The Extra Tax on AC Buses needs to go

Recently, the Government of India decided, in order to expand its Tax Base, to implement an additional Sales Tax on Air Conditioned Stage Coaches. According to notification, a service tax of 15% is applicable on 40% of all revenues collected from AC bus services. This works out to roughly a 6% increase in ticket fares.

While BEST has reduced its fares, leading us to believe that the new fare structure incorporates this 6% increase, others have hiked fares. TSRTC Hyderabad and BMTC have increased the cost of a Daily Pass from ₹150 and ₹140 to ₹160 and ₹150 respectively, BEST has reduced it from ₹200 to ₹150. MSRTC charges a rupee extra for its Shivneri/Ashwamedh services, though this has been there from somewhere in April, thus making it probably unrelated.

While I am for government measures to increase the tax base, this is most certainly not the right way. Let the government start taxing rich farmers instead. The reasons I’m opposed to this tax are:

BEST – We all know the story behind BEST and its Purple Faeries. Barring a few buses from the Oshiwara Depot, these buses are pathetically underpowered, have terribly low-powered airconditioning. They struggle to climb simple slopes. Their Volvo fleet is in good shape however. However, in light of the recent fare reduction, I guess we can give BEST a breather in this section.

BMTC – The first to implement the new Tax, the BMTC had a very interesting thing to do. They used to issue the regular ticket with the ETMS, but charge the Tax with the old Punched tickets. Thus, I used to get a ₹20 printed ticket and a ₹1 punched ticket. BMTC finally managed to incorporate this tax on the ETMs, but now I have pay ₹22 because the Tax amount is rounded off to the next rupee irrespective of how much it is. However, this move is unwarranted because BMTC buses are bad. The older FA series of Volvo buses are rickety, pollute a lot and water leaks in thru the emergency exits. The Corona fleet have buses where the airconditioning just does not work. The newer 57F series Volvos rarely come to the Public because they spend most of their time on Corporate trips for the ORRCA or Manyata Embassy Tech Park.

MTC – Possibly among the worst Volvo fleet, MTC has 100 odd buses which are in horrendous conditions. Buses creak, and reapairs carried out are not what one you’d expect in a Volvo. Damages sections of the exterior and interior are usually patched up with Substandard Aluminium that is used in the regular buses instead of Volvo’s standard Steel or Glass. If this is the condition of the exterior, you can imagine how the Engine or AC might be. However, knowing TN, they might have not implemented this tax as it goes against the populist nature of the state.

DTC – The worst AC bus fleet that I have seen, DTCs Ashok Leyland buses and Tata Marcopolo buses at times do what no other Transco’s buses do. The BEST Cerita AC struggles while climbing a slope. The BMTC Corona AC struggles when the bus is in heavy traffic. The DTC AshLey and Marco AC struggles when the bus is on regular traffic, and even on minor downward slopes! With the maximum fare on an AC bus set to ₹25, this tax is most certainly a welcome move. Delhi is used to subsidies and cheap stuff and it is high time that AC bus fares were increased in the capital.

TSRTC – TSRTC has also increased its fares, but I am confused on which side to take. TSRTC has among the best Volvo fleets in the country, atleast in Hyderabad. The buses are maintained well, operate on good routes and frequencies, and are in general above expectations. However, the fares are already on the higher side, and thus the extra bit is a little unwarranted.

On the whole, I think this Additional Tax needs to be rolled back. It’s a bad idea to tax the Middle Class more. The upper class doesn’t take the bus, the lower class doesn’t take an AC bus. As always, increasing the Tax Base comes and burns the Middle Class pocket.

Dear @ArunJaitley, the extra tax on AC Stage Carriages needs to go ASAP! Click To Tweet

What is your take on this?

 

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A sneak peak at BMTC’s and MCTD’s ITS

A lot has been said about Smart Cities and Smart Transport. Earlier, a post on Smart Bus Stops made an appearance as well. This article aims to cover the Intelligent Transport System [ITS] of two Southern Cities: The Bangalore Metropolitan Transport Corporation [BMTC] in Bengaluru and the Mysore City Transport Division of the KSRTC in Mysuru.

Bangalore

BMTC has recently rolled out their [ITS]. I managed to get a chance to talk to someone in the Office of the Chief Systems Manager at Shanthinagar today.

The ITS is being implemented by Trimax Infra, who earlier implemented the Electronic Ticketing System for BEST, RSRTC, and UPSRTC.

