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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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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Vehicle Manufacturers To Launch Deradicalisation Program

Vehicle manufacturers across the world have come together to launch a ‘dereadicalisation program’ to prevent trucks from ramming into people.

Given the alarming rate at which occurrences of trucks ramming into crowds have been happening off late, major manufacturers across the globe have come together to form the Association For Super-prevention Of Self-radicalised-trucks (AFSOS). AFSOS will have units across the world, to cater to local markets areas in order to prevent such incidents in future.

The Indian branch, AFSOS India (AFSOS-I), comprising of members from Indian auto majors such as Volvo, Scania, BharatBenz, Ashok Leyland, Tata, Eicher and Mahindra is launching a five-step program towards countering such problems in the future. Named the Deradicalisation in Indian Road Trucks (DIRT), the program aims to do the following:

  1. Train the trucks to not ram into living objects. Life is life. Live and let live. Do not ram yourself into living objects.
  2.  Train the trucks in non-discriminatory practices. Do not discriminate people on the road as holiday-revellers or people who are in-sync with your beliefs.
  3. Train the trucks to serve their purpose. A truck is mainly used to carry goods. Do that. Don’t go ramming into people. Who’ll carry the good then?
  4. Train the trucks to meditate, or even do yoga. Given that we have finally come to terms that meditation is calming (something Yogis have been saying for years),  let the trucks do Yoga.
  5. Train the trucks to love one another. Love is paramount. Love is peace.

AFSOS-I has decided to refrain from asking Liberal voices to pipe down. They have decided to speak up, after AFSOS-US blamed immigrant trucks as the problem. AFSOS-I has decided to promote ‘Multivehicleism’ to fight ‘Racist Vehiclephobia’, after following a poll by noted Editor and Commentator of ABP News, Kanchan Gupta.

 

P.S: Find this insensitive? Think this is a mad post in a case of terrorism and people losing lives? Let’s not blame trucks or guns then; they’re just tools. As they said in the olden days, Guns Don’t Kill People, People Kill People. Trucks don’t kill people, people kill people.

P.P.S: Afsos is a Hindi/Urdu term for Regret or Tragic, mostly the former.

 

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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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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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Uber is focusing on a lot more apart from Transport

Uber has off late being doing a lot more apart from Transport. Isn’t that a good thing? It improves the scope and impact on Transport. People seem to view transport as just moving from one place to another, but the larger point is, it includes a lot more. For many of us, a daily commute is a new learning experience. Ola did the same with Ola Cafe, but they didn’t gauge the market correctly, thus leading to a premature death, similar to Flipkart’s Flyte Music Store shutting down in 2013, when Apple iTunes entered the Indian market. Both Flyte and Ola Cafe shut down when the competition was relatively low.

Why don’t people understand the need for diversity within the transport ecosystem? Is it that hard to understand? Is the traditional get into a train and let the conductor tear a ticket the only way to travel? Is driving your own car the only way to travel? Technological disruption cannot be ignored. It is the same disruption that allows for multiple possibilities in any sector, be it transport or food.

Below is an article from the Daily Caller on this matter.

What are your thoughts? Do leave them in the comments below.

Uber’s New Ventures Have Little To Do With Their Transportation

Uber is full steam ahead on their mission to permeate every aspect of the service industry by integrating far more than ride-sharing. The introduction of “Uber + Travel” and “UberLIFE” showcases that the ride-hailing company isn’t satisfied with its current global stature. The new features will be available in China over the coming months, and will…

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Travis takes the Bus

The Uber guy took a bus. Yes, that’s right.

Travis Kalanick, Founder and CEO of Uber, the ride-sharing app was in India recently, where he was present as an invitee to the Launch program of the Government of India’s Start-Up India program.

Post this event in Delhi, he made his way to Mumbai for an event at IIT-Bombay where he spoke about Entrepreneurship and Jugaad with Ronnie Screwvala, Founder and Former CEO of the UTV Group.

This is what Travis had to say, after he took a ride in a BEST bus.

Travis runs a company that is valued at $20billion. Never mind the fact that Uber has been banned in several countries, and several parts of India as well, for various reasons, from Regulatory issues, to Safety, to flouting Online Transaction Norms to apparent Monopolisation of the market.

