The Extra Tax on AC Buses needs to go

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What is your take on this?

 

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#YogaDay special: Yoga and its contribution to Public Transport

Today is International Yoga Day, something that was recognised by the United Nations last year.

Not many people are aware of the immense contributions that Yoga has had on Public Transport.

We often hear negative news about Staff and Employees of Transcos allegedly harassing commuters. Sometimes, we also hear about bus drivers moving down people. While, I don’t want to get into the specifics of all of this, let us look into the root cause of all of this.

All of them have a common cause: Stress.
A bus driver and conductors job is most certainly not the easiest task in the world. It requires a lot of skill and patience. Drivers have to put up with traffic jams, negligent and rash drivers, bad roads, and also passengers who don’t board/disembark through proper doorways or at specific bus stops. This adds to a lot of stress.
A conductor has to deal with people not giving change, rude passengers, passengers boarding/disembarking via the wrong pathways or at bus stops, people not moving to emptier sections of the bus, etc. This, again adds to the stress.
Now, multiply these instance by multiple passengers, number of trips, depot officials asking for fuel reports and fare collections, and you have a perfect recipe for a Nervous Breakdown.

To reduce the load on the staff, several Transcos decided to take up Employee Care measures by introducing Yoga, and Meditions sessions.

MTC has mandatory yoga sessions for staff involved in accidents. They also have sessions to prevent a stress overload, as well as sessions on effective communication and life skills. Similarly, KaSRTC, too has sent its staff to Yoga and rehabilitation to help reduce alcoholism among its staff members.

Others, such as BEST, MSRTC, and BMTC too have had sessions on meditation, anger management, and relaxation to keep staff at ease during long working schedules in order to help reduce stress levels and increase productivity.

Yoga is something we should be proud of. It is pretty much a Soft Power that originated in India. It was earlier laughed off by critics, but today is accepted as an international practice.

Hats off to the government for promoting Yoga as a stress-buster and natural relaxant. If people practiced Yoga on a regular basis, it would help everyone. A stress-free and relaxed person has the ability to keep calm in tense situations, and altercations may be avoided. If everyone is in such a state, imagine the transport scenario will also be one which people would look forward to.

#YogaDay Special: How Yoga is beneficial to Public Transport. Click To Tweet

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New Innings for BEST

In another revolutionary move, BEST has decided to focus on becoming more public-transport centric and turn itself from a loss making body to a profitable one. In other words, BEST has decided to become the BEST, by taking on NMMT and TMT head-on.

Update: BEST has announced reduced bus fares and passes from 01-07-16. AC passes are back to ₹150, with a new Child rate for children under 12. Happy Hours have been introduced as well. More details here: BEST Fare Revision 2016

BEST has decided a reshuffle of its AC routes, cancelling two, reconsidering a few and proposing a few more!

Now, the interesting thing is that BEST is reconsidering two routes via T2 of the Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport. BEST earlier ran dedicated AC express routes from the airport such as A1Express from T2 to CBD Belapur Bus Station and A14Express to Cadbury Junction. Among the routes being canceled are A76Express from Gorai Depot to NSCI Worli via the Bandra Worli Sea Link and AS592 from Kopar Khairane to NSCI Worli. Routes that almost got scrapped include:

  • AS9 from Ghatkopar Depot to Dr. Shyama Prasad Mookherjee Chowk
  • A74Express from Oshiwara Depot to NSCI Worli
  • A75Express from Hirandani Powai to NSCI Worli
  • A77Express from Gorai Depot to BKC Telephone Exchange

Routes that are being proposed include:

  • AS71 from Fishermen Colony, Mahim to Mira Road East, via CSIA T2
  • AS72 from Rani Laxmi Chowk, Sion to Bhayendar East, via CSIA T2
  • As415 from Agarkar Chowk to SEEPZ via Marol Depot
A lit of canceled, proposed BEST AC Routes
A list of canceled, proposed BEST AC Routes

Apart from this, 50 routes across the 27 depots are slated to be cancelled.