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

Here is what I gathered. The ITS is being implemented in three parts:

  • Electronic Ticketing Machines: Trimax has deployed 10,000 Verifone ETMs to 39 depots of the BMTC and trained 7,000 of its drivers. The earlier used Quantum Aeon machines were junked in favour of the new ones which BMTC claims was to enable compatibility with RFID-smart cards. Real-time monitoring of ticket sales is possible, although not being used.
  • Tracking of Vehicles: Every bus has been fitted with a GPS-based tracker which can be tracked online, or via an app.
  • Public Information System: Under the PIS, displays have been installed at major bus stations to inform the public of which bus is arriving soon. This is similar to what several BEST bus stops on the Western Express Highway have, and what Coimbatore was experimenting with in the post on Smart Bus Stops.

All three components of the ITS are already in operation with the PIS displays installed only at select Bus Stations. BMTC has decided to go for an Open Data Policy, thereby allowing developers to build apps and interfaces with an API to access the data from the ITS.

For more details on the Open Data Policy of the BMTC, do read this post on DataMeet.

Smart Cards are not part of the ITS project. They are being done separately and are due to be rolled out in 3-6 months with all the Pass Issuing Centres being upgraded to issue Smart Cards.

A chat with a conductor later did explain the shortcomings with the ETMs, although Trimax does take quick action on faulty equipment.

BMTC's ITS: Electronic Ticketing and Vehicle Tracking get a Boost! Click To Tweet

Mysore

The Mysore City Transport Department [MCTD] of the Karnataka State Road Transport Corporation [KSRTC], also has an ITS in place, called the Mysore Intelligent TRAansport System, known as MITRA. MITRA was formally inaugurated in 2012 by the then Minister for Transport R Ashoka.

Among MITRA’s aims are:

  • Real-time monitoring and tracking of buses and help reduce road congestion and other transport issues.
  • ITS improves passenger safety, fleet efficiency, services and traffic situation through transmission of real time information.

According to the MITRA microsite, it’s components are:

  • Vehicle Tracking
  • Real Time Passenger Information System
  • Electronic Display Systems

Mysore was smart enough to implement it before the situation got out of hand and sought funds from the World Bank under GEF and JnNURM.

As part of MITRA, the MCTD recorded the pronunciation of every bus stop name, fitted buses with LED Displays, Speakers, set up display units at Bus Shelters, as well as trained its staff to handle the system. An app was also released less than a month ago for commuters to be able to get bus details as well as fare details on their phone.

KSRTC also ran a User Satisfaction Survey, which showed positive results. The entire results of the survey can be seen here.

While MITRA may not seem as fancy as BMTC’s ITS, it is most certainly benefiting commuters positively and helping promote Public Transport in Mysore. One hope that BEST learns a lesson from this, when restarting its own ITS.

Mysore's MITRA is certainly a game changer in Intelligent Transport! Click To Tweet

Both BMTC and MCTD built a huge control room with a server to handle the large volume of data. Data is crucial to any project that involves the common man, mainly for operational efficiency.

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[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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A Prepaid Card system for Manual Fare Collection

Presenting: #1 on the list of things that shouldn’t be implemented in the transport world, as well as a Logistical Nightmare: A Prepaid Card system for Manual Fare Collection.

A template for a punched bus ticket.
A template for a punched bus ticket.

Now, the concept of a prepaid card works well with an Automatic Fare Collection system in place, but would it work with a manual one?
Of course it would, why not? However, there are some things that need to be factored in this case.

Presenting, with images [designed by yours truly], a Prepaid Card for Manual Fare Collection Systems, or, a Prepaid Card for Punched Tickets, or a Prepaid Punched Card. Geeks like me will naturally be excited by this idea, as much as we are with out collection of Vintage IBM Punched Cards.

The concept is simple. Like in the case of the BEST Prepaid Card, the Commuter needs to have an ID card. Since we are looking at a non-computerised system, the ID Card can be similar to PMPML’s ID cards, which are nothing but cardboard ID cards with a photo stuck onto it, stamped, a Hologram sticker, and the Users Name, Age, and Address. There is no record kept of the card anywhere. The date of issue is stamped on top, and so is the Serial Number. The same can apply here, except, perhaps a copy of the User information can be kept as backup.

