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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Amphibious Bus, Water Bus, Boat Bus?

Meet the Boat-Bus! Yes. Or atleast that’s what they’re calling it.

Two separate Boat-Buses made their appearance in the last two months, one in Punjab and one in Lucknow. Both are the exact opposites of each other.

Presenting The Harike, Punjab’s Boat-Bus for tourists in the Harike wetlands.

The Harike Water Bus. Image via Twitter.
The Harike Water Bus. Image via Twitter.

At first glance, anyone who sees this picture will say: “Wait, what? That looks like a Banana on Wheels!”.

Personally, I’m confused whether it is a boat with wheels or a mini-van shaped like a boat. Functionally, it is both. There is a ramp that leads it into the water from where it functions as a boat. Something like a Hovercraft, one might say.

While Aesthetics seem to have taken a backseat here, it is functional enough. One just hopes that it does not capsize in the water.

Now, presenting Lucknow’s Water-Bus.

Lucknow Water Bus. Image via Facebook.
Lucknow Water Bus. Image via Facebook.

It’s a boat. Yes. A covered boat. Lucknow, by virtue of being on the banks of the Gomti river has managed to get a functional water transport system due to start commercial operations by this month.

What confuses me is where there is so much water in Gomti river and why is there so much water pouring down from the bridge? Are they filling the river? I know this is possible in Ahmedabad because the Sabarmati is designed like a giant drain, but does Uttar Pradesh have the wherewithall for such a thing?

It would be nice to someday see the Yamuna, Ganga, and Kaveri be cleaned up. Cities like Delhi, Kanpur, Varanasi, Erode and Thiruchchirapalli (Trichy) too can then set up their own water transport systems.

As I had outlined in a previous post, on the basis of Pune and Ahmedabad, any Indian city that lies on the banks of a major river can get itself a good water transport system. Further, cities on the coast, mainly Mumbai, Chennai, Visakhapatnam (Vizag), Panaji, Mormugao, and Mangalore should get hovercrafts. Water transport is slowly getting more prominence in the country. Mumbai is getting a terminal for water-based Ro-Ro transport. Rolling Highways are one thing, but Floating Highways? Why not. If we can have a Konkan Railway, why not a Konkan Waterway.

It’s high time, we start innovating and looking at newer modes of transport. The Hyperloop concept is still eons away. Till then, let us focus on more terrestrial transport, which doesn’t necessarily have to be on land. As they say, Water is the Basis of Life.

The Boat-Bus can form a crucial part of a Floating Highway network. Click To Tweet

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Uber’s Tryst with Autos

Auto rickshaws in India have traditionally been the most prominent mode of transport. I have made out with my girlfriend in one.

The market, although unruly in most cities, is changing. It is slowly changing itself to keep pace with its biggest rival: Ridesharing.

Below, is an FEE piece that talks about how Auto Rickshaws are changing in India.

The Rickshaw Market Is Being Uberized

One of the great pleasures of visiting other countries is seeing how different cultures have attempted to solve the great human problem of getting from A to B. The question of transit is both a personal human undertaking and also a national challenge, essential for individuals and societies to thrive.

What’s so interesting is the vast array of solutions we’ve come up with to such a universal puzzle. There are often unique local obstacles to navigate, but the variety of different forms of public transport is wonderfully broad.

In India there is a striking number of options – some ingenious, some seemingly bonkers – but then when you have a billion people to move around a bit of variety is understandable. Pedal power is still in effect, the classic cycle rickshaw is a genteel option for short trips.

Busses packed to bursting careen through city centres with passengers dangling off the side or climbing onto the roof (Virgin Trains eat your heart out). The busses don’t so much as stop but decelerate long enough for customers to hurl themselves aboard. Grand looking Hindustan Ambassador taxis lazily cruise the streets often overcharging with a new wave of Uber and Ola drivers snapping at their heels.

The Auto-Rickshaw

But by far the most fun form of transport for traversing Indian cities is the auto-rickshaw. A physical and economic marvel, you can be whisked across town for a few rupees in what feels like a cross between a go-kart and a Rascal van. They perform up to 20% of the 229 million motorised trips taken every day in Indian cities.

