The viability of EVs hinges on deregulation of the transport sector

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

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

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

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

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

Start deregulating the market

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

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

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

 

Charging Points Need Deregulation Too

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

So, how do we fix this problem?

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

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

Round fares

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

Exact Change Lanes

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

Lane Discipline

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

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

Lane separators

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

Reversible lanes

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

Staggered toll plazas

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

(can insert a Google map screeny here)

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

 

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

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

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

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Lessons From Dubai’s Robocop

Dubai recently inducted a robot police officer into its police force. While the reaction is varied, it is largely full of awe that a robot has been made a police officer.

According to The National, the robot in its initial phase is to be stationed at malls and tourist attractions where people can report crimes or pay traffic fines using a touchscreen on its body. The Dubai Police intends to later on extend its applications to chasing suspects and catching those who don’t pay parking fees in paid parking lots. The robot also is fitted with cameras to stream footage continuously to a command centre. A future batch of robots will be deployed for handling major crimes.

All said and done, this single robot means a lot to human society as a whole. It is not only about law enforcement, automation and jobs, but a whole lot of other things that can drastically change the way we live our lives.

Automation Is Key

Automation and getting a machine to do work greatly improves our efficiency, as individuals as well as organisations. Remember the time when a bus conductor had to manually count and tabulate the number of tickets sold and then report it? The system got an overhaul when electronic machines were introduced, reducing the workload on the staff, but didn’t eliminate the problem of conductors pocketing money. Then came the entirely automated system of prepaid cards and conductor-less transport, and the problem pretty much solved itself.

Similarly, when Indian police departments got smartphones to issue challans for traffic violations, it make the work easier for the police department, it did not do much to check bribes being taken by cops and letting people off. In fact, a report in The Hindu states that corruption levels rose by a huge margin.

With a robot handling things, it would reduce corruption a lot. A machine will not ask for a bribe unless it is programmed to do so. And if it is programmed to do so, it would be easy to find out who did it.

Automation has made a lot of things easier and improved transparency. Digitisation has made it easier to maintain records, catch offenders, and increase punishments for serial offenders.

More Jobs?

Automation also increases employment. A 2015 report in The Guardian says that automation has created more better-paying jobs as opposed to destroying them. In the context of the ‘Robocop’ in Dubai, it will certainly create more skilled jobs. The National reports that these robots will be trained to speak in various languages, issue violation tickets to offenders, accept crime reports and even carry heavy loads. People will have to work on the software, add new features, maintain the systems, etc. Further, other companies may develop their own product. This competition will definitely create more jobs for people in the information technology and electronics industry.

Focus on what matters

Now for the crucial part. If basic tasks such as general traffic policing and issuing tickets is taken care of by robots, humans can focus on more important tasks such as major crimes. This improves the efficiency of the entire force. Further, with the robot stated to get facial recognition systems soon, it can help recognise perpetrators and make things easier for the police force to both prevent crime, as well as catch criminals.

Automation in the law enforcement sector is a welcome step towards a better quality of living for humans. Given how crimes often go unsolved either due to understaffed polices forces or inept officials, the Dubai Police Robot may well be a role model for all of us to emulate in varying degrees.

Similar to how EVMs helped curb electoral crimes, robots too can do the same but to a larger extent. Imagine a troop of robots deployed in areas subject to left-wing extremism. Police officers can remotely monitor the system and take calculated steps in the event of an attack. While the robots are susceptible to attack, making them impervious to bullets would make it better to send them in rather than send in a human.

Dubai has shown the world that automation is indeed needed. The world should take heed of this and emulate atleast part of it.

Featured Image: The new Robot Police Officer in Dubai (Photo Credit: Dubai Police Smart Services Department)

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Local Economies, Explained

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Formal Impact

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

Why can’t the money be used elsewhere?

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

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

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

Boring? Why not!

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

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

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

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The Leftist Transport Conundrum

Now, I have tried my level best to be as apolitical as possible, but I have had zero success, because transport, especially buses is that one sector that is abused by all types of politics for personal benefits and what not.

Bus transport has been used for vote-bank politics (Delhi, Blueline buses under the AAP government), propaganda (Telangana, Tamil Nadu under all governments), and is therefore caught in a heavy onslaught.

Below is a standard template of the leftist views on transport, which I had originally posted on Medium.

Leftists: No more cars on the roads, force people in to public transport.

Government: We are building a metro, sanctioning …

Leftists: NO! That is too much. We don’t need any metro or bullet train. You will chop down trees. Get more buses.

Government: We are procuring 250 diesel buses.

Leftists: Hawww. Diesel, you are polluting the environment!

Government: We are laying a CNG pipeline.

Leftists: You will give everyone access to cheaper fuel, people will take out their cars now!