Now, before we go into the actual system, one thing needs to be done: All fares must be rationalised into multiples of 5, like what PMPML did. Once this is done, the rest is a piece of cake.

Now for the Punched Card:

  • Have a card [not a sheet] with a fixed denomination. Ideally ₹200 or ₹500 would be good. A template for a ₹500 is provided below.
  • Since all fares, passes, et al are in denominations of ₹5,  when a passenger buys a ticket, the conductor issues the ticket and punches out the number of ₹5s that have been sold on the card. If a passenger buys a ten rupee ticket, and a 5 rupee ticket, the conductor issues the tickets normally, and punches out 3 5s from the card.
A Prepaid Punched Card for Manual Fare Collection systems
A Prepaid Punched Card for Manual Fare Collection systems

Now, hold on. There is problem here:

In a manual fare collection system, how is the total fare collection calculated?

The entire route is divided into different stages with each stage having a few bus stops. Tickets are issued between two or more stages. At the end of each stage, the conductor writes down the serial number of the ticket on top of the bundle for each denomination onto a log sheet provided. This is often time consuming and this was the reason why ETMs were introduced in the first place. The number of tickets sold per denomination is calculated, multiplied by the denomination, and totalled at the end of the trip. This is then compared with the cash collected. What could be the problem here?

Now, for the aforementioned problem. There will be a major discrepancy in the cash collected vs tickets sold.

How do you solve this?

Simple: Follow the BMTC method of Daily Passes!

In 2010, BMTC had introduced the Concept of Loyalty Cards; an ID card valid for one year, priced at ₹25 instead of the ₹100 ID card which Monthly Pass holders had for a three year period. Then, they charged ₹5 extra for people who wanted non-AC Daily Passes but did not have either the ID Card or the Loyalty Card. The net result? BMTC conductors had to carry two different sets of passes, one for the ID holders and one for others. They sold passes and ensured that ID holders filled in their details.

The Transco just has to give out a second set of tickets for Prepaid Card Holders. Colour code them if needed, or keep an identifying pattern on them. Issue them to Prepaid card holders only. This will supremely increase the work-load of conductors, but then, that is precisely why this article starts with the equivalent of a “Do not attempt this at home.” kind of warning.

Impact of this ridiculous idea:

  • Conductors will work more.
  • The Organisation will have to print more tickets.
  • Passengers may increase.

So there you have it folks, as stated earlier, Do Not Attempt This At Home. This needs to be junked and never implemented, but who knows? Somewhere, someone might just be doing this!

Note: It is unsure at this stage if JAT used this or not.

Prepaid Cards and Punched Tickets: An idea. Click To Tweet

This blog post is inspired by the blogging marathon hosted on IndiBlogger for the launch of the #Fantastico Zica from Tata Motors. You can apply for a test drive of the hatchback Zica today.

 

 

 

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How Amaravati can be a True Smart City

Amaravati, the upcoming capital of Andhra Pradesh, is touted to be a major game changer in Indian cities. While it will be the fourth major planned State Capital, after Bhubaneshwar, Chandigarh and Gandhinagar, it will be the first major Smart City in India as a State Capital.

The Capital Region Development Authority [CRDA] which is the planning authority for the upcoming city has planned to have 9 sub-cities of 6000 acres each and three metro rail corridors.

Among other plans, Amaravati is also poised to get a transparent, underwater tunnel through the River Krishna as well.

Now, all this sure sounds rosy on paper, but fancy stuff isn’t what we’re looking for right now. What we need is functionality. Here are some key pointers that I have decided to put across for Amaravati’s transport, which will help livability in the city massively.

Theoretical Stuff

Start a new unified transit body

Create a new entity from scratch for Amaravati’s transport. That’s right. A new entity, solely for transport within the Capital Region. It can be either a Municipal-run body like BEST, or a State-run body like MTC. However, this body should be a Unified body on the lines of Transport for London [TfL] or New York’s Metropolitan Transit Authority [MTA]. Let this authority or agency handle buses, trains, and also be a nodal point for autorickshaws/taxis. The Transco can also be jointly managed by all three levels of government. Road related works can remain under existing agencies like the Public Works Department or Andhra Pradesh Road Development Corporation

Keep out of existing Establishments

Amaravati must not rely on APSRTC or Indian Railways for its Transport. Buses in Hyderabad were earlier run by the APSRTC, and now by the TSRTC. Rail transit for the new city must be independent of Indian Railways, to prevent congestion and avoid red-tapism on the network like on the Mumbai Suburban Railway. MSRTC operates inter-city buses in Mumbai. BEST operates intra-city services. The other transcos [NMMT, TMT, MBMT, et al] handle services between the different jurisdictions within the MMR. Amaravti might be made up of multiple Municipal bodies for Vijayawada, Guntur and the upcoming city, but transport within these regions must be kept for a single entity that exclusively serves it.

