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.

Let’s Keep Walking, for it’s the best way to stay fit! Click To Tweet

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The Joy of Solo Travel

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Buses are burning in Karnataka: When will be safe?

As I started typing this, I saw images of 50 odd buses, belonging to KPN and SRS Travels, both while based in Tamil Nadu, having buses registered in Karnataka [that’s right, paying taxes to Karnataka] on fire in Kengeri and Shanthinagar. I see Volvo buses on fire. That’s right. Expensive buses, on fire. That’s not all. I see numerous trucks damaged and on fire today. None of this is untrue. My family members have reported them, first hand, having seen it happening in front of them. Tamil Nadu registered trucks, buses, cars are being torched. Elsewhere at work, a relative of someone I know had his TN-registered car vandalised. His phone has been switched off, and his whereabouts unknown to us.

Read this for more updated info:

Cauvery row live updates | Watch: 20 buses set on fire at KPN bus depot in Bengaluru

Meanwhile, 400km North of the state capital, in the city of Hubli, trucks with TN registration are being attacked by mobs. This is in Hubli, a city that culturally has more in common with the neighbouring state capital of Mumbai, that it does with its own state capital. While Hubli and Belgaum [or Hubbali and Belgavi if you prefer] are culturally similar to Mumbai, they are integrally a part of Karnataka.

However, the point is that the state is burning. Especially its capital. Not Hubli, not Mysore, not Mandya, but Bangalore.

What started this? The Kaveri river. Or, as someone like to call it, the Cauveri.

On 5th September, the Supreme Court directed the Karnataka government to release 15000 cusecs of water from the Krishnarajasagara Dam to Tamil Nadu for the next ten days, and also directed Tamil Nadu to release water appropriately to the Union Territory of Puducherry. What happened next? A bandh was declared on Friday by Vatal Nagaraj and activists of the Kannada Rakshana Vedike.

Now, interesting to note here, is that ever since the last week of July, Karnataka has been in a turmoil. 25-26-27 July witnessed a bus strike in Karnataka. 29 got wasted because of incessant drizzle, while on 30th, a Bandh was declared by the pro-Kannada activists after the Mahadayi Water Dispute Tribunal rejected Karnatakas’s plea for 7.56 thousand million cubic feet of water from the Mahadayi or Mandovi River. Following this, Karnataka witnessed bandhs when trade Unions went on strike in the first week of September and today, mob violence.

Katnataka filed a special appeal with the Supreme Court. The verdict for this came out on 12th September at 10.30am. The SC directed the Karnataka government to release 12,000 cusecs instead of the earlier 15,000 cusecs.

Now, let us put all of this aside. What caused this?

The media? Yes. The media. The media ran various stories of Tamil youth allegedly beating up Kannadigas in Tamil Nadu. Nothing wrong in doing that. But… But but but. They chose to upload a whole damn video along with it. This video went viral and is what started the problems in the first place. The next day, I received a video of goons in Tamil Nadu hacking a woman to death, claiming that it was done because she was Kannadiga. I did what I had to do as a citizen. I forwarded the video to the Whatsapp number of the Bangalore City Police and they later issued a notice that the video was an old video and had *absolutely nothing, nothing whatsover* to do with the current scenario.

My question is. Why are these anti-social elements *still* in Existence in our society?

When India has been sharing Indus water with Pakistan and Ganga/Brahmaputra water with Bangladesh without issues, why are river related issues in India so bad?

Someone, please answer my question. Buses are on fire, trucks are on fire. Do these so called activists and protestors realise that someone’s livelihood depends on those buses? How does burning buses solve a water crisis? This isn’t my question, but the question from KPN travels.

Buses are burning. When will we be safe? Click To Tweet

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Corrupt Babus from the Stone Age are Impeding Better Transport

Many ‘futurists’ and a significant number of urban local government officials and policymakers I’ve met and/or interacted with hold the following view – ‘Internet, faster communication and changing social attitudes will soon make large urban agglomerations i.e cities in the form of cities irrelevant. We will be participants in an era of small, compact cities with innovators, job creators and seekers moving to such cities from megacities to make their fortunes’.