What started all this?

A simple change in the BEST committee in the MCGM. After close to a decade, the BJP took over the committee from the Shiv Sena. Rather ironic, given that the Sena is anti-Toll while the BJP is pro-Toll. If you recall, it was the Sena that hiked the fares of BEST in 2015, first in February and then in April in 2015.

A quick recap would show that the BJP has always been adept at providing good transport wherever it has been, be it in the form of the Mumbai-Pune or Ahmedabad-Vadodara Expressways, the BRTS corridors in Ahmedabad, Rajkot, Surat, Bhopal and Indore, BMTC and KSRTC which showed a massive turnaround under R Ashoka, the erstwhile Transport Minister of Karnataka.

Back in 2005, BEST, had introduced the Smart Card system with Kaizen Automation, in the form of the Go Mumbai smart card, which was a common mobility smart card for both BEST buses as well as trains on the Suburban Railway. These were subsequently phased out in favour of the present Trimax system that BEST uses.

Rebranding

BEST, which officially turns 70 in its current form next year, and currently has a debt burden of ₹2,250 crore, plans to change its logo as well the colour of the buses in a major move to rebrand itself.

BEST has written to the Sir JJ Insititute of Applied Arts, one of the city’s premier art institutes to guide it in the process. The colour change is part of an exercise to make BEST more acceptable among customers.

The Mumbai Monorail, operated by the MMRDA, got the National Institute of Design [NID], Ahmedabad to design its coaches. One hopes that BEST too, would reach out to NID, or maybe even the Centre for Enviornment, Planning and Technology [CEPT], Ahmedabad for some ideas in design and operations.

Passes

Among other changes, are the rates of passes, monthly, as well as daily passes.

While the Major changes are the the reduction of the Monthly AC bus pass from ₹4800 to ₹3300, a significant change is the reduction of the Magic Daily Passes:

  • Magic AC: ₹200 to ₹150.
  • Magic Non-AC: ₹70 to ₹51.
  • Suburban Pass: ₹50 to ₹36.
  • Island City/Town: ₹40 to ₹29.

However, these are valid only during the Happy Hour period of 11am to 5pm.

The question here is, if the pass is cheaper post 11am, nobody would buy a pass before that. An alternative explanation is that passes purchased between 11am and 5pm are not valid during the rest of the day, which is an inconvenience to those who might purchase a pass after 11am, but may need to use it at 9pm. I guess, an official explanation from BEST would be the best thing to wait for.

While, BEST currently has good integration with the Suburban Rail, what is desired it better integration with the Metro, Monorail, and MSRTC services.

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[Photos] Depots of Luxury

Some bus depots are lucky. They house various kinds of buses, old, new, fancy, premium, luxury, you name it.

In this post, I’m going to talk about luxury buses [Branded as such] of two specific depots: The Parel Depot which comes under the Mumbai division of MSRTC and Depot No. 4 of KSRTC’s Bangalore division. And no, Depot #4 here is not the same depot where Bus no 8954 was stationed.

MSRTC

Featuring the standard bus that almost all STUs in India have, the Volvo B7R, MSRTC successfully runs these buses on the Dadar-Pune, Thane-Swargate, Pune-Nashik, Mumbai-Aurangabad and Pune-Aurangabad routes, mostly as a non-stop service without a conductor. Branded as the Shivneri- a 17th century fort located in Junnar, Pune, where Chhatrapati Shivaji was born, it briefly made an appearance on the Kandivali-BKC route as the Shivneri Corporate. They were given a minor overhaul in 2015 with LED displays displaying the route up front.

MSRTC's Shivneri Volvo.
MSRTC’s Shivneri Volvo. Image copyright Srikanth Ramakrishnan, CC-BY-SA 4.0 International, available on the Wikimedia Commons.

In 2015 MSRTC started running trials of Scania’s Metrolink series. At that point, KSRTC had already completed trials of the twin-rear-axled Scania MetroLink and was in talks to procure them. MSRTC finally inducted several single-rear-axled buses into its fleet under the Shivneri brand. They are mostly seen on the Dadar East to Pune Station route.

