by the conductor. Passes are available aboard a bus, or at the ISBTs.

 

So at the end of the day, we can conclude that BMTC is the undisputed leader of Daily Passes. BEST, lags a bit behind, but is great with technology. PMPML, is with BEST. DTC, on the other hand is a totally different ball game. While people may not realise it, Daily Passes are very crucial, for both the commuter as well as the transco. It is useful for tourists and business people.

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Conductor-less buses: A boon or a bane?

Back in July 2015, BEST had announced that it had plans to operate buses without conductors in South Bombay on an experimental basis. The first thing that came to my mind was the BMTC Pushpak fleet. Thankfully, BEST was not emulating BMTC, but emulating its younger Maharashtrian sibling MSRTC, which has so far been super successful in the field of operating buses without conductors.

So what exactly is the difference? To the layman, a bus without a conductor, is a bus without a conductor. There is a major difference between the two, one that spells the difference between efficiency and incompetence. Let us examine the difference between the two and examine the flaws of each:

 

The BMTC Model

The most prominent of the BMTC no-conductor buses is the Pushpak. Originally a brown-coloured, single-door bus, with a variant of it, called the Pushpak+ with a green livery and an additional centre-door seen these days, they are seen on a lot of routes across Bangalore. A lot of them are also leased out by BMTC to IT giants and others. Another peculiar feature of these buses is that they do not feature the regular 2+2 pattern of seating normally followed in city buses, but have 3 seats per row, on the right hand side, behind the driver. The driver of this bus collects the fare, hands over change (if any), issues the ticket, and if he doesn’t have change, he writes it on the back of the ticket. Thankfully, unlike their BEST counterparts [no pun intended], BMTC conductors just tear the ticket halfway and hand them over. But imagine, doing this for each passenger! As if this was not bad enough, due to the seating pattern in the bus, the walkway width is reduced, and only one passenger can walk across. With only one door, you can imagine what could possibly happen when you reach a bus stop. People have to board, people have to disembark, people have to buy tickets, or passes, show their passes. The driver is overburdened with all this, and has an additional headache- He still has to drive the bus! The time taken at each bus stop becomes a huge figure, resulting in longer commute time and lesser fuel efficiency. Add Bangalore’s narrow roads, badly located bus stops, bumper-to-bumper traffic to this and wallah, you have the perfect recipe for a Traffic Jam! The only possible positive outcome of this mess is that BMTC doesn’t have a conductor on this bus, which would probably save them some cash.

A similar model existed back in 2008-9, where green-coloured buses labelled “Pass Bus” would ply. These buses were also single-door, devoid of a conductor, but had one interesting feature- No tickets (or passes) were sold. Only pass holders, be it daily, weekly, monthly, students, senior citizens were allowed. BMTC later on started selling daily passes on these buses, adding to the drivers burden. They were later given a rear door, a conductor and painted in the blue-off white colour scheme and became regular buses. BMTC probably realised that there was no point in running services that didn’t generate any revenue while on a trip.

 

The MSRTC Model

This model started off a decade ago with the Shivneri series. Originally only on the Dadar East – Pune Railway Station route, it has since been extended 113 other routes as well as the Hirkani/Asiad and Parivartan buses. In this model, MSRTC has bus booths at several places, like Khodadad Circle in Dadar, where the Bus Terminus is the lane under the flyover, between its pillars, or Maitri Park in Chembur, Wakad in Pimpri-Chinchwad, or Nigdi on the Old Mumbai-Pune Highway. A conductor sits at these booths, with a Trimax electronic ticket machine. When the bus arrives, he or she punches in the bus number onto the ETM, which automatically brings up the departure time onto the ETM, as well as seats left. To prevent error, they also check the trip sheet with the driver, and after selling tickets, log it onto the sheet so that the next conductor, if there is any other stop en route, can cross-check with it. This model existed even in the time of the Punched Paper ticket. The buses here are the same as the buses with conductors in them. For instance, the Swargate – Borivali Shivneri has a conductor due to number of stops it has on the Western Express Highway. MSRTC benefits here mainly because of the fact that buses run faster due to fewer stops, and it has to employ fewer conductors. Of course, conductors themselves are not too enthused by the move. In the long run, this impacts the organisational health of ST in a positive way, which is good for both commuters and staff.