This view is often represented as a fact in many conferences, seminars and ‘talks’ by organized by the intelligentsia which in turn has transformed the view into conventional wisdom. They are wrong. The internet or any other faster means of communication (except  teleporting perhaps’ will never be able to match  This view combined with the very Indian tendency to ‘equalize’ development of different regions has led to some perverse policy prescriptions but that is a matter for another day. In this post, I will discuss a little on why the ‘compact future city’ view is incorrect and touch upon what we need to improve transportation outcomes..

In his book- The Rise and Fall of Nations, Ruchir Sharma writes:

‘In recent years it became fashionable to argue that location no longer matters, because the internet makes it possible to provide services from anywhere. But physical goods still make up the bulk of global trade flows, and location still matters for companies that want to be close to their customers and suppliers.’

Some of you may argue that physical goods will not constitute a majority of trade flows in the near future where trade will mostly constitute IT based service sector transactions; and that’s when we will see intelligent people leaving cities along with their businesses for small towns. You would then be wrong. Again. Later in the book, Ruchir Sharma writes this:

‘Today the internet is making geography irrelevant neither for manufacturing industries nor for service industries. People still meet face to face in order to manage and build service companies that provide everything from internet search engines to cargo logistics, and new companies in these industries typically set up in the same town to tap the same expert talent pool. The result is the rise of cities with a cluster of companies and talent in a specific service niche.’
‘In South Korea, Busan continues to thrive as the nation’s leading port and as a regional hub for logistics service companies. In the Philippines, Manila has been rising for some time as as a major global provider of back office services, and now that business is spilling over to its satellite cities, including Quezon and Caloocan. Dubai continues to build on its dual role as a major port moving oil and other goods and as a service hub for the Middle East.’

To the above list, I would add- Bangalore continues to thrive as India’s leading education hub and as a hub for R&D, IT-BPO companies; Mumbai continues to thrive as the city whose professionals arrange financing for mega projects across India and Kolkata for producing intellectuals who fill our history textbooks with crap.

In short, cities will NOT become small. Businesses and intelligent people will NOT move to compact cities. Most of India’s megacities will keep getting bigger. (I’m not saying that there is no future for second cities and therefore we should ignore them. They are a very integral part of the modern economy and need to be accorded that status. That discussion is for another post). Our planners and urban administrators need to imbibe this very basic fact when they are managing our cities. In my opinion, amongst these planners and urban administrators, the ones that need to learn this lesson the most are – public transport officials.

A few months ago, St Srikanth of Depot (Srikanth) and I had a chance to interact with officials of BMRCL (Bangalore Metro Rail Corporation Limited) and BMTC (Bangalore Metropolitan Transport Corporation). Almost every second conversation we had with a management level employee revealed their deep discomfort about private operated public transport facilities. Before these conversations, I admit to having hoped that public transport officials would recognize that government ownership of public transport infrastructure and the legal monopoly over these operations would increasingly lead to very bad transportation outcomes. Those hopes were dashed after the above mentioned conversation. I realized that these buggers are going to sit on their arses, wait for their retirement and meanwhile prevent and/or harass tech enabled transportation systems like Uber, Ola and ZipGo and oppose private entry into the business in the traditional forms.

Before continuing that rant, I will emphasise the need for an efficient public transportation system in every city. As mentioned before, every city is essentially a concentrated labor market. Businesses – low tech, high tech, service sector, manufacturing like to set themselves up in cities as these cities offer them access to a large pool of labor in short distance. This in combination with the fact that most of their suppliers and customers too do the same lead to something known as agglomeration benefits. All the above depends upon the efficiency of the transportation system and the density of urban living. The higher the efficiency of transportation networks and the density of urban living, the greater the agglomeration benefits and therefore higher incomes.

Let me illustrate this with an example from our National Capital Region. Say Srikanth decides to shift from Bengaluru [He is desperate to] to the wretched hellhole that is NCR and rents a place in Dharuhera (About 45kms from Gurugram). He is forced to rent here because he has a taste for luxury and but his bank account isn’t all that good enough to enable him to live in Gurugram. It takes about an hour to travel between Gurugram and Dharuhera as he travels through public transport, Uber and Ola aren’t available in Dharuhera and the nearest metro is HUDA city center which is about 40kms away.  What are the chances of him accepting a job paying ₹60k per month near Rajiv Chowk i.e. Connaught Place, New Delhi over a job paying ₹55k in Gurugram ? (It takes about 2.5 hrs to travel from Dharuhera to Connaught Place). Very low. He most probably will take the ₹55k job as it saves him 3 hours of travelling everyday. The company in Connaught Place will probably have to do with lower quality labor or increase the offer and thus incur higher labor cost.