All said and done, Uber has a significant presence in India. It has done better than its desi competition Ola Cabs, which has launched services such as Ola Cafe, Ola Market, etc to keep up with the competition. Uber has also eaten into a significant chunk of not only BESTs revenue, but the revenue of many Transcos across the globe.

When the CEO of a ridesharing company takes a bus, and talks of Jugaad, it means something. The impact of this, is reasonably significant.

I’m going to take this as a reminder that BMTC is getting a new Intelligent Transport System, which, from what is visible is a Trimax Project.

The new BMTC ITS will soon provide live data of buses on an app, similar to what BEST had proposed and what even NMMT had mentioned.

Travis came to India to talk at the launch Startup India. The need of the hour is for an Indian StartUp to set up a proper Research and Development firm in India with partnership or support of international players so that we can have a set of Intelligent Transit Systems in India which will br better suited for Indian projects, since each Transco [road, rail and water] in India has a different story.

We hope that Startup India results in something as bright as this post itself. Indian startups have the potential to do wonders in the field of transport. Trimax revolutionised the Ticketing scene across India, and went one step further in the field of Temple Management as well. The next few years are crucial as companies like Uber and Ola have been eating up into revenues of various Transcos and some of them, like BEST, PMPML, and BMTC are doing their bit to innovate to bring back the passengers and thus, give us more options on the road.

Remember, Travis took BEST, so let’s make BEST great again!

You can take an NMMT or a TMT, but if you’re within MCGM territory, go ahead, take a BEST. Bring out the BEST within you.

You could also book thru Hawala Travels.

When @travisK took a BEST bus! Click To Tweet

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

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Building a Smart Bus Stop

What is a Smart Bus Stop?

You could say that a bus stop is, well, just a bus stop. Or is it?

Transport for London recently debuted a new Bus Stop display at Waterloo Bride in London. Now, this bus stop displays arrivals and departures. A regular timetable you could say.

Waterloo Bridge - South Bank bus stop P where Transport for London (TfL) are trialling e-ink displays showing bus route information and live arrival information.
Waterloo Bridge – South Bank bus stop P where Transport for London (TfL) are trialling e-ink displays showing bus route information and live arrival information. Image copyright Chris McKenna, CC-BY-SA 4.0 International, available on the Wikimedia Commons.

My first experience with similar installations in India was in Bangalore at the Shanthinagar TTMC. There was a LED display with a wireless reception unit. It displayed the arrivals of Vayu Vajra buses towards the Airport in Kannada and English. This was followed by one in Mumbai along the Western Express Highway which displayed the ETAs of all buses in Marathi, and was pretty accurate. This was pretty much explained, in a previous post. In our transport-obsessed group, we have several discussions relating to buses and bus stops. During one of our conversations, we discussed a similar set-up at several bus stops along Mettupalayam Road in Coimbatore by the Corporation of Coimbatore for TNSTC buses.

A bus stop with a scrolling LED display in Coimbatore.
A bus stop with a scrolling LED display in Coimbatore. Image copyright Srikanth Ramakrishnan, CC-BY-SA 3.0 Unported, available on the Wikimedia Commons.

This display, in Tamil shows the time, on the left, 05:37, which from the image metadata, I can gather is 05.37 in the evening, and the temperature 24°C. In between the two is the bus stop name: Vadakovai. The second line, which is scrolling, currently displays “Do not smoke here”. I’ve been told that it showed ETAs when it picked up an ETA. How this happened, however is a mystery. These displays appeared in 2012 and mysteriously vanished a year later.

Now, let us go deeper, and try and come up with an ideal ‘Smart Bus Stop’ shall we?

ACCESSIBILITY

An accessible bus stop in Paris.
An accessible bus stop in Paris. Image copyright jean-louis Zimmermann, CC 2.0 Generic, available on the Wikimedia Commons.

The most crucial aspect of a bus stop is accessibility. Even if the bus stop is just a unipole like the BEST bus stops in Mumbai, the area around the bus stop must be marked, tiled, and leveled for people who are differently-abled. Ramps must be provided for both wheelchair-bound passengers as well as those with motor disabilities.

LEVEL BOARDING

An example Level Boarding.
An example Level Boarding. Image copyright ByteOfKnowledge, CC-BY-SA 4.0 International, available on the Wikimedia Commons.