 

Now, coming to BEST

BEST intends to run these buses on four routes:

  • Special 1 – CST <-> NCPA
  • Special 2 – CST <-> World Trade Centre
  • Special 8 – Churchgate <-> Churchgate via World Trade Centre
  • Special 9 – Churchgate <-> Churchgate via Nariman Point

These buses will operate on the MSRTC model, with conductors at the bus stops, especially given that these are short routes. Now, my main concern here is that if there are 10 stops, will BEST have a conductor at each of the ten stops? Also, more importantly, will it provide seating and shelter arrangements to the conductors? You can’t expect them to stand for hours with the heat, pollution and traffic. One may argue that here, the BMTC model would be better as conductors wouldn’t be waiting on busy roads, but do remember, making the driver do all the work isn’t such a good idea altogether.

Now, the funny part is that BEST says that it has sent a proposal to the Government of Maharashtra to allow buses without conductors as this is prohibited under the Motor Vehicles Act, 1988. Now, the MVA is a pan-India law, and thus, if it is illegal in Maharashtra, for a Stage Carrier/Stage Coach to operate without a driver, then has BMTC been violating the law jeopardising the lives of commuters all this time? However, the interesting point is that as per the Motor Vehicles Act of 1988, there two clauses which are interesting:

The first, which allows the driver to temporarily take charge as conductor:

the conditions subject to which drivers of stage carriages performing the functions of a conductor and persons temporarily employed to act as conductors may be exempted from the provisions of sub-section (1) of section 29;

and the second, which implies that a conductor is not needed:

Duty of the driver to take certain precautions at unguarded railway level crossing. Every driver of a motor vehicle at the approach of any unguarded railway level crossing shall cause the vehicle to stop and the driver of the vehicle shall cause the conductor or cleaner or attendant or any other person in the vehicle to walk up to the level crossing and ensure that no train or trolley is approaching from either side and then pilot the motor vehicle across such level crossing, and where no conductor or cleaner or attendant or any other person is available in the vehicle, the driver of the vehicle shall get down from the vehicle himself to ensure that no train or trolley is approaching from either side before the railway track is crossed.

 

Confusing, isn’t it? If indeed, buses without conductors weren’t permitted, then BEST should be sending a proposal to the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways [Morth], Government of India and this ideally shouldn’t be a problem, since the Minister is Nitin Gadkari. At the same time, this would also imply that BMTC is violating the law by plying buses without a conductor, even if Karnataka has a law since Central Law usually overrides State Law if they are in conflict. I’m hoping for a lawyer to clarify on this below.

So now, the pros and cons:

Pros:

  • Money saved by employing fewer conductors.
  • Time Saved because you have to have fewer stops.

Cons:

  • You need to reduce the number of stops.
  • You need to make special arrangements for the conductor while waiting for the bus to arrive.

This model will definitely work with BEST because there is no reservation or booking of seats involved and because, well, the Trimax ETMs.

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A clock named Bengaluru

So I came across this post on Medium written by someone known to me, that compares Bangalore to a clock; a theory that I have spoken about with respect to the Main Highways of the city, as well as bus services over the past few years.

Most transcos normally have a pattern that their routes follow. Examples of this are:

  • MTC Chennai: Routes that have the same number but a different sub-route [the letter preceding or following the number]  have a common terminal point in one of the directions. Eg: 27C and M27 both have the same origin and destination [CMBT to T.Nagar] but totally different routes.
  • BEST Mumbai: While, the pattern is getting a bit diffused off late in BEST due to the administration altering routes on the basis of the passenger load patterns reported by the ETMs, originally, you could make out which area a bus would serve by looking at the route number. All single-digit and two-digit routes predominantly have one terminal in the suburbs and one in SoBo. 100-199 used to operate exclusively in SoBo. 200-299 served the West of the Western Suburbs. 300-399 served the East of the Western Suburbs, as well as the West of the Central/Eastern Suburbs. 400-499 served the Eastern Suburbs, and Thane. 500-599 entered Navi Mumbai. 600-699 were entirely Mini/Midi-Bus routes, and the 700 series touched Mira-Bhayander.
  • PMPML Pune, Pimpri-Chinchwad: It is worth noting that the PMR doesn’t have a fixed pattern per se, although buses in the 1-20 region serve the Swargate-Hadapsar-Katraj zone and 300+ touches old Pimpri-Chinchwad areas. Route patterns became vague and diffused post the 2007 merger.