Practical Stuff

Underground Metro Corridors

Since the entire city is being built from scratch, the entire Metro corridor needs to be built underground. This will help keep the city aesthetically appealing. If elevated corridors are built, they should use the 25m segment like what Mumbai Metro 1 and incorporate the cantilever station design of the Hyderabad Metro.

Bus Rapid Transit Systems

Marechal Floriano BRT station, Linha Verde (Green Line), Curitiba RIT, Brazil.
Marechal Floriano BRT station, Linha Verde (Green Line), Curitiba RIT, Brazil. Image copyright Mario Roberto Duran Ortiz, CC-BY-SA 3.0 Unported, available on the Wikimedia Commons.

Amaravti has the potential to make Bus Rapid Transit Systems [BRTS] work more efficiently than other cities including Ahmedabad and Surat. It can implement them on a large scale as a feeder system to the aforementioned Metro systems. Again, since the city is being built from scratch, bus lanes can be made signal free, making them truly rapid. Trolleybuses, or even trams can be run to make it more eco-friendly.

Smart Buses

The new Transco that was spoken about earlier needs to make itself ready for the year it was built for and not the 1950s. All buses need to be fitted with a Passenger Information System [PIS], as well as a system to allow the visually-impaired know the route number and destination of the bus. Let the bus be traceable using GPS, develop a smartphone app as well as a website for commuters to be able to use. Use GPRS-enabled always online ETMs similar to what the cluster buses of Delhi use, except ensure that they use Smart Cards for passes and prepaid payment systems like what BEST has achieved in Mumbai. Ensure that the fleet is an even mix of AC and non AC buses, if getting a fully-AC fleet is not possible. Additionally, encourage corporate bodies to take up bus clusters similar to Delhi on a Public-Private partnership.

Cycle-Friendliness

Amaravati must ensure that roads are built with proper cycle lanes that are separated from pedestrian lanes and motorised traffic. Encourage the usage of cycles, and incentivise riding them. Public cycles should be introduced. Use a smart card for parking spaces and renting cycles.

Accessibility

Bicycle lane and a pedestrians' path in Tsurumi, Yokohama, Japan.
Bicycle lane and a pedestrians’ path in Tsurumi, Yokohama, Japan. Image copyright Meme-Meme, CC-BY-SA 3.0 Unported, available on the Wikimedia Commons.

All roads must feature properly laid and leveled pedestrian walkways as well as ramps for the differently-abled. With the Prime Minister stressing on the word Divyang for differently-abled people, it is imperative that this is taken up seriously. Traffic signals must be fitted with audio devices to let visually-impaired people know that they can cross the road. Bus stops should feature Braille signage and pavements should feature a tactile path similar to the one in Metro stations.

Smart Design and Technology

Solar Panels at HUDA City Centre Parking Lot.
Solar Panels at HUDA City Centre Parking Lot. Image copyright Srikanth Ramakrishan, CC-BY-SA 4.0 International, available on the Wikimedia Commons.

All roads must be designed with ducts for cables, pipelines, and other channels to prevent them from being dug up very often. This is similar to what is done in Mumbai and Bangalore [the latter thru TenderSURE]. Roads should be laid using plastic waste to recycle the waste as well as make the road long lasting. Electric cables should be underground to prevent accidents. Traffic signals, bus stops, footbridges, parking lots, benches, should be fitted with CCTV cameras for safety and security, as well as fitted with solar panels to generate power as well as provide shade.

Common Payment instrument

A super crucial point, a Common Payment Instrument must be instituted across the city. A single smart card should be used for Metro, Buses, BRTS, Cycles, etc. This model is followed abroad in many places. Like several cities abroad, NFC-enabled smartphones can be used as a payment mechanism. As stated earlier for buses, an App could be developed for buses, trains, availability of cycles and payments. Keep it simple silly!