Level boarding refers to the level of the floor of the bus being at the same level as the platform, similar to Metro Rail and BRT systems.

The advantages of level boarding is simple: It allows people to board and disembark faster, therefore reducing crowds at the exits. In the case of a BRTS bus, the platform can be raised as the doors are on the right-hand side and thus there are no steps. However, to achieve this on regular buses and bus stops, which are normally at a foot’s height from the road level, a low-floor bus would be required.

DYNAMIC INFORMATION DISPLAY

A Bus Stop with a Display Unit at Christchurch.
A Bus Stop with a Display Unit at Christchurch. Image copyright Chris Downer, CC-BY-SA 2.0 Generic, available on Geograph/Wikimedia Commons.

All bus stops need to be able to display details of buses, their arrival, route, in a dynamic manner. Digital signage similar to what Transport for London or the Corporation of Coimbatore did. When this is possible for trains, why not buses? Why do people who are waiting at a bus stop have to rely on their instinct to know when the next bus is due? Why can’t they just look up at a board and see where the bus is going? It would be cheaper to set up Display Units to show when the next bus is expected, rather than asking users to lookup an app or send a text message.

EASE OF USE

A bus stop with a box for Visually-Impaired people to hear details of incoming buses at Sealife Centre.
A bus stop with a box for Visually-Impaired people to hear details of incoming buses at Sealife Centre. Image copyright Paul Gillet, CC-BY-SA 2.0 Generic, available on the Wikimedia Commons/Geograph.

While this deals with the same as Accessibility as discussed above, this deals with how a commuter uses the bus stop rather than gets to it. The bus stop should have a tactile path around it, as well as a device to announce the bus routes stopping there. It can have a panel with the route details embossed in Braille as well. If the system picks up a bus less than 100 metres away, it can automatically announce the number.

The Bottom Line

So here are what a smart bus-stop needs, assuming that the buses on the service are low-floor buses with a GPS-based tracking unit to broadcast their location.

  1. Accessible for people with motor disabilities, differently-abled passengers, with a tactile path for the visually impaired.
  2. Have an information display unit connected to a central network to show the arrivals of buses and their routes.
  3. Announce route information, either based on availability [from GPS], or on request [by pressing a button].
  4. Incorporate level boarding for buses to speed up the process of getting on or getting off a bus, as well as reduce the effort taken in doing so.

 

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How Amaravati can be a True Smart City

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

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

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

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

Theoretical Stuff

Start a new unified transit body

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

Keep out of existing Establishments

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

Practical Stuff

Underground Metro Corridors

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

Bus Rapid Transit Systems

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

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

Smart Buses

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

Cycle-Friendliness

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

Accessibility

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

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

Smart Design and Technology

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

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

Common Payment instrument

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

TAXIS and autos

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

Water Transport

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

 

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

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

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Shooting a Bullet from Mumbai to Ahmedabad

The Bullet train is an often talked about thing these days, for good reasons too.

Officially known in Japan as the Shinkansen, meaning “New Trunk Line”, the Bullet Train got this name because of the shape of the train which initially resembled that of a bullet.

The original Shinkansen 0 Series 'Bullet Train' in 1967.
The original Shinkansen 0 Series ‘Bullet Train’ in 1967. Image copyright Roger Wollstadt, CC-BY-SA 2.0 Generic, available on the Wikimedia Commons

Of course, there are many detractors, all with pointless reasons to oppose the project. Some say it is financially nonviable, some say that it is redundant in the age of air travel, some say it will be expensive to travel on.

Let’s just go thru the Shinkansen that operates in Japan, and compare it with India.

Proposals for high speed rail had been going on since the 1930s. Prior to the Shinkansen, Japan’s rail system consisted of 1067mm Narrow Gauge railway lines which took roundabout routes due to difficult terrain. In 1957, the 3000 Series SE Romancecar, capable of attaining a record breaking high speed of 145km/hr for  Narrow Gauge was introduced. Banking on the success of an NG train achieving such speeds, Japan decided to build a High Speed Rail system that would run on a 1435mm Standard Gauge track.