The multitude of crisscrossing routes means you can usually catch one to where you want to go, but determining the routes can be a challenge. Local knowledge is vital. Stops are also a fluid concept, most will pull over to squeeze on another fare. It’s amazing how what seems like a vehicle with three passenger seats can multiply into six with some judicious lap-sitting and a bit of hanging off the side.

The patchy and chaotic arrangement for matching supply and demand, as well as sometimes variable pricing, left inefficiencies in the system crying out for some tech-based organization.Each of these three-wheeled people movers represents an act of economic endeavour, an entrepreneurial venture into the fast flowing current of Indian transport competition.

They provide jobs for tens of thousands of drivers and are inexpensive to buy and run. As old models are replaced by modern versions powered by compressed natural gas, they are also helping reduce pollution in overcrowded urban areas.

Such is their ubiquity it’s understandable that Uber turned its sights on trying to capitalize the auto-rickshaw market. The patchy and chaotic arrangement for matching supply and demand, as well as sometimes variable pricing, left inefficiencies in the system crying out for some tech-based organization.

Using the billion mobile phones in India, initially hail companies would track real-time driver availability by text message. As the number of smartphones has increased, however,  the use of live GPS tracking has allowed the potential for riders and drivers to connect in a timely and systematic way.

This mash-up of new and old technology spawned a host of start-up hailing firms with home-grown Indian companies Jugnoo, AutoWale and Ola seeing off competition from Uber which has suspended its auto-rickshaw service in India. Jugnoo, which bought out AutoWale last year, recently raised $10 million in its latest investment round.

Empowering drivers, many of whom are illiterate, with technology has seen incomes double and brought at least a little order to an often haphazard and stressful job.

With so many people to keep on the move, improving the efficiency of India’s auto-rickshaws is a significant contribution to the country’s transport mix, especially for the less well-off who rely on this low cost form of transportation. As Jugnoo CEO Samar Singla said:

“Uber is for the top 20 per cent of people, we’re for the bottom 80 per cent.”

The post The Uberisation of the rickshaw appeared first on CapX

Joe Ware


Joe Ware

Joe Ware is a writer at Christian Aid.

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

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A Memoir Straight From The Heart

It gives me immense pleasure to pen this Guest Post for my dear friend Srikanth whose penchant and fascination for buses is not hidden from us as is evident from every nook and corner of this blog and hence I decided to pen this memoir of my early experiences in buses and how they have aided me in shaping my confidence.

Flashback 1987,  Place – Trichy, TamilNadu

I guess the world was a little more nicer way back then, when I boarded the local bus from my school to home, a distance of 6 kms, as a 5 year old. I don’t recall the route number now but I distinctly remember the affectionate face of the elderly conductor who always called out to be 2 stops before my stop was about to come as the buses were always fully packed and I had to stand all the way, so I may miss my stop. Also, he always tendered me the exact change. He indirectly boosted by self esteem that as a first grader I can come home alone when my mom can’t leave alone my new born brother and come to pick me.

For the next decade, buses became an integral part of my life as I commenced my journey as a hosteller in Birla’s Pilani owing to my dad’s repetitive transfers mostly around small towns of Uttar Pradesh during this period some of which lacked good schools. I recall making mostly 3 bus changes to reach Pilani from where I lived,  a journey of about 14 hrs – at Rohtak, Jaipur and Loharu. I was mostly alone and handled most kinds of people enroute. Nevertheless, these long journeys brought me closer to life. I observed people around me many of whom even candidly shared their stories once the conversations were struck. I really wanted to do something for many of them who shared and I always penned down their true tales and authentic feelings that came straight from the heart.

This is where my writing journey began and got its dimensions and vision as during those long journeys I contemplated the aim of my life. I framed my ideologies during this period too for witnessing a bus full of people set on fire right in front of me during the Hindu Muslim Babri Masjid Riots evoked a million emotions in me. I decided I will make my contribution in improving our society in whichever small way I can. I started being vocal and expressing myself aloud in trying to be a face of change and for the same purpose later I started my blog which brings forth real tales of people like you and me to evoke and inspire the right thoughts in the masses.

Fast Forward – Today

Today though I very rarely commute in buses  like Srikanth I too love every ounce of them. They are the best representatives of the majority of our society.

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A Memoir Straight From The Heart Click To Tweet

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The Propaganda of Transport

Propaganda is a very misused, overused and abused word today. Politicians use it all the time to attack each other. In such cases, we should take a closer look at the word Propaganda itself.