MSRTC Scania Shivneri
MSRTC’s Shivneri Scania. Image copyright Srikanth Ramakrishnan, CC-BY-SA 4.0 International, available on the Wikimedia Commons.

Now, when an STU has a Volvo B7R, natural progression is when it acquires a Volvo B9R. And thus, MSRTC brought out the Ashwamedh, named after the Ashvamedha horse sacrifice ritual of the Vedic times. If, it was indeed an Ashwamedh sacrifice, MSRTC would probably conquering territories under Ashwamedh routes from competition, be it private or another STU. The Ashwamedh has the same fare structure as the Shivneri and is offically still called Shivneri on the ticketing system.

MSRTC's Ashwamedh Volvo.
MSRTC’s Ashwamedh Volvo. Image copyright Srikanth Ramakrishnan, CC-BY-SA 4.0 International, available on the Wikimedia Commons.

Evidently someone at the MSRTC design department was a fan of Francis Ford Coppola’s The Godfather and decided to stick a picture of a Horse’s Head on the side of the bus. This person was also a Nationalist and put the Tiranga on the side, thus making this an ideal bus on the Delhi-Lahore route, to capture and recapture territory.

Now, as competition to the most outrageous livery, MSRTC decided it go a step further. It had a single rear axle Scania, might as well go for a twin rear axle one as well right? And thus, the Scania Ashwamedh was born.

MSRTC's Ashwamedh Scania.
MSRTC’s Ashwamedh Scania. Image copyright Srikanth Ramakrishnan, CC-BY-SA 4.0 International, available on the Wikimedia Commons.

This was not only competition to the previous Ashwamedh, but also, to KSRTC’s buses. The Scania Ashwamedh was originally meant for the Mumbai Central – Swargate – Hyderabad route, but was ultimately extended to the Dadar-Pune Station and Dadar – Swargate routes.

KSRTC

KSRTC has been the pioneer of intercity Volvo buses for a long time. It operates long distance routes from Mangalore, Mysore and Bangalore to Chennai, Trivandrum, Shirdi, Hyderabad, Mumbai, and Pune.

The original Airavat, as KSRTC named their Volvo B7Rs, retains the same livery even today. Here is a picture of the Airvat, clicked in 2007.

KSRTC's Airavat Volvo.
KSRTC’s Airavat Volvo. Image copyright Girish, CC-BY-2.0 SA Generic, available on the Wikimedia Commons.

The Airavat refers to the Airavata, the mythical white elephant that carries the Hindu god Indra. The bus itself is white in colour, and well, one could very well argue that it looks like an elephant.

Natural progression resulted in KSRTC getting the Volvo B9R, named the Airavat Club Class, this was possibly what made MSRTC get the livery on their Ashwamedh Scanias.

KSRTC's Airavat Club Class Volvo.
KSRTC’s Airavat Club Class Volvo. Image copyright Srikanth Ramakrishnan, CC-BY-SA 4.0 International, available on the Wikimedia Commons.

This was followed by the Airavat Bliss and the Airavat Superia. Both featured an in-house pantry, with the Superia featured a Chemical Toilet.

Pictures of these two will make it here later. KSRTC has two low resolution pictures on its website.

Now, being the pioneer in luxury services, you can’t expect KSRTC to be behind the rest can you? No, thus, KSRTC became the first transco to get Scania MetroLink buses with a twin rear axle.

KSRTC's Airavat Diamond Class Scania.
KSRTC’s Airavat Diamond Class Scania. Image copyright Srikanth Ramakrishnan, CC-BY-SA 4.0 International, available on the Wikimedia Commons.

Nicknamed as the Airavat Diamond Class, it is currently KSRTC’s most premium service. Ticket prices are more or less on par with the Airavat Club Class.

The tagline on the side of both the Club Class and the Diamond Class says Sleep Like a Baby, and has a picture of a baby on a pram. Of course, it also features a teddy bear and a rubber ducky, so one is left scratching their heads wondering if it has a bath tub on the inside.