TAXIS and autos

Autos, while seen as a burden on the roads by many, are very crucial. Electric Rickshaws can be mandated to keep the air clean. Similarly, permits should be issued for regular taxis, similar to the Cool Cabs and regular Kaali-Peelis of Mumbai. However, these auto and taxi drivers must be given a loan to purchase a GPS-enabled Fare Meter that can support RFID/NFC payments so that people can use the aforementioned smart cards and phone payment methods. The Transport Department, City Administration and Traffic Police must strictly enforce this however.

Water Transport

Sitting on the banks of the Krishna river, Amaravati can make use of this natural resource. A network of channels can also be built across the city, with boats, similar to Allepy.

 

Overall, the future of Amaravati seems to be quite bright, with Chandrababu Naidu as the Chief Minister of Andhra Pradesh. I just hope some of these suggestions are taken seriously.

Do share this post. Tweet it out and use the hashtags #SunriseAndhra and #SmartCity so that it can reach the government.

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Delhi and its Bus Melee

Delhi -The National Capital Territory of India, has a serious problem with buses.
Before getting into details, let us just list out modes of transport within the city.

  • Delhi Suburban Railway: EMUs and MEMUs connecting Delhi to nearby cities such as Ghaziabad, Faridabad and Gurgaon.
  • Delhi Ring Railway: A 35km long railway running parallel to Ring Road, with 7 services clockwise and 7 anticlockwise with a peak hour frequency of 60-90 minutes.
  • Delhi Metro: A 213km long Rapid Transit system consisting of a mix of Underground, Elevated and At Grade tracks and stations.
  • Buses: Buses, like every other city in India.
  • Auto rickshaws: Autorickshaws with GPS-enabled Meters who rarely charge by the fare meter.

Now, coming to Buses.

Delhi has three kinds of buses that operate on its street, all by different operators. Yes. Three of them.

  • DTC Buses
  • Cluster Buses
  • Metro Feeder Buses

DTC Buses

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

The DTC operates two distinct services in the city. Green coloured non-AC buses and Maroon coloured AC buses. Barring a few old buses which are pre-2000 buses, all the buses are low-floor, rear-engined CNG buses. Buses are either Ashok Leyland or Tata Marcopolo models, in both variants. Daily Passes for both regular and AC services are sold on board the bus like most other cities. Monthly passes are available at 30+ odd centres across the NCT. Barring the Jheel centre, all are computerised. Passes are supremely cheap, with the non AC pass costing ₹800 and AC pass costing ₹1000 a month. Minimum fares are ₹5 for the Green bus and ₹10 for the Maroon counterparts. Similar to what Western and Central Railways did in the Mumbai Suburban Railway and what PMPML did in Pune, fare stages are in increments of ₹5. The highest fare in a non AC bus is ₹15!

Feeder Buses

Delhi Metro Feeder Bus
Delhi Metro Feeder Bus. Image copyright Srikanth Ramakrishnan, CC-BY-SA 4.0, available on the Wikimedia Commons.

Operated by the Delhi Metro Rail Corporation [DMRC], these are minibuses with the aim of linking Metro stations to localities around them. The funny part is that similar to Bangalore’s Metro Feeder buses, they travel long distances too. For example, at Saket Station, you can see Feeder buses going upto Badarpur. They follow the same fare structure of the regular DTC bus.

Cluster Buses

A DIMTS Cluster Bus.
A DIMTS Cluster Bus. Image copyright Srikanth Ramakrishnan, CC-BY-SA 4.0, available on the Wikimedia Commons.

And now, for the long part of this article. Cluster Buses. The orange-coloured buses in Delhi, were introduced in 2011 to compensate for the shortage of buses since the Blueline fleet had been eliminated. Delhi’s buses have always had a huge percentage of private players in it, and with the cluster buses, they have been corporatised with under the Banner of Delhi Transit, run by the Delhi Integrated Multi-Modal Transit System Ltd. [DIMTS]. These buses use the same fare stages as the regular DTC buses, except that Daily Passes are not valid on them, and tickets are issued digitally.

Now how does the Cluster Service pan out?

Delhi has always had a mix of private and public buses on its streets.

A Blue Line bus in Delhi.
A Blue Line bus in Delhi. Image copyright stevekc, CC-BY-SA 2.0, available on the Wikimedia Commons.