Haryana Roadways is one of the worst state road transportation companies (SRTCs) with only about 100 buses in operation in Gurugram on about 15 routes. If one attempts to go via public transport from Dharuhera to Gurugram, he or she is forced to take the very rickety illegal buses as the Haryana Roadways buses on the route are very infrequent. The private ones that operate are harassed and sometimes seized if they use the Haryana Roadways logo to escape harassment. If private bus operators existed and the construction on the highway is completed, the route will take about half an hour. Srikanth might take up a job a little further away from Gurgaon say at Hauz Khas @ ₹58k.

Now, back to my rant on BMTC and BMRCL. The old geezers in BMTC and their parent PSU- KSRTC will NEVER give up their legal monopoly. The ones in BMRCL will take another 10 years to realize that Majestic and MG Road no longer are the locus of business activity in Bengaluru city and that the locus has shifted to suburbs like Whitefield and Sarjapur. If Karnataka and other states stop harassing tech based taxi and bus aggregators like Ola, Uber, ZipGo and ends the legal monopoly of SRTCs and their subsidiaries, the transportation outcomes in our cities will vastly improve and believe me and the years of Urban Economics research- the resultant increase in agglomeration benefits will make everyone richer off.

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This article was later republished on Swarajya.

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My fascination with buses

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here is my philosophy behind taking buses:

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

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

This post is dedicated to three very special friends:

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

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

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How serious are we about Security?

How serious are we about security while traveling?

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

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

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

So what do we do?

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

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

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

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

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

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Decentralising Transit

Decentralisation: Decentralization or decentralisation is the process of redistributing or dispersing functions, powers, people or things away from a central location or authority.

English: Graphical comparison of centralized (A) and decentralized (B) system.
English: Graphical comparison of centralized (A) and decentralized (B) system. Image copyright Kes47, CC-BY-SA 3.0 Unported, available on the Wikimedia Commons.

Now, transport, especially public transport is a very crucial matter in the lives of most people. People need to travel from home to work, or home to school/college, or to meet someone, or whatever. Transit thus becomes a core component of daily life, and in most cases in Urban India, it single-handedly manages to become the most time consuming part of the day.

It is important to look at how transit is handled by the government and how Who Controls What makes a big difference.

Transport in India is usually under the purview of all three levels of government: Centre, State, and City. In many cases, the first may not apply, and in most cases, the third does not apply. Among these, it is almost impossible for the State Government to not be part of local transport since all State Transport Undertakings [STUs] are under the respective State governments.

Let us take a few examples here:

Mumbai, is possibly the only city in India right now where all three levels of government handle transit. The Suburban Rail, operated by Western and Central Railway comes under the Government of India. Metro Rail, Monorail, and MSRTC [ST] come under the Government of Maharashtra, while BEST comes under the Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai [MCGM. Other transcos, such as TMT, NMMT, VVMT, MBMT, KDMT, all come under their respective Municipal Corporations.

Chennai and Hyderabad, both come under the category of zero local government in public transport. The Chennai Suburban Rail and Hyderabad Multi Modal Transit System [MMTS], both come under Southern and South Central Railway, therefore under the Government of India. Metro Rail, as always comes under the State Government, while MTC/TNSTC/TSRTC also come under the Governments of Tamil Nadu and Telangana.

Pune is an interesting case. Barring a few ST routes connecting Swargate or Pimpri-Chinchwad to nearby towns in the district, all routes are handled by the PMPML, while the Suburban Rail is handled by Central Railway, thus reducing the role of the State Government to almost nothing.

Surat and Coimbatore are polar opposites. In the former, the Surat City Bus and Surat Citilink BRTS are handled by the Surat Municipal Corporation while in the latter, TNSTC – Coimbatore operates buses as a State-level body.

Delhi, again is different. DTC and DIMTS are operated by the Government of the National Capital Territory of Delhi, while the Delhi Metro comes under both Centre and State.

Other cities, such as Bangalore, Mysore, Visakhapatnam, Ahmedabad, et al come under similar arrangements of Centre-State-City.