All said and done, I am a supporter of Capitalism and believe in Privatisation of certain services and Private Participation in essential services. However, I for one am not too enthused with Premium buses owned by Private Transport Companies for one simple reason: Bad maintenance. Private Transcos never maintain their buses well. One can observe Neeta Travels with either the Engine compartment open or missing its cover. Very few exceptions exist, such as Conti Travels or ABTX Travels, both based out of Coimbatore.

Have a look at some of the premium buses offered by MSRTC and KSRTC. Click To Tweet

Note: Shivneri Bus without AC =Hirkani. Airavat Bus without AC =Rajhamsa.

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The Escape Velocity of JnNURM buses

The Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission [JnNURM] is probably one of the most well known Government schemes that happened from 2005 to 2014. Anyone living in a big city would know what JnNURM is purely because of the ugly JnNURM logo being plastered everywhere, from buses to flyovers and ultimately to ultrasonic flow-meters used to measure water flow in underground supply systems.

Logo of the Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission [JnNURM].
Logo of the Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission [JnNURM]. Image in Public Domain.

Now flyovers, bridges, skywalks, underpasses, et al, are out of the purview of this article. The discussion is about buses. In 2013, it was announced that the Central government was willing to fund the allotment of an additional 10,000 buses and development of ancillary infrastructure such as Depots, Workshops and Control Rooms.

In a letter addressed to the Chief Secretaries, Principal Secretaries of all States and UTs, Municipal Commissioners and Heads of State Transport Undertakings, the Ministry of Urban Development, Government of India, laid down some important guidelines.

Among the various points mentioned in the above document; Point 3 talks about Definitions. It defines State as a State or Union Territory, a city as a City, Agglomeration, or Metropolitan area defined by the State, and Special Purpose Vehicle [SPV] as meant to run bus services within a city. It also states that existing corporations such as BEST, DTC, BMTC et al, also come under the definition of an SPV. A crucial thing to note here is Point 3.4 which talks about Para-Statals like KSRTC and APSRTC, which can operate buses under JnNURM, but would require an SPV at city level, OR could set up an SPV for a cluster of cities under Point 3.5.

Now, not all transcos followed the JnNURM guidelines. State level transcos as well as their city level counterparts did what was ideally not permitted.

Now let us list out all the violations that were possible; and then examine them case-by-case. This article only deals with the operating body, and jurisdictions. Another article will come soon on violations of bus specifications.

  • Not setting up an SPV to handle JnNURM buses.
  • Using JnNURM buses outside the city or area where they were to be used.
  • Using JnNURM buses for purposes other than Public-Transport.

Now that the violations have been listed, let us examine, on a case by case basis, what each transco did.

Metropolitan Transport Corporation/Tamil Nadu State Transport Corporation

An MTC Volvo on Route 588B from Broadway to Mamallapuram.
An MTC Volvo on Route 588B from Broadway to Mamallapuram. Image copyright Vinoth Thambidurai, CC-BY-SA 3.0 Unported, available on the Wikimedia Commons.

One of the earliest pioneers in the JnNURM violations, the MTC recieved a set of Volvo B7RLEs which it operated inside city limits, on routes such as CMBT-Red Hills or CMBT-Chengalpattu. It also ran on routes such as 588B from Broadway to Mamallapuram, which is acceptable as it is a city route. The issue cropped up when MTC transferred some of its Volvo buses to TNSTC Villupuram, and began using them on various intercity routes such as Chennai-Puducherry, Chennai-Hosur, and Chennai-Trichy. Perhaps its MTC which is innocent and TNSTC which is the culprit.

TNSTC Coimbatore and TNSTC Madurai received non-AC Semi-Low-floor [SLF] buses for intra-city use. These buses were not used on routes outside of their respective cities but there was no SPV created for them. Of course, one may argue that TNSTC Coimbatore’s JnNURM buses were used exclusively in Coimbatore and not in Erode or Ooty and thus TNSTC CBE is not the para-statal here but merely a city-specific transport corporation.