With Government sanctions secured in the end of 1958, Construction began at the end of the first quarter of the following year [April 1959]. The cost then was estimated to be ¥200billion, which came in the form of Government loans, Railway Bonds, and a low-interest World Bank loan of $80million. The 550km line from Tokyo to Osaka was thrown open in October 1964 for the General Public, just before the Tokyo Olympics. The existing Limited Express train covered the distance in 6hours and 40 mins. At 210 km/hr, the Shinkansen took four hours for the same, a journey which then took 3hours by 1965 thanks to increased speeds. Today, the line is capable of handling a high speed of 285km/hr, thereby reducing the journey time between the two cities to 2hours and 22minutes!

The fare from Tokyo to Shin-Osaka is ¥14,104 for adults on the Hikari and Kodoma services, and ¥14,450 on the faster Nozomi service. This translates to roughly ₹7715 and ₹7,911 respectively which works out to an average of 25 yen per kilometre, or 14 rupees per kilometre.

Now what does the Shinkansen have that makes it so fast?

Route

All Shinkansen tracks, while at grade for most part, do not have any crossings with roads. They are completely grade separated, have tunnels and bridges thru obstacles and rough terrain, and are cut off from the regular tracks. This means, that slow trains, freight trains, all have no impact on the Shinkansen. This would make it a super win-win situation in Mumbai itself because of the severe congestion on the Western Railway network.

Track

Shinkansen track at Toyohashi station.
Shinkansen track at Toyohashi station. Image copyright Tennen-Gas, CC-BY-SA 3.0 Unported, available on the Wikimedia Commons.

Shinkansen tracks are 1435mm wide in comparison to the Japanese Narrow Gauge of 1067mm. India traditionally uses 1676mm Broad Gauge on Indian Railways. Metre Gauge tracks of 1000mm width are slowly being phased out in favour of Broad Gauge, also known as Indian Gauge. Line 1 of the Kolkata Metro and the Red, Yellow and Blue Lines of the Delhi Metro are rapid transit systems in India that run on Broad Gauge, while all other Rapid Transit Systems use the 1435mm Standard Gauge. The Shinkansen network uses a combination of both ballasted as well as ballastless tracks, with the latter being used in sections such as viaducts and tunnels.

Signalling

Automatic Signalling is used. All operations are automated at a Central Control Room, eliminating trackside signals that are used conventionally. As of now, advanced signalling is only used on Metro corridors in India.

Traction

The Shinkansen operates on a 25kiloVolt Alternating Current system of electrification. This is the same as Indian Railways and most Metro Railway projects, thus making it the simplest of Shinkansen features to implement in India.

Trains

All trains are Electrical Multiple Units [EMUs]. They are lightweight and air-sealed for greater speeds and stability. All axles are powered in the train, enabling higher acceleration and lesser time wastage during stoppages.

 JR East Shinkansen Lineup at Niigata.
JR East Shinkansen Lineup at Niigata. Image copyright Rsa, CC-BY-SA 3.0 Unported, available on the Wikimedia Commons.

Now, coming back to India

Mumbai is situated at an altitude of 14m above mean sea level, while Ahmedabad is located at 54m. Between the two cities, there is no rough terrain, but a simple incline. Rivers on this route include the Ulhas River, the Narmada, the Tapi, the Mahi and the Sabarmati. Major cities on the route, not counting the fact that the Southern termini is the Financial Capital of India, include Surat, India’s Diamond Hub and Vadodara.

The distance between Mumbai Central and Ahmedabad Junction is 493km, and presently takes 6 hours 25 minutes at a cost of ₹1000 for an AC chair car and ₹1900 in an AC Executive Chair Car in the fastest train on the route – The Shatabdi Express. Between Mumbai Central and Borivali, it runs slower than a Fast Local, taking 29 minutes for the journey, while a local takes 27 minutes, mainly due to congestion on the network. There are around 70 trains on this route at present. The High-Speed Rail corridor will be 508km long and will feature a 21km undersea tunnel North of the Thane Creek towards Virar before coming back up and continuing elevated.

The impact of this line is something most detractors fail to see. Critics say that the line is being favoured because the Prime Minister and Railway Minister hail from these two states.  What they forget is that Mumbai to Ahmedabad is among the highest density corridors of passenger transport in a day. Apart from this, this route is part of the Delhi-Mumbai Industrial Corridor. The Government must seriously consider the extension of this line from Mumbai to Pune as well, thus connecting the two most important cities of both Maharashtra and Gujarat.