Merriam-Webster defines Propaganda as ideas or statements that are often false or exaggerated and that are spread in order to help a cause, a political leader, a government, etc.

Of course, we can take the liberty of interpreting Propaganda as a more open nature of promoting oneself or ones interests to an audience.

The most well known example of Propaganda is the 1940 film The Eternal Jew, directed by Fritz Hippler and produced by the Minister of Propaganda Joseph Goebbels under the Deutsche Film Gesellschaft banner. The film was nowhere near subtle, and portrayed Jews as Uncivilised, Parasitic and worse. However, times have changed and propaganda in its current form is very subtle, often using bias to have its way.

In the recent times, propaganda has managed to make its way into the Transport sector too. When we say Propaganda in the Transport sector, we do not refer to naming stations, airports, roads and bridges after people. Mumbai has one major railway station and its airport named after Chhatrapati Shivaji. Bangalore has its central bus station and airport named after Kempegowda. This is a global phenomenon. New York’s major airport is named after former President John F Kennedy while it’s secondary airport is named after the 99th Mayor Fiorello La Gaurdia.

The propaganda we look at is subtle, and in some cases, not so subtle.

A Nationalistic Bus?

A BMTC Atal Sarige on route AS-6.
A BMTC Atal Sarige on route AS-6. Image copyright Binai K Sankar.

At first glance, the Atal Sarige operated by the Bangalore Metropolitan Transport Corporation [BMTC] looks like its livery is is draping the bus with the National Flag. But. It’s wrong. If you take a second look, you’d notice that the colour scheme is White, Green and Saffron/Orange. The party colours of the Bharatiya Janata Party [BJP]. Further, the name itself is a giveaway. Named after former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee of the BJP, the bus was meant to serve the poorest of the poor.

Note: If you’re Mumbai, the highest fare is on a bus with its route number starting with AS, and if you’re in Bangalore, it’d be the opposite.

And now, for a little Aesthetics.

A TSRTC Metro Luxury Volvo at Lingampally.
A TSRTC Metro Luxury Volvo at Lingampally. Image copyright LoveOfZ, CC-BY-SA 4.0 International, Wikimedia Commons.

Pink is known to be a very soothing colour. It is often used to calm inmates in prison.

However, the Telangana State Road Transport Corporation [TSRTC] bus above did not turn pink to soothe its commuters. Telangana State was formed in 2014, and the party that won a majority in its Assembly Elections was the Telangana Rashtra Samithi [TRS], whose party colour is Pink. Thus, everyone who sees the bus will remember the colour pink and every time there is a campaign by the TRS, people will be calm, because, Hey, Pink is a soothing colour.

Switching Colours

And now, for the most interesting, and perhaps most noteworthy form of Bus-based propaganda.

Welcome to Tamil Nadu, where all the various divisions of the Tamil Nadu State Transport Corporation [TNSTC], the Metropolitan Transport Corporation [MTC] of Chennai and the State Express Transport Corporation [SETC] are like Chamelons. Remember the phrase “गिरगिट की तरह रंग बदलना” (Girgit Ke Tarah Rang Badalna)? That’s what TNSTC/SETC/MTC buses do. Change colours; Every time the government changes. It’s like an unwritten part of the party manifesto.

Here’s a picture of an MTC bus taken in April 2011 below. It’s blue in colour. Blue is also a soothing colour, although I fail to understand why anyone would want to say ‘Feeling Blue’ to refer to Sadness.

A blue coloured MTC Semi Low Floor bus on route number 21G.
A blue coloured MTC Semi Low Floor bus on route number 21G. Image copyright Vinoth Thambidurai/CC-BY-SA 3.0 Unported/Wikimedia Commons.

This picture was taken in April 2011, a month before the All India Anna Dravida Munnethra Kazhagam [AIADMK] government won the elections. Colour combinations were aplenty across Tamil Nadu. Some buses bore different shades of blue and yellow, some were white with Red, Yellow and Orange stripes across them, there were many.

Now, they are all uniform. While, I did mention Fragmentation in an earlier post, it would be great if each city had its own identity in terms of colours. Here, Tamil Nadu is one single entity in terms of coloured buses.