Now, before going further, I’d suggest a quick pre-read: The Escape Velocity of JnNURM Buses, which talks about legal definitions of Transport Bodies, Special Purpose Vehicles and Para-Statal Organisations.

Now, what is the problem if a Central or State-level body operates a transco?

Barring Delhi, which is a city-state and the National Capital, the major problem when one of the two upper levels operate transport is bureaucracy and red-tapism.

Take the case of Mumbai. Any improvements in the Suburban Rail has to go all the way to Delhi where it has to be approved. The previous Railway Ministers, from Bihar and Bengal, never bothered. Under Suresh Prabhu, things are certainly changing with Railway Divisions being granted more autonomy.

Similarly, is the case of a Coimbatore. While routes, planning, repairs, etc. are carried out by the Coimbatore division, fare revisions and new buses both come under the Transport Ministry, but is mostly under Chief Minister’s office! This means, whether you are in Coimbatore [under TNSTC Coimbatore] or Madurai [under TNSTC Madurai], fares and new buses are dependent on the Chief Minister’s mood.

The question is clear: Why should someone sitting in New Delhi be in charge of a person going from CBD Belapur to Andheri? Or for that matter, why should a person sitting Bangalore be in a decision making capacity for someone who wants to take a bus from Hubli Airport to Hubli Railway Station?

The issue is not so bad in cities where the state government has a dedicated transport body, such as Jaipur City Transport Services Limited [JCTSL], BMTC and MTC, however, all three are Capital cities. In the case of Mysore, where the MCTD operates, it is similar to BTMC’s set up, however, still controlled by Bangalore. However, it is worthwhile to note that KaSRTC gives more autonomy to its divisions than TNSTC.

Indian Railways has set up Special-Purpose Vehicles [SPVs] for certain projects with state governments, key being the Mumbai Rail Vikas Corporation [MRVC] which is a 51-49 JV between the Ministry of Railways and the Government of Maharashtra. MRVC does not operate any services, but is responsible for development and upgradation of the Mumbai Suburban Railway Network.

It is interesting to note, that the three Union Territories: NCT Delhi, Puducherry and Chandigarh have a similar, yet different model. DTC, PRTC, and the CTU, all come under the Union Territory Administration, but the DTC and PRTC are corporations that come under the elected Territorial Government, while the CTU is an undertaking which comes under the Central Government.

So, what should be the ideal situation:

For cities with multiple Municipal bodies in the vicinity, and depending on their sizes, let the Municipal Bodies handle operations. Mumbai has got it right, with its 7 Transport Undertakings, each handling their vast territories, and also running a few services into their neighbouring territories. For railway, an SPV should be set-up between the Government of India, Government of Maharashtra and all the Municipal Corporations covered. If needed, neighbouring Pune’s model can be adopted, where the PMPML was formed by merger of the erstwhile PMT and PCMT to serve a larger metropolitan area.

For areas separated by state borders such as the Tricity Area consisting of Chandigarh-Mohali-Panchkula, or the core NCR of Delhi-Gurgaon-Faridabad-Ghaziabad-Noida, a slightly different model needs to be explored. Since Municipally operated services may not be able to cross into another state, each entity must ideally have a State-Operated Transport body solely to serve the region, with a organisational board consisting of board members from the city itself.
For cities like Bangalore, Mysore, Mangalore, Chennai, Coimbatore, a separate Corporation under either State or Municipal control with board members from the city must be set up. The Transco should have a jurisdiction of upto 100km from the City Centre.
The Central Government should move out of Local Transit entirely and let local bodies handle it. Similarly, the state should also try and localise transit.
The same principles can be applied to other matters, such as:
  • Water Supply
  • Power Supply
  • Roads
  • Other Utlities

Transit should be with the local government, not with the territorial ones. Click To Tweet

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Idea: Zeppelins in the Sky

Recently, I wrote an article for Swarajya about Nitin Gadkari’s plans to develop Highway Strips or Road Highways for defence and civilian purposes in India. You can read the article here.

A reader posted a comment, suggesting the use of Zeppelins as a mode of transport.

The LZ 129 Hindeburg on its flirst flight in 1936.
The LZ 129 Hindenburg on its first flight in 1936. Image in the Public Domain.