Now, coming to Bangalore/Bengaluru. A post on the BTIS website, pretty much corroborates both my theory and the Post that I had originally linked to at the top. However, it ONLY talks about the branded services that BMTC launched in 2009.

Let us take a trip back in the time machine to a decade and a half ago and start deconstructing BMTC routes.

BMTC divided the city into a clock-like network, with each highway, not counting the NICE Link Road, and including Hennur Road, Vidyaranyapura/New BEL Road, etc. Each of these arms was given a Checkpost. The Checkpost is nothing but a bus stop that marks a limit. On Bannerghatta Road, the Checkpost is the Mico Layout bus stop near Shoppers Stop. On Hosur Road it is the Forum Madiwala Checkpost. Now the Checkpost is similar Rani Laxmi Chowk/Mahim Bus Station in Mumbai which acts as a barrier between the City and Suburbs. Buses with numbers from 1 to 200 don’t normally cross this Checkpost, except in rare circumstances, such as the 2, 3, 13, 24, 25, 27 series that cross it to reach destinations like JP Nagar 3rd Phase, JP Nagar 6th Phase, Banshankari 3rd Stage, Kumaraswamy Layout etc.

Buses in the 200-209 range, is limited to 201 and its subset which operate on Inner Ring Road or go via Koramangala and Austin Town, mostly between Banashankari and its nodes and Domlur, Indiranagar, and adjacent areas.

Now, for the clock. The spokes are clockwise. Keeping the centre of the clock as the origin, we assume that services start at wither Kempegowda Bus Station [KBS], Krishnarajendra Market [KRM], or Shivajinagar Bus Station [SBS].

  1. Buses from 210 to 219 ply on Kanakapura Road.
  2. Buses from 220 to 229 ply on Mysore Road.
  3. Buses from 230 to 245 ply on Magadi Road.
  4. Buses from 246 to 260 ply on Tumkur Road.
  5. Buses in the 260-270 series ply in areas such as Jalahalli, Hesaraghatta, Vidyaranyapura, etc.
  6. 280 onwards is Bellary Road.
  7. 290 range targets Hennur and Banaswadi areas.
  8. 300-317 is along Old Madras Road towards Hosakote.
  9. 320 and its cluster takes Old Madras Road till Krishnarajapuram Station and then proceeds to Whitefield.
  10. 330 and its cohort takes Old Airport Road to reach Whitefield.
  11. 340 takes Sarjapur Road.
  12. 350 to 360 targets various destinations on Hosur Road.
  13. 362 plies on Begur Road.
  14. 363 plies on the Central Jail Road. [An exception to the clock model as Parapanna Agrahara is to the East of Hosur Road while Begur Road is to the West]
  15. 364-372 runs on Bannerghatta Road.

Now the entire circle is complete. Bus routes with numbers greater than 209 are classified as Suburban or Red Board services. These services cross the previously mentioned Checkpost on their journeys. This classification became a bit outdated with the advent of LED displays [unlike BEST where मर्या or Ltd is mentioned after the number on the LED because it is impossible to differentiate between Red and Black]. The BMTC later introduced routes like 378 which connect several spokes. 378 connects Kengeri Satellite Town with Electronics City via Begur, Gottigere, Konankunte, Uttarahalli, and Kengeri.

Now for the ring routes. Prior to the advent of the branded routes such as Big Circle, it was the 500 and related series that did the connecting. With the exception of 500 and 501 which essentially have the same route starting and ending at Banashankari TTMC, the 500 series pretty much runs along ORR on the Western Crescent between Banashankari and Hebbal connecting Central Silk Board, Agara, Iblur, Marathahalli, etc, while the 501 series takes the Eastern Crescent via Kengeri, Laggere, Malathahalli, Kottigepalaya. However, there are few buses that use the new Ring Road stretch between Nayandahalli and Summanahalli that opened up in 2011. Similar to the 500 batch, the younger siblings in 400 batch do trips on Inner Ring Road on the East and Chord Road on the West.

BMTC runs several routes called Grid Services, which earlier used to be Dark Blue in colour with routes starting with MBS. These routes attempted to connect two spokes of the grid. For eg: MBS14 used to connect Bannerghatta Road and Hennur Road.  The concept of Branded services like Big 10, Big Circle, Big Trunk, Kendriya Sarige, all came up only in 2009 under the then Transport Minister of Karnataka R Ashoka, who changed the fortunes of the BMTC and KSRTC.