All long distance buses, including all SETC buses are now Green in Colour. They’re light green in colour with dark green stripes, or dark green in colour with light green stripes, depending on how you may want to look at them. Local buses, including all MTC buses all sport the same Brown-Beige combination which makes it look like the bus wasn’t washed at all. Perhaps a plan to not wash the buses regularly.

Below, is one such repainted bus, taken in 2013, belonging to TNSTC Coimbatore.

A TNSTC CBE bus at Vadavalli in Coimbatore.
A TNSTC CBE bus at Vadavalli in Coimbatore. Image copyright Faheem9333/CC-BY-SA 3.0 Unported/Wikimedia Commons.

See, what did I tell you? Where did this come from? Some people tell me that the colour has to do with what happened before this repainting. Barely three-four months before the buses got this brown colour, they had a different colour.

An MTC bus in the intermediate colour scheme.
An MTC bus in the intermediate colour scheme. Image: The Hindu

Notice the colours? Notice the photo of Jayalalithaa on the windscreen? I know it’s a bit difficult to see it, but can you see it. In the picture, Jaya is seen wearing a saree that is the same colour as the Maroon on the bus. Her complexion matches the beige on the bus. Tada! When the paint jobs were done, all buses sported a huge photo of the Chief Minister on the front windshield on the left hand side.

And now, finally …

Green Leafy Vegetables Buses

They say, greens are good for health. They say Green is a sign of Eco-Friendliness. But, the leaves here don’t exactly say that do they?

An MTC Small Bus [Mini Bus].
An MTC Small Bus [Mini Bus]. Image: The Hindu

 While MTC curiously chose to name these buses as ‘Small Bus’, not ‘Mini Bus’, they also decided to put a few leaves on it. No points for guessing why. The AIADMK’s Party symbol is: Yes, that’s right, Two Leaves! But, wait! You can see four leaves on that bus! Simple: 2+2=4. The more the merrier. Two more leaves is just going to reinforce things into the commuters head.

Now, notice something common among all these Transcos mentioned? They’re all State-level bodies, not Municipal ones. You’ll never see BEST, AMTS, or PMPML like this. Why? Decentralisation of transport management ensures that while Municipal Bodies have the wherewithal to run the Transco, they won’t have the time or resources to go behind such trivial stuff. They’ll have more important stuff such as banners, roads, naming of Chowks to work in their favour.

On an unrelated note: Searching for Purple Faeries on Google leads you to the Tag Purple Faeries. I call this, Purple Propaganda..

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American Elections Are Like Indian Transport: Fragmented

The world’s oldest democracy is going to vote soon. Two years ago, the world’s largest democracy voted. What is the difference between the two? Well, without going into the nitty-gritties of both, let’s just focus on one point: Fragmentation.

In India, elections be it General, State Assembly, Municipal or Presidential are conducted by the Election Commission of India. Each state has a Chief Electoral Office [CEO] who is repsonsible for voter enrollment, candidate declarations, etc. While each state has a different way of getting the Enrollment done [Karnataka enabled Voters to submit scanned copies of their documents and fill the form online, as far back as 2013], the Election Process is Uniform across India. In the United States, the system is totally different. The Constitution, under Article 1, Section 4 gives complete power to the State governments in matters relating to voting. The Federal Elections Commission oversees the election in general, enforcing term limits, disclosing campaign finance information, etc.

Due to this decentralised nature, each state has its own method of conducting elections. Some states may use Electronic Voting Machines, so may use Ballot Papers, etc. This may result in some anomaly. The Butterfly Ballot issue of Palm Beach County Florida [explained here in the American Political Science Review] is one such example.

Reconstruction of the Butterfly Ballot Paper from Palm Beach County Florida in 2000.
Reconstruction of the Butterfly Ballot Paper from Palm Beach County Florida in 2000. Image copyright Gzuckier, CC-BY-SA 3.0 Unported, Wikimedia Commons.

In places where Electronic Voting is followed, the voter has to fill up an optically-readible ballot paper which is then fed into a machine.

In India, a standard uniform system is following using the Electronic Voting Machines developed by Bharat Electronics Limited and the Electronics Corporation of India Limited.

An Electronic Voting Machine in India.
An Electronic Voting Machine in India. Image: பரிதிமதி, CC-BY-SA 3.0 Unported, Wikimedia Commons

Now, while diversity is a good thing, for it results in better quality of products and services, fragmentation is not really that good in reality.