Government: We we procure electric buses at ₹2.7 crore each!

Leftists: What a exorbitant waste of money! It can be better used to educate some poor children with help from a foreign-funded missionary NGO!

Now this is not a typical rant. It is exactly what happens in the real world.

For starters, the Namma Metro project in Bengaluru was to displace 1,000 odd trees between Byapanahalli. The image created by leftists: The BMRCL is ‘lying’ and ‘misleading’ the public. When MMRCL decided to build its depot in the fringes of the Aarey Forest, they went to the extent of saying it’s akin to ‘Cutting down trees for a project nobody will ever use’. Some of these NGOs, namely Vanashakti (or something similar) and Save Aarey went to the level of harassing Metro supporters like TheMetroRailGuy, who runs a brilliant website that tracks the progress of Metro Rail projects in the country. The level of abuse and unparliamentary language hurled at TMRG and several of us on Twitter was standard of the left: Abuse, scamper, and then play the victim card.

The simplest explanation of the left in terms of forcing people to get into public transport and blaming Diesel vehicles have been posted before:
Tax the car and free the bus; Delhi’s Odd-Even plan.

 Now, while it is known that the left openly shouts against cars, taxi services (including ride-sharing), and demands better transport, they have two agendas: 1. No private participation, the government does it. 2. The government just does it, no scope for innovation. The left also supports unionisation, which as I have written about on The Quint, is a bad idea.

The right, too supports, public transport, particularly buses, for it is simple: Buses can accommodate more people and reduce congestion. As Swarajya‘s R Jagannathan explained, The Future of Public Transport is the Bus, as simple as that. I agree. Metro and BRTS projects are long-term solutions. Buses are short, medium and long term solutions. They’re a flexible mode of transport, can be implemented anywhere and everywhere. Long distance route? Get a Double Decker or a Vestibule Bus. Narrow streets? Get a mini-bus. Affluent people on the route? Run an AC bus. The bus ecosystem is extremely flexible. New and upcoming locality? Extend a route. Run a new route. It’s not complicated at all.

The left doesn’t support this theory. They want buses. Cheap buses. Buses that may or may not even serve a purpose. Buses that just exist. For the sake of existing. They are in most cases, against luxury services, premium services, air-conditioned buses as well. Regular dabbas with cheap fares. They believe that bus services must run at a loss. They want complete nationalisation of all routes, something that I have explained earlier (on Swarajya) is a fatal move because the government cannot handle the load.

The Right on the other hand is far more practical. Although I am a quasi-libertarian, I do support some form of regulation. Extreme regulation, as well as extreme deregulation, both will create problems.

A developed country is not a place where the poor have cars. It’s where the rich use public transport

A quote by Enrique Peñalosa, the former Mayor of the city of Bogotá, Colombia, this quote is again, slightly leftist. Of course, ignoring that fact that Peñalosa allegedly fabricated his PhD and Masters in Public Administration, this quote is wrong on several levels.

For starters, a developed nation is not where someone, no matter how poor or rich would have to use public transport. A developed nation, in an ideal, libertarian scenario would be one where anyone, again, no matter how rich or poor, would have the choice to use whatever form of transport they wished to use, be it buses, cabs, cars, trains, or even walk wherever they want to. However, the quote would hold true in terms of infrastructure, if one were to consider that a developed nation is where the infrastructure is good enough for a rich person to consider taking public transport. Going by this logic, I would safely ascertain that Mumbai is the most developed part of India, since even rich (or atleast well off) business-class people, take either a train (First Class of course) or a bus (Purple Faeries, ahem) to work.

Anyway, getting back to the left. The left does not want progress. All it wants is stagnation and forced coercion of people to use whatever form of transport is thrown at them.

Transport affects everyone equally, for everybody needs to get to someplace or the other, on a daily basis. Forcing such a crucial sector to stagnate, is the worst sin on society imaginable. If it weren’t for transport, every sector would come Crashing like a Canary (I invented this quote, don’t ask what it means).

To end a long story short, I quote myself.

Transport is nobody’s charity, and everybody’s business.

-Srikanth Ramakrishnan, 3 March 2017

Do let me know what your thoughts are in the comments section.

The left should ideally refrain from talking about transport. Click To Tweet

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A Dangerous Bus?

Most people say buses are dangerous and hence people won’t take them. However, there is a contrary view to it. Some economists are of the opinion that a more dangerous bus would mean more passengers. Do they board for the thrill of it?

Let’s ask Alex Tabarrok shall we?

 

Let’s Make Buses More Dangerous so People Will Ride Them

Jeff Kaufman writes:

Buses are much safer than cars, by about a factor of 67, but they’re not very popular. If you look at situations where people who can afford private transit take mass transit instead, speed is the main factor (ex: airplanes, subways).