If this hasn’t addled with your brains enough, then do keep in mind that the Bangalore’s Namma Metro follows a similar pattern, and I’m NOT talking about the similarity in the headlights of the trains to the older BMTC Parisara Vahinis. Phase I of NM follows a similar spoke concept, with Reach 1 to Byapanahalli, Reach 2 to Mysore Road, Reach 3/3A/3B to Nagasandra and Reach 4 to Puttenahalli. However the Metro lines do have some minor variations, or do they?

Please post your feedback in the comments below.

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Branded Bus Services

Branding Public transport has been an exercise tried out by many transport bodies worldwide, to various degrees. Few have succeeded, while few have failed in this venture.

There have been multiple attempts by various transcos in India at Branding services. While Metro Rail services have had branding as an integral part of them from Day 1, the same is not the case with buses, as many of them have been in operation for several decades now.  Here, I shall attempt to break-down the branding used by our transcos, as well as try and understand some lesser known details about them. In the event you want to see how branding works outside of India, there is a research paper here.

Note, I have used the term CBD numerous times in the article below, for those who are unaware; CBD stands for Central Business District. It is invariably a part of the core city area where many offices exist. It is the equivalent for what Americans often refer to as Downtown.

A BMTC Big 10 bus on Route G1 in Bangalore.
A BMTC Big 10 bus on Route G1 in Bangalore. Image copyright Ramesh NG, CC-BY-SA-2.0, available on Flickr and the Wikimedia Commons.

The first time I heard of branding of bus services was in 2009, when BMTC launched the Big 10  and Kendriya Sarige series of buses. These were touted as a major change in BMTC services, and the way the public viewed the services. The Big 10 covered the main ten highways of Bangalore city, starting from the CBD, and were numbered G1 to G10 in a clockwise fashion. The number of routes has now been increased to 12. The Kendriya Sarige, or Hop-On, Hop-Off [HOHO] series, were Volvo buses in blue and orange liveries, doing clockwise and anti-clockwise routes in the CBD, with a flat fare. The HOHO was discontinued due to poor patronage and the buses were used on regular Vajra routes. The Vajra, and Vayu Vajra concept itself was the biggest branding that BMTC has ever done for its services. Branding AC Tata Marcopolo buses as AC Suvarna, to keep lower fares was also a good exercise. Post the success of the Big 10, the BMTC rebranded some of the 500 and 501 series of buses, running on Outer Ring Road, as the Big Circle series. Services were numbered C1, C2, et al. Similarly, the Inner Circle, numbered K1, K2, et al, was launched for buses on Inner Ring Road, and Chord Road. This continued with the silver-coloured Metro Feeder routes, and more recently the Big Trunk series, which is basically just giving existing routes a new, more complicated number [Which is easier; 360B, or KBS3A?]

 

A Volvo used on the Pune Rainbow BRTS by PMPML.
A Volvo used on the Pune Rainbow BRTS by PMPML. Image copyright Rovan Vaz, CC-BY-SA 3.0Unported, available on the Wikimedia Commons.

PMPML experimented with branding back in 2008-2009 with the BRTS, also called the Rainbow BRTS, with the PMPML procuring Volvo B7RLEs [with openable windows] to run on the bus lanes on Satara Road from Swargate to Katraj and Solapur Road till Hadapsar.

A BEST Tata Starbus running on Fort Pheri 1, parked at CST.
A BEST Tata Starbus running on Fort Pheri 1, parked at CST. Image copyright Srikanth Ramakrishnan, CC-BY-SA 4.0 International, available on the Wikimedia Commons.