Further, the feasibility study has recommended that fares along this route should be the 1.5 times First Class AC fares, which is approximately ₹2200 right now on the Mumbai-Ahmedabad Duronto Express. This is quite reasonable for the distance, given the time it achieves this in.

In comparison, taking Private Metro Lines into consideration; we see that the two most expensive lines are Mumbai Metro 1, which charges ₹45 for 11km, Rapid Metro Gurgaon, which charges a ₹20 flat fare for 5km. It is obvious that the High Speed Rail will cost less than most skeptics assume.

A study by IIM-Bangalore has come to the conclusion that in order to break even and prepay loans, the train would have to carry 88,000 to 118,000 passengers per day, at an approximate travel cost of ₹5 per km per passenger. This, with a little extra calculations, results in a single one way journey coming up to ~₹2600.

A while ago, Delhi Chief Minister, Arvind Kejriwal, the man who came up with the brilliant Odd-Even formula for Delhi, estimated that it would cost ₹75,000 for a one-way ticket for this journey, one which multiple people have tried to justify from an economic viewpoint on Quora. Both are wrong, for reasons known to all. For starters, Kejriwal is the CM of Delhi, not Maharashtra or Gujarat, where the line is to come up, nor is he the Railway Minister or an Economist. Two, the deal that Japan and India have agreed to is not what everyone is using for their calculations.

Japan is giving India a loan of ₹79,000crore at an interest rate of 0.1%, with India having to pay back this loan over a 50 year period with a 15 year moratorium prior to that. In common language, India starts paying the loan back 15 years after the loan period begins. This is cheaper than the Delhi Metro’s JICA loan. A propaganda article by Troll.in, sometimes masquerading as Scroll.in calls it a Wasteful Expenditure. Why? It fails to mention that the money will be spent over 7 years, and not one year as the article claims. As stated, haters will continue to hate, in spite this particular corridor having been sanctioned by the previous government.

Why not Conventional Rail?

The Bhopal Shatabdi Express, with LHB Coaches, is the fastest train in India with a top speed of 150km/hr.
The Bhopal Shatabdi Express, with LHB Coaches, is the fastest train in India with a top speed of 150km/hr. Image copyright Ayushrocks, Public Domain.

This is an often asked question. People ask, why not improve the existing rail network?

Simple, Japan is offering the loan for export of the Shinkansen ONLY. It will also transfer some Technology to us so that we can use it for future lines. This money cannot be used for any other purpose.

This does not meant that the Conventional Railway Network will take a backseat or be discontinued. It just means both will coexist. Like a Bus Transport company has Regular and AC services.

But then, why not Maglev?

Shanghai Maglev Train.
Shanghai Maglev Train. Image copyright JakeLM, CC-BY-SA 2.5 Generic, available on the Wikimedia Commons.

Another often asked question here is: Why not Magnetic Levitation aka Maglev, which offers speeds of upto 431km/hr against the Shinkansen high speed of 320km/hr?

China uses a Maglev in in Shanghai. The line is a completely elevated one connecting the city and its airport. In a Maglev, the tracks are designed in such a manner that the train glides over it. Thus, the entire system is automated and both the tracks and the train itself are run by Computers. The Shanghai Transrapid was built by many companies. The tracks were built by local Chinese firms, while the train itself is German, having been built by ThyssenKrupp and Siemens.

Cost of investment is high, as high or higher than the Shinkansen, but not at the same cost of the Shinkansen, keeping in mind the loan and the associated conditions.

The Bottom Line

The Bullet Train between Mumbai and Ahmedabad is crucial for the Nation. It would help in redrawing the lifestyle and work culture of India, as well as restructure Western India as a transport hub. The biggest beneficiary of this would be Diamond Merchants in Surat, and along with that, the Smart City projects of GIFT City, DREAM City, and the Dholera SEZ.

Other routes that should be considered:

  • Chennai – Bangalore – Mangalore
  • Chennai – Coimbatore – Cochin
  • Delhi -Gurgaon – Jaipur
  • Pune – Hyderabad – Vijaywada

Also Read: What The Mumbai-Ahmedabad Bullet Train Means For The Region on Swarajya.

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