Now, Zeppelins [often incorrectly referred to as Blimps] have always fascinated me. A Blimp is a Non-Rigid Airship, while a Zeppelin is a Rigid Airship. Developed in the late 19th Century by the Count Ferdinand von Zeppelin, it was patented in Germany in 1895 and the United States in 1899. They made their first commercial appearance in 1910, operated by  Deutsche Luftschiffahrts-AG (DELAG). They were extensively inducted into the German military as well. They were phased out in 1937 after the Hinderburg Disaster at New Jersey. [Clip Below, else click here to view]

Post 1990,  Zeppelin Luftschifftechnik, a daughter enterprise of the Zeppelin conglomerate that built the original German Zeppelins, has been developing Zeppelin “New Technology” (NT) airships, which are semi-rigid vessels.

Now, the important thing to remember that Zeppelins were phased out, their hangers demolished and the all supporting infrastructure disbanded. They were completely phased out in favour of Fixed-wing aircraft, which is where the problem is.

Fixed-Wing aircraft, which we fly in, the aeroplanes, have a major disadvantage; fuel consumption.

As per SuchindranathAiyer’s comment: In winged aircraft, 75% of fuel is spent on “lift” which is saved by using Zepellins. Again, Zepellin have last mile advantage as they can come to Mooring Towers in the city center. They require amazingly less support infrastructure unlike Railways and Airlines. All this would reflect in low travel costs.

This takes us back to my first article on Swarajya where I spoke on the need to invest in Railways as opposed to Aviation because of the slow depletion of fossil fuels.

However, since Zeppelins consume lesser fuel, they can operate at cheaper rates, thus making them more viable as long term alternatives to both winged aviation as well as rail.

The mooring towers can be built in a conveniently accessible location, such as around Kashmere Gate in Delhi, the Sion Causeway in Mumbai, Shanthinagar in Bengaluru, Koyambedu in Chennai. The Terminal building can be built on the lines of a Metro station. The hangars can be built elsewhere where the airships can go after the trip is completed. Hangars can also be built one atop another and land usage can be minimised.

Zeppelins were phased out in 1937. Blimps are still in use, but rarely for long distance transport. While Zeppelins used Hydrogen as the gas to hold them afloat, modern Blimps use Helium to do the same.

It is 2016, technology has evolved massively, research has massively increased in the field of elements and gases as well as in safer docking techniques. Disasters like the Hindenburg crash can be averted with proper use of technology. With research being done for Solar-powered aircraft, Zeppelins too can be made Solar-powered.

The Zeppelin can be good for Short-to-Medium distance transport, such as:

  • Mumbai-Valsad-Surat [upto Ahmedabad will anyway be connected by the Bullet Train]
  • Mumbai-Pune-Satara-Kolhapur
  • Panaji-Belgaum-Hubli
  • Bengaluru-Mysore-Madikeri
  • Palakkad-Coimbatore-Salem
  • Chennai-Mamallapuram-Puducherry
  • Chennai-Tirupathi
  • Hyderabad-Vijaywada-Amaravati

These routes can have intermediate stops such as multiple pick up points. For example, Mumbai [which currently has 5 Outstation Railway Termini, and 5 State Transport Bus Terminals] can have multiple mooring towers such as Sion, Borivali, Chembur, Mulund, as well as Vashi and CBD Belapur in Navi Mumbai.

The unfortunate incident involving the Hindeburg [resulting in 36 deaths] brought development in airships to a grinding halt. If disasters such as Air India Express Flight 812 [which overshot the runway at Mangalore in 2010, killing 158 people] had happened back then, would it have brought development of winged-aircraft to a halt as well?

Of course, if the sector is opened up to the Private Sector, expect several carriers to light up their buses with LEDs and call themselves LED Zeppelin. On a related note, Led Zeppelin’s self titled debut album had a picture of the Hindenburg Disaster as the album cover.

After all this, you can probably sing “Hawa Mein Udti Jaaye, Oh mera LED wala Zeppelin Helium ka”.

Zeppelins in the Sky, Definitely Worth a Try!

On a related note, in 2016, the Agra-based Aerial Delivery Research and Development Establishment (ADRDE), a division of the Defence Research Development Organisation [DRDO], developed Nakshatra, an unmanned Helium-filled airship for surveillance. This comes four years after a similar system called Akashdeep.

Zeppelins in the Sky, Definitely Worth a Try! Click To Tweet

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