Till 2010-2011, the private sector was composed of Licenced Stage Carriers, known as Blue Line buses. They were individual buses, operating under no fixed rules, and thus could take any route they wished to. This caused a major issue, since most operators chose only the profitable routes and in order to maximise profits, overloaded the buses as well as drove negligently to make more trips. This often put passengers at risk, and on an average, 100 people died in a year, both inside and outside the bus. In 2008-2010, the then Sheila Dikshit-led government decided to discontinue these buses in favour of the new Corporatisation scheme. Accordingly, permits to operate these buses were withdrawn and new permits were no longer issued. In 2011, the first set of Cluster Buses were launched.

So, what formed the basis for these Cluster Buses and why are they called so?

The DIMTS, a joint venture of the Government of NCT Delhi [GNCTD] and the IDFC Foundation, did a analysis of the 650-odd bus routes in Delhi and grouped them into 17 clusters. A list of the clusters as well their constituent bus routes is available on the GNCTD website. Within these clusters, 40% of the buses were to be run by DTC and the remaining 60% by DIMTS. DIMTS, meanwhile is just a Government Body, which among other things, maintains GPS data of every auto-rickshaw in the NCT, which is fitted with a GPS-enabled Fare Meter. The buses themselves are operated by Private Parties. Unlike the erstwhile Blue Lines, they are operated by large corporate bodies. Cluster buses today form the 60% Private share in the 17 clusters, though Private Stage Carriers with the Blue Line livery are slowly making a come back under the current government.

Each Cluster Bus is GPS-enabled with the position being relayed to the Public Information Website [http://businfo.dimts.in/businfo/] which shows the ETA of the buses, similar to what BEST does. Touch-screen Verifone Ticket Machines are utilised on these buses. Since there are only 3 fare stages, the driver only has to press the fare, ₹5, ₹10 or ₹15, and the location is automatically picked up via GPS. Similar to BEST, data is automatically sent to the server, thus eliminating a lot of issues.

A DIMTS Cluster Bus Ticket Machine.
A DIMTS Cluster Bus Ticket Machine. Image copyright Srikanth Ramakrishnan, CC-BY-SA 4.0, available on the Wikimedia Commons.

So what exactly is the issue here?

Now, there are several issues here, with all the buses in question:

  • Fares: Fares in Delhi are too low. With a minimum fare of ₹10 on AC services and fare stages of ₹5, ₹10 and ₹15 only in non AC services, fares are too cheap for both DTC and private operators to sustain themselves, even with low taxes and cheap CNG. It costs ₹15 in a bus from Okhla to Old Delhi Railway Station. The same journey costs ₹19 in a Metro from Okhla to Chandni Chowk. The only city where a bus ride is cheaper than a train.
  • ETMs: The Orange Faeries have GPS-based ETMs that instantly transmit data but have no purpose other than these two. BEST ETMs can sell passes and validate them. There should be a plan to sell Daily Passes with these machines and validate prepaid cards.
  • Passes: Daily Passes, even of AC buses are not valid on DIMTS buses, which form 3/5 of the buses on the road. They are also not valid on Feeder buses.
  • Feeder buses: Since the feeder buses are out on a contract basis with private carriers, they end up acting like Blueline minibuses.
  • Delhi BRTS: The Delhi BRTS is another case of Bus Lanes masquerading as as BRTS. It is similar to the original Swargate-Katraj BRT line in Pune. All sorts of vehicles enter bus lanes, there are no barricades at some place, bus stops are confusing. The funny part of the BRTS is that there are two layers of bus stops, parallel to each other at a junction, resulting in a mini pile-up.

Overall, Delhi’s transport system leaves a lot of space for improvement. DTC also operates buses to neighbouring cities in the NCR, such as NOIDA and Gurgaon. Passes are not valid on these buses. DIMTS doesn’t cross the border. All buses going away from Delhi terminate at the border. DTC also operates a shuttle bus service between Terminal 3 and 1 at the Indira Gandhi International Airport, as well buses to Lahore, Pakistan and Kathmandu, Nepal.

Delhi’s bus problem is that buses try to be direct competition to the Metro. Operations need to be streamlined into a single integrated system, along with some fare hikes to make it sustainable.

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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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NMMT Limited: Will it succeed?

NMMT Limited; after my previous post on BEST, seems to be an interesting development. Note I am only calling it NMMT Limited; the word Limited is just a figment of my imagination.