Now that we understand the issues relating to a fragmented system, let us come back to Indian Transport.

Transport in India is largely a fragmented segment. Excluding aviation, which is governed by central policies and is full of private players, and the Indian Railways network, let us focus on the Buses and their operations.

Depending on which part of India you are in, the bus you board would be operated by either the State Government or the Municipal Corporation. The exception is Chandigarh, where the CTU comes under the Union Territory Administration, and in the absence of a Legislative Body like in Delhi or Puducherry, it comes under the Union Government.

But it is not this fragmentation that I am talking about. This is due to the various levels of decentralisation that is prevalent across our country. The fragmentation that I am talking about is what is prevalent within a single Transco, or a single City division/SPV of a State level Transco.

To give an example:

BEST is among the most defragmented Transcos. Every bus used the same ticket machine, every conductor issues the same kind of ticket and every bus or conductor accepts a Smart Card, be it a Pass or a Prepaid Card. The fragmentation arises in matters such as the LED display: Some buses have a full length LED display on the front, some have the tiny one visible in new buses, and irrespective of whether these are functional or not, some still use the old Rolling Cloth system for displaying the route and number.

In the case of BMTC, fragmentation is higher. Not all buses are properly hooked on to the Tracking platform, some buses still use the old Quantum Aeon ticket machines or worse, some still issue the old punched tickets.

Simmilarly, NMMT shows some amount of fragmentation. While earlier, only AC services had Electronic ticketing, now, all have it. But, only AC bus tickets can be booked using an app, while others still have to go through the machine.

Delhi too, is a good example of fragmentation. While regular buses, Cluster Buses and the Blueline buses are all operated by different entities, they essentially operate on the same route. However, buses operated by the DTC still use manual fare collection, with a handful of ticket machines thrown in for good measure in the last few months. The Cluster buses operated by the DIMTS have ticketing machines, can be tracked online, but there is compatibility of their systems with the DTC ticketing process. Blueline/Metro Feeder and other private buses, don’t have any form of connected ticketing.

Now, this brings us to an important point. Common mobility.

More Card: National Common Mobility Card
More Card: National Common Mobility Card

The Government of India had rolled out the More Card in 2012 as a common mobility card. Initially restricted to the Delhi Metro and Route 56 of the DMRC Feeder Bus, it was launched post the failure of the Go Mumbai Smart Card. While Mumbai has gone ahead with its Smart Card System, although extremely fragmented [one card each for BEST, Metro, Monorail and the Suburban Rail], it has managed to make cashless travel in almost all forms of transit. Autos and taxis are not covered, although Ahmedabad has gone ahead with such a proposal. I haven’t seen the More Card anywhere in Delhi in the last two years, and I have seen all Metro Feeder buses issue regular paper tickets.

In 2015, the Ministry of Urban Development came up with another proposal for a National Common Mobility platform with collaboration from the National Informatics Centre [NIC], Centre For Development of Advanced Computing [C-DAC], Bureau of Indian Standards [BIS], and the National Payments Corporation of India [NPCI]. The new system is proposed to use Europay, MasterCard and Visa [EMV] Open Loop system with a stored value system. It also took into account the deficiencies with cards in Singapore. It took the Octopus Card from Hong Kong as a base for its working, in order to support Passes as well; a crucial feature of BEST’s RFID Cards. While C-DAC will develop standards for existing Metro Rail systems, the problem will arise with other modes of transport. Ferries in India don’t use eTicketing. They still use the old fashioned ticketing. Barring Mumbai and Kerala, no other area of India has a proper water transit system or anything resembling one in place. Similarly, with Tolls, will this be accepted at toll plazas operated by other bodies except the National Highways Authority of India [NHAI]? Will it be compatible with FASTag? With each Transco using different ticketing machines [BEST uses Balaji, BMTC uses Verifone, both supplied by Trimax], will the entire system be compatible with each other?

Further, with vehicle tracking. A National Mobility platform will require the Vehicle Tracking System in place. BEST uses a GPS device fitted onto a bus, BMTC and DIMTS use the location from the ticketing machines. All this results in a jumble that nobody would seem to understand.