Puducherry Road Transport Corporation

On the lines of the TNSTC-MTC mischief-making duo, the PRTC got itself a set of SLFs under JnNURM. PRTC hardly used any of them in its capital city. Instead, it chose to ply them between Pondicherry and Karaikal. One may argue that there is nothing wrong in this as they are two parts of Pondi only. They then ran them on East Coast Road [ECR] along with the TNSTC VPM Volvos. This, made them serial offenders, just like the others.

Kerala State Road Transport Corporation

A Volvo B7RLE bus owned by the Kerala State Road Transport Corporation at Angamally Bus Station, heading for Aroor.
A Volvo B7RLE bus owned by the Kerala State Road Transport Corporation at Angamally Bus Station, heading for Aroor. Image copyright RanjithSiji, CC-BY-SA 3.0 Unported, available on the Wikimedia Commons.

Another arty and masterful violator, KeSRTC received Volvo B7RLEs for use in Kochi and Thiruvananthapuram. What did they do with these? Run them on intercity routes, of course. No SPV was created. The Central Government stepped in and objected to this violation, going so far as taking KeSRTC to court.

However, being crafty, the KeSRTC found a work-around for this. The court order affected only buses belonging to the Kochi division, prompting KeSRTC to transfer most of these buses to the Thrivananthapuram division. The reason? These buses were super-profitable and KeSRTC otherwise had only one Volvo service between Trivandrum and Bangalore, which was running at a loss due to KaSRTCs super-efficiency.

In November 2014, KeSRTC finally created an SPV called the Kerala Urban Road Transport Corporation [KURTC] exclusively for JnNURM buses, thus making it an SPV for a cluster of cities.

Karnataka State Road Transport Corporation

A low-floor Tata Marcopolo Bus belonging to the Karnataka State Road Transport Corporation -Mysore City Transport Department.
A low-floor Tata Marcopolo Bus belonging to the Karnataka State Road Transport Corporation -Mysore City Transport Department. Image copyright Srikanth Ramakrishnan, CC-BY-SA 3.0, Unported, available on the Wikimedia Commons.

Among the most ethical State Transport Undertakings in India, KaSRTC has actually followed most of the rules in the book. However, it did  miss out on a few:

KaSRTC has lived up by trying to follow norms as much as possible. One just hopes that Mysore and Mangalore get their own transport corporations soon.

Andhra Pradesh State Road Transport Corporation/Telangana State Road Transport Corporation

A Volvo B7RLE operating under the brand name of Metro Luxury by the Andhra Pradesh State Road Transport Corporation in Visakhapatnam.
A Volvo B7RLE operating under the brand name of Metro Luxury by the Andhra Pradesh State Road Transport Corporation in Visakhapatnam. Image copyright LOVEofZ, CC-BY-SA 4.0 International, available on the Wikimedia Commons.

The APSRTC, during the United Andhra days operated JnNURM buses in Hyderabad, and Visakhapatnam. It continues to operate the latter, while its younger sibling the TSRTC has taken over the erstwhile capital. There is no SPV to handle city operations. One hopes that the upcoming capital of Amaravati will have its own Transco, with funding under AMRUT.

Along with this, several of the Volvo “Metro Luxury” buses have found their way to intercity routes, both in AP and Telangana.

Note: Thanks to GSR Chaitanya for pointing out that APSRTC/TSRTC did indeed have an SPV. An article on this was posted a year earlier on Love of Z, a blog dedicated to APSRTC/TSRTC buses. You can read the article here.

Buses in Hyderabad, on paper operate under the aegis of the Hyderabad Zonal Urban Road Transport Corporation.

Haryana Roadways

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

Another serial offender, Haryana Roadways has both non-AC buses like the above, as well as Volvo B7RLEs, both of which, were allotted to the Faridabad division. Once again, there is no SPV here, and these buses always operate on the Gurgaon-Faridabad-Ballabgarh route. Buses that operate within Gurgaon, however, are non JnNURM buses.