 

Back in 2014, NMMT had a meeting with several IT service providers, including Trimax, ARS, and Atos to set up an Intelligent Transport System [ITS], which would have brought NMMT more or less along the lines of BEST. However, nothing of the sort has taken place so far. I still see NMMT issuing punched tickets, they have no Bus tracking mechanisms like BEST, and their buses are mostly rickety. However, a recent article in ToI stated that NMMT was in talks with App Developers to create an app to book an AC Bus ticket. A rather interesting development indeed.

In November 2014, ten months ago, NMMT was issuing punched tickets on its Volvo bus on Route AC-105. I was given 3 tickets of ₹20, one of ₹10 and one of ₹5 for a ticket worth ₹75. This was two months after I had got my BEST smart card. The situation was the same in April 2015.

A 5 rupee punched ticket issued by the Navi Mumbai Municipal Transport
A 5 rupee punched ticket issued by the Navi Mumbai Municipal Transport. Image copyright Srikanth Ramakrishnan, CC-BY-SA 4.0 International. Image available on the Wikimedia Commons.

Now, with punched tickets, and no Electronic Ticket Machines in sight, this could only mean that NMMT is manually handling accounts as well. With such a system in place, how do they expect to go straight to App based bookings? How will the conductor add it to his or her tally? Or will they treat the passengers similar to the way they treat a passholder for a limited route or distance? There are a lot of questions involved in this, so let us have a look at the possible problems that might occur.

 

Let us take an NMMT route with significant competition along it and examine what might happen:

Route: Borivili Station [East] – Thane Station [East] via Ghodbunder

There are four buses that run primarily on this route:

  • BEST 700Ltd: This is a non-AC service, with limited stops. [50 stops]
  • BEST AS700: This is an Air-Conditioned service with fewer services than 700Ltd. [44 stops]
  • TMT AC65: This an AC service with fewer stops than AS700. [18 stops]
  • NMMT AC121: This is an AC service with the same number of stops as AS700. [44 stops]

Now, given the competition along this corridor, we can say that just like the Bangalore-Chennai or Mumbai-Pune corridor, if one misses one bus, rest assured they will have another one, assuming they are not a Pass holder or a BEST prepaid card holder. For most people living in Borivili, being passholders, AS700 would be the ideal choice. For those living in Thane, AC65 would be the ideal choice. NMMT ideally would be catering to commuters between Borivili and Airoli, or Thane and Airoli.

Now, NMMT is planning an app for its commuters to buy tickets. The purpose of the app can vary. It may be to allow cashless travel, or paperless travel like the Indian Railways UTS app for the Suburban Railway lines across Mumbai and Chennai. However, if this was the case, then why is NMMT still issuing punched tickets? Another purpose of the App can be to reserve a seat, similar to CityFlo or rBus. However, my question is, if NMMT is still on punched tickets, this will lead to a big mess. For example: What if all the seats in the bus are full, and a commuter waiting for the bus has reserved a seat using the app, and walks into the bus to see there are no seats free? The app-user cannot be denied a seat since they paid for it, and the conductor cannot ask a seated passenger to get up. Similarly, if the app is indeed for paperless ticketing like the Railway app, how does it help in curbing frauds? The UTS app currently works in two ways:

  1. One is the GPS method, which works on select routes, mostly the Western and Central lines wherein you have to be either inside the station premises or within a certain radius of the station in order for the app to work. The ticket doesn’t need to be printed and showing the app screen is enough if a TTE comes along.
  2. The second method is the Printed Ticket method. This works on non GPS enabled routes, where after a ticket is bought, it needs to be printed. A reference number is given, which can then be entered into an Automatic Ticket Vending Machine [ATVM] at the Origin Station. The ticket cannot be printed anywhere else to prevent frauds.

How does NMMT plan to do this? The first method would be problematic since not all buses are equipped with GPS, unlike their purple counterparts with the BEST. The second method would be cumbersome for the conductor to punch in a number into their machine, if they have one, to log it. Since, they use punched tickets, the conductor would have to note down the number on a sheet to submit to the depot manager.

All this leaves a lot to wonder. Is NMMT equipped to handle all this? Can they outdo BEST at BEST’s own game?

Only time will tell us.

 

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BEST Limited: A futuristic vision

After Uber and Ola started eating into BEST’s AC profits, it’s time for the Red Bus [not the Bus Booking Website], and also the Purple siblings to face some more competition, this time from it’s own brethren. The future of something as elementary as Transport seems to be in the hands of apps these days. After aggregators such as Lyft and HeyTaxi, for four wheelers and two wheelers respectively, now there is an app for a bus as well. It seems like more bad news for BEST.