Let us hope that provisions are made to ensure backward compatibility of systems so that money is not wasted in procuring new technology.

Moral of the story: The odds of Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump winning are the same as the odds of getting into a BMTC bus and getting either a printed ticket, or the regular ticket.

 

 

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Mumbai autowala gives an actress a fake note, We’re left wondering

Recently, it emerged that an Autowala in Mumbai gave an actress Megha Chakraborty a Fake 100 rupee note.

The Fake 100 Coupon Note, signed by Santa Claus of the Children's Bank of India.
The Fake 100 Coupon Note, signed by Santa Claus of the Children’s Bank of India.

ScoopWhoop did a fantastic analysis of the note:

  • It claims to be issued by the Children Bank of India
  • It claims its value is One Hundred Coupon
  • The guarantee on it says ‘I promise to play with the coupon hundred’.
  • It is signed by Santa Claus.

Now, while we leave the analysis of the note to the experts at BuzzFeed and ScoopWhoop, we are left wondering about something else.

It is 2016. Cashless payment is here. UPI is here. Jio is here. RFID Cards are here. Uber and Ola are also here. PayTM and MobiKwik are here. Why pay with Cash?

The excuse that some people may not have a bank account, or a phone is no longer a valid argument, atleast not in India’s largest city.

There are two ways of achieving cashless payments:

The Physical Method

This is simple. An RFID card. BEST has a prepaid smart card in place for buses. Mumbaikars would know by now that there are FOUR prepaid cards available in the city: One for BEST, one for the Suburban Railway, one for the Metro and one for the Monorail. While the erstwhile Go Mumbai Smart Card that was scrapped in 2011 was valid on both BEST and the Suburban Rail, the RTA has mooted a common mobility card for all forms of transit. If this comes into play, this can be extended to auto-rickshaws too. Mumbai’s much, much younger sibling Ahmedabad has already raced ahead by enabling autos to be part of the Smart Card system. Of course, this will work only in a few cities. The Greater Mumbai Region, Pune, Ahmedabad, Surat, and to a certain extent Bengaluru, are among the few cities where one can find autowalas return even the last rupee change to the passenger. Delhi’s autos, with its fancy GPS enabled fare-meters NEVER ply by meter, so the chances of them accepting a prepaid card is close to zero. Gurgaon, and other areas, well, don’t even have a fare-meter in the vehicle, so tough luck.

The Digital Method

Again, Mumbaikars would know this well. The UTS app by the Centre for Railway Information Systems [CRIS] allows commuters to buy tickets and Season Passes using an Android phone and a mobile wallet. Of course, it has its own share of problems. This is also the model followed by Uber and Ola for non-cash rides. All one requires for this is a prepaid wallet and a phone. While Ola chose to partner with ZipCash, Uber chose to partner with PayTM. In some cities, autowalas have PayTM QR codes affixed to their vehicles, all the passenger needs to do is open the app, scan the code and transfer the amount. Walah!

The Bottom Line

We are not a poor nation. We are not a third-world nation. When we have advanced so much to the extent of having prepaid cards for bus tickets, and also buying suburban rail tickets on the phone, why can’t we slowly do away with cash based transit systems?

 

 

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A Bright Future Ahead for Electric Buses in India

Swiss Group ABB has come up with a rather grand plan to make India a completely electric vehicle nation in 12 years (2030). It has even announced its intention to supply buses that can be charged in 15 seconds.

Last year, Transport Minister Nitin Gadkari stated that 1.5lakh buses operated by various state-operated transport undertakings (STUs) were to be converted to electric buses in a bid to save some money on its Rs. 8lakh crore crude imports.

The aim of this flash-charging technology is to enable buses to operate with smaller batteries. In August 2016, ABB India Managing Director Sanjiv Sharma had said that the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways had given its green signal to operate buses with the new technology on a pilot basis. Minister Nitin Gadkari had stated that these buses could be charged at night at Rs. 3.5 per unit of electricity as compared to Rs. 50-60 for a litre of diesel.

These buses would be charged at bus stations using a mechanical arm which charges only when a bus is connected. Further, it eliminates overheard wires and charges while passengers are boarding and disembarking.

ABB is partnering with Volvo buses to operate these buses in 13 cities across the country.

ABB is also planning a launch in December in Geneva, in partnership with Public-Transport operator TGP to operate 12 such buses across a 14km long stretch.