Now, let us move on to BEST. The BEST launched it’s Fort Pheri services in 2011. The Fort Pheri is probably the first branded bus service run by BEST in ages. Unlike BMTC, BEST does not brand its AC services. In fact, the BEST AC services, have a rather bad image, thanks to the Purple Faeries. So much for branding. So, BEST took their aging Tata Starbus fleet, gave them a pseudo makeover of sorts by painting them with a Fort Pheri Special livery. Some buses continue to operate with their original Starbus liveries, but most of them have been repainted to say Fort Pheri  1 or Fort Pheri 2 in Marathi. These buses were procured in 2004, break down very often, and thus were shifted to the Colaba Depot which is close to the route of these buses. They charged a flat fare, ran in clockwise and anticlockwise circles, and were an instant hit among office-goers in the CBD. A good move to make use of the fleet which was otherwise bleeding the BEST in terms of maintenance costs. Shortly after this, the BEST launched the Fort Pheri AC service. Unlike their non AC siblings, these buses had no special branding, but thankfully were not the Purple Faeries either. BEST decided to run all six of its Volvo buses from Oshiwara Depot to Backbay Depot on AS4, in the first six departures, park them at Backbay Depot, from where these buses would operate on Fort Pheri 1 and 2 AC till 3pm, before sending them back to Oshiwara as AS4. The remaining AS4 and A74Express would continue to have the Cerita buses on them.

A BEST Volvo on Fort Ferry 1 -AC.
A BEST Volvo on Fort Ferry 1 -AC. Image copyright Superfast1111, CC-BY-SA 3.0 Unported, available on the Wikimedia Commons.

Now that all the gyaan has been given, time to look at this whole exercise from a Marketing Point of View.

 What does Branding of Bus Services entail? Why must it be done?

To answer this question, let us take a take a quick look at high-end services offered by two intercity transcos: MSRTC and KSRTC.

KSRTC has branded its basic Volvo B7R services as Airawat, with the B9R being branded as Airawat Club Class. Further, the Airavat Superia is a B9R with a pantry and Airvat Bliss has a toilet. The newly acquired Scania buses are branded as Diamond Class. Similarly, MSRTC has branded its B7R services as Shivneri and B9R as Ashwamedh, and has retained the same names for the new Regular and Dual Axle Scania Metrolink buses as well. All said and done, MSRTC still carries the ST legacy. It is known as ST, and ST is an official part of the logo [in Devnagari]. While the Mahabus, and Shivneri services were launched as premium AC services, people still associated these with ST. However, that has changed a bit. Last year, when I asked a traffic police officer at Dadar for the starting point of Pune bound ST buses, he told me “You’ll not get an ST bus, but only a Shivneri to Pune“.

Similar to MSRTC being called ST, BEST also has a brand readily available. The name BEST is a brand in itself. Unlike other transcos, BEST itself is a brand name. Similarly, in Tamil Nadu, TNSTC buses are referred to as Arasu Perundu which literally translates to Government Bus. Some transcos use a logo to identify themselves with, for example the Ahmedabad Janmarg, the Delhi Transport Corporation, Navi Mumbai’s NMMT, and even the BMTC. The BMTC logo is nothing but the Gandaberunda, which is a Mythological bird with two heads; used as a logo for most entities under the Government of Karnataka, even KSRTC and the other sister bodies in North Karnataka. Even BEST these days is seen with its logo, a bus inside a lamp, seen now as the watermark on tickets and often on the front of an AC bus, above the display.

Now imagine the following two scenarios:

  • You live in the suburbs of Mumbai. You rarely come down to Fort, simply because you don’t have to. One day, you make it to CST because you need to go to the National Centre for the Performing Arts [NCPA]. Would you rather take a Bus number 108, or a Fort Pheri 1?
  • You live in East Bangalore. You need to head to Banashankari one day. Would you rather take a Bus number 500A or a Big Circle C-1?

Thus, bus branding is an important exercise. There are several reasons why bus services must be branded, all with a marketing tactic behind it. Here are some of them:

  • The most logical reason why anyone would want to market anything: To increase the number of customers and improve revenue streams. With the advent of cab aggregators like Ola and Uber, buses are losing out big time.
  • To give a feel good factor to the commuter. Passenger comfort is crucial. In a city like Bangalore, a person may get out of a bus and hail a cab, or in Bombay, take a train, if the bus is not comfortable.
  • A higher fare. A branded service is a premium service, it can have a higher fare, like BMTC does with the Vayu Vajra series, which have much higher fares than the regular Vajras. There are exceptions however, like the Atal Sarige, again run by the BMTC.
  • Make optimum use of existing properties: BEST re-branded its aging, semi-retired, nearly decommissioned fleet of Tata Starbuses for the non-AC Fort Pheri, and the idle Volvo buses for the AC Fort Pheri. Similarly, when the Kendriya Sarige flopped, BMTC used the Volvo buses on regular routes to Electronics City and Bannerghatta.