Many of these services, such as rBus, CityFlo, Shuttl, ZipGo, are primarily running their services in the Bandra-Kurla Complex, where, BEST has only 2 AC services; AS5 and A77Exp. These buses seem to be a general public equivalent to the MetroZip service for employees in Hinjewadi which took away revenue from the PMPML.

Now, let us treat BEST as another organisation here, not a public transport unit. At the end of the day, the Brihanmumbai Electricity Supply and Transport [BEST] undertaking is an autonomous body under the aegis of the Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai [MCGM]. It would be wise to compare BEST vs the rest with either the Mumbai-Pune corridor or the Bangalore-Chennai corridor:

  • Mumbai-Pune: MSRTC has buses plying between Pune Railway Station or Swargate and Dadar, Borivali or Thane. There are numerous other companies on the same route, such as Neeta, Metrolink, Prasanna, Purple, MTDC, Konduskar, and even KSRTC. Rest assured, if you miss one bus, you’ll have one of the others waiting for you at any given time.
  • Bangalore-Chennai: KSRTC alone has 40+ services in a day between the two cities, with others such as TNSTC, SETC, Sharma, National, KPN, SRM, and various others. Again, rest assured, if you miss any one, you can get yourself a seat on any of the others.

Now, coming back to BEST, let us look at their connectivity to BKC alone, this being a premium Central Business District, with major financial services, the National Stock Exchange, and the Bharat Diamond Bourse, among others having their base here. The area can be compared to Electronics City of Bangalore, in terms of contribution to the economy, both local and national. It is but natural, that connectivity, especially the premium kind is present.

BEST has a branded bus service on the lines of the Fort Pheri, labelled BKC-1, 2, and 3 connecting it to Bandra Bus Station [East] and Kurla Station [West], but these are non AC services, and thus, not enough.

Now, let us look at the larger picture here, and not just the BKC region. Now, CityFlo and rBus have multiple routes criss-crossing the city. What do they offer, that makes them a better option?

  • Assured seating.
  • Air Conditioned service.
  • Online or in-app payments.

Now, this can be compared with a BEST bus, say A74Express from Oshiwara Depot to Worli [Lotus]. There are two buses at 8am and 8.30am from Oshiwara and two at 5.35pm and 6.05pm to Oshiwara. The route and timings are based on timings of offices located in and around Worli. A vast majority of the commuters are pass holders and there are a few who buy tickets, many of them opting for a Daily Pass, thus implying that they have a Prepaid card. Due to this nature, you invariably get a seat to sit, and very rarely do you see people standing in these buses. The bus is air-conditioned, either a Cerita, or a Volvo. If you are a pass or prepaid card holder, payment is again, a cashless affair. So what makes a passenger prefer these buses over a BEST?

The app affair

Wouldn't it be great if these two were together on an app instead?
Wouldn’t it be great if these two were together on an app instead?

BEST may not have an app, but as far as routes, and timings are needed, it does not need one. m-Indicator is easily the most useful app on my phone. It keeps me connected with details of BEST, NMMT, MBMT, VVMT, TMT and KDMT buses, as well as suburban trains across all lines, plus Metro, Monorail, Ferries, and also gives me details of Indian Railways trains departing from the city. The only thing missing is MSRTC timings. Indian Railways meanwhile, has an app, aptly titled UTS to let users book Unreserved Tickets on suburban trains in Mumbai and Chennai. The app uses GPS to ensure that you are at the right station.Now, imagine if BEST were to offer that kind of a convenience. Buy a daily pass from your phone, and show the BEST app to the conductor. He scans the QR code and keeps going. Cumbersome, given that BEST has invested heavily in its Ticket machines for a long time. What if, like the UTS app only allows you to use GPS to book tickets, the BEST app allowed you to use Radio Frequency Identification/Near Field Communication [RFID/NFC], known to many as S-Beam on Samsung phones to load this, onto your BEST ID card? Purchase the pass on your phone, flash your ID and then show the card to the conductor, who verifies it like he does for normal passes. Sounds cool no?

While all this is indeed far fetched, I dream of a day when BEST operates Public Transport services differently. It offers the basic bus services to its regular crowd, but also premium services, similar to those of a private bus operator for those willing to pay.

 

What do you say? It’d be great to see your responses in the section below.

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