Bangalore Metropolitan Transport Corporation

A Bharat Stage IV Volvo operated by the Bangalore Metropolitan Transport Corporation.
A Bharat Stage IV Volvo operated by the Bangalore Metropolitan Transport Corporation. Image copyright Hayathkhan.h, CC-BY-SA 3.0 Unported, available on the Wikimedia Commons.

The BMTC, one of the largest beneficiaries under JnNURM, is a mere crook among the no-goodniks of the Transport world. It’s only violation of the JnNURM guidelines? Renting out buses. A large chunk of BMTCs revenue comes from leasing out its Volvo fleet to the IT sector for dedicated pickup and drop trips. The BMTC quickly rectified this however by purchasing brand new Volvo buses and deputing the JnNURM ones for Public Transport. A good move to conform to norms, but the downside? The IT sector gets the really good buses, the rest of us, nothing.

Brihanmumbai Electricity Supply and Transport

A JnNURM double-door second generation Cerita owned by BEST, leased out to Air India for picking up passengers from the aircraft and to the terminal.
A JnNURM double-door second generation Cerita owned by BEST, leased out to Air India for ferrying passengers between the aircraft and the terminal. Image copyright Prateek Karandikar, CC-BY-SA 4.0 International, available on the Wikimedia Commons.

Another small-time crook in the world of the Mafioso, BESTs only mistake in violating JnNURM guidelines was leasing out its Second-Generation Cerita [yep, them Purple Faeries] to Air India to ferry passengers between the aircraft and the terminal. The cash-strapped body, with annual losses of ~₹700crore needed to monetise its fleet, and did so by leasing them out. However, word has it that the after the Air India agreement ended, BEST has been leasing out its older, First-Generation, Single-Door Cerita buses which were not acquired under JnNURM. In order to further monetise them, BEST put out full body adverts on them, thus turning them into giant, moving billboards.

Now that we’re done with the villainous lot, let’s head to the heroes of the hour!

Jaipur City Transport Services Limited

This SPV was set up by the Rajasthan State Road Transport Corporation in 2008 to handle city buses in Jaipur. It operates JnNURM buses, other buses as well as the Jaipur BRTS.

Atal Indore City Transport Services Ltd

A bus operated by Atal Indore City Transport Services Ltd in Indore.
A bus operated by Atal Indore City Transport Services Ltd in Indore. Image copyright Prateek Karandikar, CC-BY-SA 4.0 International, available on the Wikimedia Commons.

Set up to run bus services in Madhya Pradesh’s largest city, Indore, the AiCTSL, operates city buses, as well as the BRTS. It also operates a Radio Cab service in the city.

For a further reading on JnNURM funding of buses, please read this.

JnNURM has been scrapped in favour of the Atal Mission for Rejuvenation and Urban Transformation [AMRUT]. While nothing concrete has been set for buses, one hopes that AMRUT paves the way for more intelligent transit in the country.

Which Transport body has violated JnNURM guidelines in the country? Click To Tweet

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Buy the ticket, board the Bus

So I took a bus from Gurgaon to Faridabad. Just like the Tamil Nadu State Transport Corporation [TNSTC], the Kerala State Road Transport Corporation [KSRTC], Haryana Roadways [HR] and the Delhi Transport Corporation [DTC] make the mistake of running JnNURM buses on Inter-city routes. TNSTC-Villupuram runs Volvo B7RLE buses that the Metropolitan Transport Coporation [MTC] of Chennai received under JnNURM on Chennai-Pondicherry routes along East Coast Road and the Grand Southern Trunk Road, while its Kerala counterpart runs them from Cochin to Trivandrum via Allepy or Kollam. Similarly, DTC runs its JnNURM low-floor AC and non-AC buses from various parts of Delhi to Gurgaon. Haryana Roadways, meanwhile runs various AC, non-AC buses from Delhi, Faridabad, Chandigarh and Gurgaon to each other.