At the end of the day, transport is very important, since our lives depend heavily on it. Not many of us are lucky enough to live close to our workplaces or daily commute destinations, and those of us who don’t, will end up taking public transport. When other things around us a branded, why not transport? If a person pays ₹180 for a coffee at Starbucks, instead of ₹20 at a roadside stall, he or she is doing it for the brand value. Similarly, one might walk in to a fancy parlour and spend ₹500 for a haircut, that the barber under the tree might charge ₹30 for. When everything else can be branded, and packaged as a premium item, why not transport? After all, a good transport system is not one that is used by all the poor people, but one that gets the rich to give up their cars instead.

Looking at BEST, it can certainly brand its services as premium, and offer a better travel environment to the daily commuter. BEST branded their Limited Stop Buses, plainly as Limited, and its Express services with the C-series of routes. It is now upto BEST to rebrand its AC services as well, as mentioned in the earlier post. Unlike BMTC, who branded Volvo and Corona services as Vajra and AC Tata Marcopolo services as AC-Suvarna, BEST branded all its AC services as AC, a move that MSRTC has also seemingly done. Unlike KSRTC, MSRTC treats the Shivneri and Ashwamedh on par and charges the same rates for the two.

 

I look forward to some interesting feedback from those who are in the marketing and branding scene. Please do leave your comments in the section below. If you liked this post, please do consider hitting the Flattr button below for some microdonation love.

 

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Electronic Ticketing Systems: Who got it right and how

Electronic Ticketing Systems are commonly used now-a-days. Here, we take a look at the various aspects of Electronic Ticket Systems, and how they fare compared to Manual Fare Collection systems.

Before we delve into the world of ETMs, let us begin with Manual Fare Collection in different parts of the country and how things were different then.

Manual fare collection systems have been prevalent in India for decades in different fashions.  Trancsos like BEST, NMMT, PMPML, MSRTC have had standard punched tickets, while their southern counterparts like BMTC, KSRTC, MTC, TNSTC have similar looking tickets, though they may not be punched.

A ticket box with tickets waiting to be punched in a BEST Bus in Mumbai, India.
A ticket box with tickets in in a BEST bus in Mumbai. Image copyright Srikanth Ramakrishnan, CC-BY-SA 4.0, available on the Wikimedia Commons.

 

What did Manual ticketing entail for the conductor as well as the commuter?

  • Different tickets with different denominations had to be printed, serial numbers had to be stamped and then delivered to the depots, from where they’d be handed over to the conductors. Now this would have hardly been an issue with Transcos like NMMT and TMT who have just 2 depots each, but it becomes a headache for larger ones like BEST or BMTC with 26 and 43 depots respectively. The problem is compounded when it comes to State level transcos as well.
  • What if the conductor runs out of a particular denomination?  If it is a larger denomination, I’m sure he’d be able to give it in smaller denominations like BMTC and TNSTC conductors have given me but what if it is the smallest denomination possible.
  • The conductor has to remember stages for the entire route. Long-distance routes, become a pain in the neck.
  • Trip-sheet maintenance was a herculean task for all conductors, they had to count the number of tickets sold, tally it with the money they got and get it approved by the Depot manager.
  • It becomes a headache for the Ticket Examiner as he has to decipher the stage and fare in a bus full of people.
  • If the passenger [like me] collects tickets and keeps a bunch of them in his or pocket, and the Examiner asks for your ticket, well, I was let off with a warning because I was 11.
  • The upside of these tickets were that they were equivalent to Collectors items. While American kids grew up with Trading Cards at the same time, we grew up trading our bus tickets. They were colourful, had different numbers, and different punchmarks on them. Unless it is a PMPML ticket.

Now, let us make the transition to Electronic tickets.

 A handheld ticket machine used in BEST buses in Mumbai
A handheld ticket machine used in BEST buses in Mumbai. Image copyright Srikanth Ramakrishnan,  CC-BY-SA 4.0 available on the Wikimedia Commons.

My first interaction with Electronic Ticket Machines [ETMs] was in 2008 when I had shifted to Bangalore. BMTC was using the MicroFX BTM series at that time. These devices were used on various routes, mostly on Suvarna and Vajra services. These machines however, disappeared somewhere around the onset of 2011. Around 2010, I saw some MTC and mofussil routes of TNSTC use these machines on certain routes, as well. KSRTC [Karnataka] had deployed these machines in 2004, and by 2008, the entire on-board ticketing was done using ETMs. MSRTC too, today has implemented ETMs across Maharashtra, for both, on-board ticketing, as well as the off-board ticketing on their Shivneri and Hirkani routes.