 

The National Electricity Mission Plan 2020 has identified the need to replace large batteries with smaller ones and use rapid-charging technologies to make it possible. The potential demand for Electric Buses is pegged at approximately 2500 buses by 2020.

 

Ashok Leyland, meanwhile has unveiled what it calls the first ‘Indigenous Electric’ bus manufactured in India. The Circuit series of buses, will be offered with a subsidy under the Central Government’s Faster Adoption and Manufacturing of (Hybrid) and Electric Vehicles (FAME) scheme and can travel 150km on a single charge.

 

FAME, as part of the National Electric Mobility Mission Plan, aims to put close to 7 million electric and hybrid vehicles on the roads by 2016.

 

As stated earlier, The Future of Urban Transport is the Bus. Buses are more effective than other mass transit projects because they are cheaper, faster to procure and do not involve dedicated large-scale construction. The only thing a bus requires is a road and a bus station, which is why it forms the basic rung of public transport.
While the new buses will certainly be a game-changer in the field of transport, they will also be a big boost for Make In India. These buses will form a totally different market and will require a separate workforce to research, design and develop them, along with the supporting infrastructure. Ultimately, it will result in a massive employment surge while also providing an export market for completed buses.

The future of buses in India is certainly a bright one, one spark can ignite a fire. One bus can change the future.

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Let’s Keep Walking

Walking, the most fundamental way to travel, is a joy to many, while a lot of people crib and whine about it.

Walking brings joy to a lot of people. It’s the surest way to remain reasonably healthy, and also gets the job done: You reach your destination, albeit a little slower.

Walking is a lot like cycling, except it doesn’t require specialised equipment, namely a cycle, and is more compatible with rugged terrain than a cycle. In short, walking up and down a staircase or a craggy hill is easier than attempting the same with a cycle. However, both face the same issues with motorists treating them with contempt.

In an earlier post on Andhra Pradesh’s upcoming capital city of Amaravati, I had given a few suggestions on making cities cycle and pedestrian friendly. Now, let us leave that to the Planners and Experts. Our focus here is on walking.

Why would you walk?

Simple. To get somewhere. I walk to the provision store, I walk to the bus stop, I walk everywhere. In some places, like several IT campuses across the country, driving is restricted to certain designated zones, and thus, you would be required to walk or cycle in the other areas. If you cannot cycle, your only option is to walk.

Walking is crucial, not only for those using public transport, but also for cyclists and motorists. You need to walk to the parking lot. You need to walk where the cycle cannot be used. Walking in crowded areas is a pain, and this is where I realise that Mumbai is probably the best city [pun intended, of course] for walks. Why? The Mumbai Skywalk Project.

The Nana Chowk Skywalk at Grant Road.
The Nana Chowk Skywalk at Grant Road. Image copyright Srikanth Ramakrishnan, CC-BY-SA International.

Starting with the 1.3km long skywalk connecting Bandra Railway Station [East] to Kalanagar junction in 2009, the city of Mumbai has numerous skywalks connecting various railway stations to localities in the vicinity, bypassing the crowd, bus stops, vendors, and all below. The skywalk in Andheri East connects Andheri Railway Station, Andheri Metro Station, Agarkar Chowk Bus Station, as well as the bus stop atop the Gopal Krishna Gokhale Bridge, while the Bandra skywalk connects Bandra Station, Bandra Bus Station, Bandra Court, the Western Express Highway as well as Swami Vivekananda Road.

The Nana Chowk Skywalk, connecting Nana Chowk to Grant Road is a spectacular structure. Built at a cost of ₹43crore, the structure is a oval-shaped, cable-stayed one. It is illuminated with Pink LED lights at night, thus making it an interesting sight to see. Now, while many people might consider it a waste of money, I’d like to see things a little differently. We normally hear of crores of money being spent on building roads for vehicles,  but seldom do we hear about money being spent on making the lives of pedestrians easier. Right?

Governments need to realise the importance of pedestrian infrastructure. A four laned road just won’t do. A four lane road with provisions for pedestrians and cyclists at the periphery is the need of the hour.

Walking, is at the end of the day, the best way to exercise. Of course, I have been told that kissing burns more calories, but who cares? I can walk alone. That’s all that matters to me.

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