Now, my point with this post is not about the use of JnNURM buses on intercity routes, but something totally different.

Now, for some background on this topic, you might want read my earlier post on Conductor-less buses.

MSRTC
An MSRTC Mahabus-Shivneri ticket.
An MSRTC Mahabus-Shivneri ticket. Image copyright Srikanth Ramakrishnan, CC-BY-SA 4.0 International, available on the Wikimedia Commons.

MSRTC runs conductor-less buses on multiple routes; Mumbai-Pune, Pune-Ahmednagar-Aurangabad, Pune-Kolhapur, Pune-Sangli among others. The principle here is that there is a booth, wherever the Bus Stops, with a Conductor waiting, who issues you a ticket.

An MSRTC Mahabus-Shivneri ticket.
An MSRTC Mahabus-Shivneri ticket. Image copyright Srikanth Ramakrishnan, CC-BY-SA 4.0 International, available on the Wikimedia Commons.

The purpose of this model, as discussed before, is to eliminate the need for a conductor on-board the bus, thus reducing travel time and costs on employing conductors.

Prior to Electronic tickets, ST conductors at these booths would issue punched tickets, and these would be logged under the individual conductors sales, and the numbers would be written on the trip-sheet.

 

Haryana Roadways

Now, for the Haryana Roadways model! If this can be called one that is. The bus I took was a Volvo B7RLE 8400 model, acquired by the Haryana Roadways Corporation – Faridabad Division under JnNURM. It was running on the Gurgaon-Faridabad-Ballabgarh route, as a city bus. Yes, as a city bus. I reached Gurgaon Bus Stand, and saw two identical Volvo buses parked next to each other. One had a Cardboard sign saying Ballabgarh in Hindi and the other had one saying Rohtak, in English. I asked a conductor if either bus would go to Faridabad, and was told that the former would go. I walked upto the Conductor and I was told to go to the Ticket counter in front of the bus. At the counter, I was given a punched ticket for ₹50. A punched ticket [yes HR conductors religiously punch tickets in all services, unlike their DTC counterparts], not a printed one.

A Haryana Roadways punched ticket.
A Haryana Roadways punched ticket. Image copyright Srikanth Ramakrishnan, CC-BY-SA 4.0 International, available on the Wikimedia Commons.

I expected the service to be similar to MSRTC. But, I was mistaken.

The bus started, and left with its front door open. The conductor stood there, shouting out Faridabad, Ballabgarh, as we pulled out. The door remained open till we crossed the Sikanderpur Metro Station, after which the conductor came behind. I was seated on the last seat. He asked all of us who had bought tickets at the counter to show him the tickets, after which he pulled out a stack and issued them to those who had just boarded. The real concern here is that these are punched tickets, not printed tickets. If you remember what I had said about MSRTC in the post on Electronic Ticket Machines, this would be tricky to handle. While I bought the ticket at the counter, the conductor was next to the bus. He took his set of tickets from inside his pouch, long after we had left the Bus Stand. Obviously the guy at the counter wouldn’t have handed over his set to this fellow. Won’t logging or tracking ticket sales then be difficult? What, pray, may I ask, was the purpose in making me go and buy the ticket at the counter, when you were going to sell it inside the bus anyway?

This is something that I find fishy. I sincerely believe that the three states of Maharashtra, Karnataka, and Gujarat have figured out the best way to run transport services and that every other State Transport Undertaking should learn from them.

If anyone can answer why this absurdity happens, please do let me know in the comments section below.

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Stop and Go

So, how do Bus Conductors tell the bus driver to start the bus, and stop the bus at a bus stop?

There are various ways. In this article, I’m going to explore the different ways they are done, as well as delve a bit into the operations of buses of two non Indian cities, where a conductor doesn’t ask for a bus to be stopped, but the passenger does.

So let me start with our Desi transcos.

Starting, in no particular order:

BEST, NMMT, PMPML

The BEST Model also applies to NMMT, TMT, MBMT, PMPML, and partly to MSRTC.