Now, let us look at some of the benefits the ETMs have given our transcos. I have taken this from a Case Study on KSRTC by the World Bank and a Case Study on MSRTC by CIO.IN.

  • The need to run a printing press to print tickets has gone. Along with it, the overheads of transport and running an entire accounts team to monitor the process is eliminated.
  • Conductors no longer need to maintain a trip-sheet. The data is already on the ETM, so they just have to synchronise it with the Depot, either at the end of the day, or wirelessly on the fly.
  • These systems allow the Corporation to monitor routes in real-time. This means that statistics and revenue details can be had for any route, at any given point in time, which helps in maintaining an efficient route network, eliminate overlapping routes, modify loss-making routes, and more.

Now, after all this, one would like to assume that whoever implemented ETMs would be better off than those who didn’t. Unfortunately, that isn’t the case. As is the case with most new ventures in India, a venture is only as good as its implementation.

Here are a few instances of problems:

  • The PMPML, ended up scrapping its entire ETM range because they were unable to back up any of the data from it. The ETMs were failing as often as their buses.
  • The BMTC scrapped its initial set of ETMs and then got a newer set later on.

However, only one organisation in India has taken full advantage of Electronic Ticketing Machines, and that is the BEST. The BEST, in 2011, decided to go the MRTC way by partnering with Trimax IT for its Electronic Ticketing System. As per the Trimax Case Study on BEST, the arrangement was made under a Build-Operate-Transfer (BOT) agreement where Trimax would supply the infrastructure needed and keep a percentage of the revenue generated.

So, what was the deal all about?

Well, here goes:

  • All Ticket boxes were replaced with ETMs.
  • All bus passes were replaced by RFID cards.
  • Trimax set up a Server, which runs on Open-Source Software.
  • Setting up an online payment system for Bus Passes.
  • The all important ePurse.
The template of a BEST RFID bus pass. It has the Users photo in the box, and their name and ID number on the right
The template of a BEST RFID bus pass. It has the Users photo in the box, and their name and ID number on the right. Copyright, BEST.

The most important parts of this development were:

  1. Connecting a Bus Pass to the ID card
  2. The ePurse Concept.

In the last few years, several Transcos have insisted on an ID card for issuing Daily Passes to prevent their resale. BMTC started charging extra for passes if the commuter did not have a BMTC ID. BEST went one level ahead by saying a Daily Pass could only be bought if the user had an RFID card. This eliminated the need for manual verification and validation of both the ID as well as the pass. Simply scan under the ETM and it tells the Conductor whether a Pass has been issued or not.

The ePurse, on the other hand, is basically a prepaid card. It allows the holder to purchase upto 6 tickets at one go, and allows for any amount of tickets to be purchased, so long as there is a minimum of ₹50 balance on the card. The ticket that is printed, comes with the balance printed on it.

BESTs ETMs are connected to the servers via GPRS, thus keeping them in-synch, eliminating the need for conductors to transfer data manually. This also helps in sending announcements and notifications to the conductor and driver. When fares are revised, the ETMs automatically pick it up.

In order to do this, BEST had to create an entire database with the names of each bus stop, with their coordinates, routes that halted there and assigned each of them a unique ID. This ID can be found on the physical bus stop. It can be used to find out the Estimated Time of Arrival of a bus by sending BEST<space><Bus Stop ID> to 56060. Each bus is connected with a GPS unit that transmits data to the server.

Now all this may sound rosy, but to be honest, may not not work outside of BEST. It may not work with NMMT, TMT, PMPML, or BMTC. The reasons are:

      • No fixed bus stops, especially in newer areas. Without fixed bus stops, it can’t be named and assigned an ID.

Specific BEST bus stops have specific buses stopping at them, some of the others don’t. Thus, there may be four Unipoles at a Bus stop, each with a different bus marked on it, each with a different ID.

Thus, I think it is clear that at the end of the day, BEST is indeed the BEST here. They have done a truly wonderful job with their system. MSRTC is close behind, with KSRTC just missing the real-time synchronisation. Other transcos, must try and catch up, or risk losing revenue due to leaks.

 

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