So we should look at ways to make buses faster so more people will ride them, even if this means making them somewhat more dangerous.

Here are some ideas, roughly in order from “we should definitely do this” to “this is crazy, but it would probably still reduce deaths overall when you take into account that more people would ride the bus”:

  • Don’t require buses to stop and open their doors at railroad crossings.
  • Allow the driver to start while someone is still at the front paying.
  • Allow buses to drive 25mph on the shoulder of the highway in traffic jams where the main lanes are averaging below 10mph.
  • Higher speed limits for buses. Lets say 15mph over.
  • Leave (city) bus doors open, allow people to get on and off any time at their own risk.

Excellent recognition of tradeoffs. Pharmaceuticals should also be more dangerous.

Hat tip: Slate Star CodexCross-posted from Marginal Revolution.

Alex Tabarrok


Alex Tabarrok

Alex Tabarrok is a professor of economics at George Mason University. He blogs at Marginal Revolution with Tyler Cowen. 

This article was originally published on FEE.org. Read the original article.

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The Simplest Guide to Lane Markings

A lot of people have asked this rather fundamental question. While driving, what is the difference between a yellow and a white line on the road? Why are some of them broken lines and some of them continuous?

Well, it’s not that difficult to understand. So here they are. With pictures.

Note: This post only aims to highlight lane markings that are along the length of the road and not the width of the road. Those along the width are easy to understand: They are basically Rumble Strips, or Pedestrian (Zebra) Crossings.

Yellow vs White

There is no concrete standard for Yellow vs White, but Yellow is used in some countries such as Mexico, the Netherlands, the United States, and Canada, the yellow line is used to separate two carriageways in an undivided dual-carriageway road. In simple terms it is used to separate traffic in different directions. In Sri Lanka, it is used for pedestrian crossings and related markings. However, they are slowly being replaced by white due to increased visibility.

A road with Yellow and White markers in Madrid.
A road with Yellow and White markers in Madrid. Photo Credit: Amigos Madrid

Now, for the lines themselves.

Broken Lines

A two laned road in the Rann of Kutchh with a broken white line in the centre.
A two laned road in the Rann of Kutchh with a broken white line in the centre. Image copyright Mohammed Shafiyullah, CC-BY-SA 4.0 International, Wikimedia Commons.

A single broken line indicates that traffic can move normally on its own lane, but can cross over to the other side to overtake. In the case of dual carriageway roads, this would mean you can drive on either side of the road, and can change lanes, but with caution. On single carriageway roads, it would mean stick to your lane, the other side is for vehicles travelling in the opposite direction, but if it is empty for a significant distance, you can cross over to overtake a vehicle in front of you.

Single Solid Line

A solid white line at Šafárikovo námestie square in Bratislava near Starý most bridge.
A solid white line at Šafárikovo námestie square in Bratislava near Starý most bridge. Image copyright Aktron/Wikimedia Commons, CC-BY-SA 3.0 Unported.

A single solid line has different meanings in different countries. In India, it would mean no overtaking, or no crossing the line, except in case of a dire emergency. Turning, however is allowed, in to a lane or a gate. On single carriageway roads, it is usually found in areas where there is a sharp curve or a steep gradient, like in ghat sections. On dual carriageway roads, it is commonly found around intersections and traffic signals, thereby implying that vehicles maintain lane discipline and stay in their respective lanes while waiting at a signal.

Double Solid Line

Double Sloid Lines on the Colin Knott Drive/Olympic Highway looking south bound on the Boorooma Street overpass.
Double Solid Lines on the Colin Knott Drive/Olympic Highway looking south bound on the Boorooma Street overpass. Image copyright Bidgee, CC-BY-SA-3.0 Unported/Wikimedia Commons.

Double Solid Lines are a more stringent version of single solid lines. In India, they are used where the road isn’t a proper dual carriageway road, but each carriageway is more than one lane (But less than two) wide. In simple terms, it is used on roads that are three-ish lanes wide. In Sri Lanka, it is considered on par with a solid median and attracts a heavy penalty if crossed. Vehicles cannot take a turn when a double line is there.

Single Solid + Single Broken Line

Single Solid Line and Single Broken Line on US 84 in Wayne County, MS near Tokio Frost Bridge Rd.
Single Solid Line and Single Broken Line on US 84 in Wayne County, MS near Tokio Frost Bridge Rd. Image copyright Xnatedawgx, CC-BY-SA 3.0 Unported/Wikimedia Commons.

A rather interesting combination, the Single Solid and Solid Broken line combination does exactly what the two are supposed to do as described earlier. For vehicles travelling on the side of the solid line, crossing it is not allowed, while those travelling on the side of the broken line can. It is normally found in rare stretches, mostly in areas with both a steed gradient and a sharp curve that makes maneuvering difficult in one direction but not the other.

Zig-Zag Lines

Wavy Zig Zag Lines Used Near a Pedestrian Crossing.
Wavy Zig Zag Lines Used Near a Pedestrian Crossing near St. Pauls Cathedral in England. Image copyright Benjamin D. Esham / Wikimedia Commons, CC-BY-SA-3.0 Unported.

The Wavy or Zig Zag Line, is another fascinating lane marking. Seldom seen in India, it seen across other Commonwealth Nations such as the United Kingdom or Sri Lanka. Its main purpose is to inform the motorist or driver that a Zebra Crossing or Pedestrian Crossing is coming ahead. Vehicles are generally not supposed to stop in the region with the zig-zag lines, but slow down and stop in front of the crossing itself.

Diamond Lanes

Diamond Marker on I-24 outside Nashville, TN.
Diamond Marker on I-24 outside Nashville, TN. Image copyright Goldwiser/Wikimedia Commons, CC-BY-SA 3.0 Unported.

The last and another interesting one is the diamond lane marker. Possibly never seen in India, it is commonly seen in the United States, Sri Lanka, Canada etc. Depending on where you are they have different meanings. In Sri Lanka, it is to inform the motorist of a pedestrian crossing, much ahead of the aforementioned wavy lines. In the US and Canada, it may be, among others:

  • A bicycle lane
  • A lane meant for hybrids or electric vehicles
  • A lane meant only for carpoolers
  • A lane meant for taxis
  • A lane meant for Amish Buggies

So, that pretty much explains how Lane Markings work.

Explained: The Lines and Markings on The Road, in the simplest way possible! Click To Tweet

At the end of the day, I’d remind you of this sign from the Maharashtra State Road Development Corporation (MSRDC):

Observe Lane Discipline. लनेची शिस्त पाळा.
Observe Lane Discipline. लनेची शिस्त पाळा. Image Credit: Weird Weekends

A very special thanks to Mr. Oneil who explained the road markings in Sri Lanka to me.

Featured Image: Lane Markings at Kandy, Sri Lanka, Image: Srikanth Ramakrishnan/CC-BY-SA 4.0/Wikimedia Commons.

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

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

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

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

Let us take Mumbai and Bengaluru as an example.

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

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

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

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

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

Now let us take a real-world example:

Bengaluru

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

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

Mumbai

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

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

 

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

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

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The Amish Buggy is High-Tech, Why Can’t Our Victoria’s Be The Same?

I recently came across a very interesting article on Popular Mechanics about the Amish Buggy. The Amish (not Tripathi) are a group of traditionalist Christians who practically reject the use of electricity, telecommunications and automobiles. They use a traditional Horse and Buggy to travel.

Amish family riding in a traditional Amish buggy in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, USA.
Amish family riding in a traditional Amish buggy in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, USA. Image copyright TheCadExpert, CC-BY-SA 3.0 Unported, available on the Commons.

Why can’t our Victoria carriages be similar?

The article: The Amish Horse-Drawn Buggy Is More Tech-Forward Than You Think

The Amish Buggy has the following “high-tech” components:

Brakes

The Amish Buggy uses drum or disk brakes, that are similar to modern automobiles but not powered. There is a brake pedal that is connected to this, mainly to prevent the buggy from hitting the horse.

Electrical Components

Since states such as Ohio and Pennsylvania require vehicles to have lights, some buggies come with a dashboard of switches for brake lights, external lights, headlamps, turn indicators, et al, most of which are LEDs. They use a 20V/6A battery that usually powers an electric drill. Back home in India, nobody gives two hoots about lights and indicators.

The Body

The Body of the buggy is quite interesting. These days, they’re made of fibreglass. Yes, that’s right, fibreglass. Aluminium components are also used, while the whole thing is coating with white oak or ash wood with fabric and polyester donning the upholstery.

Modern buggies also use Thermally Modified Wood, which is basially wood that is dried up and then “baked” to take the moisture completely out of it. This gives it a long life and makes it difficult to rot.

Tyres and Wheels

The buggies normally use either Steel or Solid Rubber tyres, with Steel being preferred since it isn’t compressible like rubber which is quieter. Those with Rubber tyres, have rear mounted brakes while those with Steel tyres have front mounted brakes. The wheel is made of Steel, Wood, Aluminium or Fibreglass.

Yes, the Amish Buggy is quite an interesting thing, although it might seem silly to abstain from modern technology. I’d like to ride on one some day, but one only hopes that the Victorias in Bombay made some similar modifications. It would certainly spruce them up, even if they are being banned.

 

 

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