A Bell-Pull inside a BEST bus.
A Bell-Pull inside a BEST bus. Image copyright Srikanth Ramakrishnan, CC-BY-SA 4.0 International, available on the Wikimedia Commons.

Here, there is a bell next to the driver, with a bell-pull that goes upto the back of the bus. The rope of the bell pull is looped through several hoops, enabling the conductor to pull it from wherever he is standing. He pulls the rope and the bell rings. A single ring signifies stop, and a double ring signifies go. In MSRTC buses, especially at night, a double ring while the bus is in motion is to inform the driver to switch off or switch on the lights. Since BEST AC buses have only a front door functional, the driver knows when to stop or move the bus, while in the case of NMMT and TMT, the rear doors rarely open.

MSRTC

This is very prevalent in the Hirakani [Asiad] buses. It is similar to the bell-pull, but with a twist. Instead of a bell, an electric bell is installed near the Driver. A wire casing runs along the roof of length the bus, with bell switches after every three seats. The conductor presses the switch once for stop, twice for go, and twice in motion for the lights.

BMTC and KSRTC

One of the most interesting methods, no bus of BMTC has ever had a bell pull for the last decade. The conductor here, tells the driver to stop or move. He or she yells, that’s right, yells! The phrases used are Hold for stop and Right for go. Of course, Hold often sounds like Hold It, or Whole Day, and Right sounds like a Britisher saying the word, with stress on the ‘r’ and the ‘ight’ sounding like ‘oit’. This happens in the Vajra as well. Few conductors carry a whistle with them, blow it once for stop and twice for go, but most of them prefer shouting it out.

MTC and TNSTC

Older MTC and TNSTC buses had a bell pull in them, with the same ringing order as BEST. However, newer buses, especially the semi-low floor buses that came with the advent of JnNURM buses didn’t have these. In these buses, the conductor officially carries a whistle, and blows it; once for stop and twice to go.

DTC

DTC is a unique case. The conductor doesn’t tell the driver to stop or go. The driver stops, and looks at the mirror and leaves. However, this does get a bit confusing, given that nobody in Delhi seems to follow the enter from the rear, exit from the front rule. I wonder how the driver manages.

 

And now, for something completely different …

MTA

Metropolitan Transit Authority [MTA] buses in New York have a system where the passenger tells the driver that he or she wants to disembark at the next stop, since there is no conductor. How I wish, the BMTC was a bit smarter in this regard.

If you are a fan of the 1990s Nickelodeon animated TV show Hey Arnold!, you would notice that in the very first episode, Downtown as Fruits, you’d notice that Gerald refrains from pulling the bell-pull to indicate the stop.

MTA buses used to have a bell-pull along the length of the bus, next to the window, which a passenger could pull to indicate that they wanted to disembark at the next stop. These were subsequently phased out in 1980, with a yellow touch-sensitive tape on the walls that passengers would use instead. Once considered a relic of the bygone era, they made a comeback in 2009. Many a passengers were surprised, especially the old-timers, who were overjoyed on seeing something from their generation return, followed by the youngsters, who had never seen them before.

TfL

Transport for London [TfL], which operates the red London bus, which is what BEST buses were originally modelled on, have a bell-switch on the support poles within a bus. Indian buses, most notably Tata Marcopolo buses also have these, but they are not in use.

Of course, knowing the British, it is not surprising when I heard of a driver who left a note saying BELLS NOT WORKING, If you want Bus to stop, Yell Ding Ding.

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The Underrated Daily Pass

Daily Passes are something that drives every Transco today. It is not only beneficial for the transport body, but also for the commuter. A Daily Pass allows a commuter to travel unlimited for the day it has been issued at a nominal cost. In the long run, it is very useful. Some cities, like Bombay, and Bangalore, have special Daily passes for regular buses and AC buses. Now, there is a lot more to Daily Passes than what is visible on the pass itself.

The biggest headache for a transco is the resale/reuse of passes. To prevent this, several of them implemented select measures. Now, let us have a look at some of these measures.

PMPML

A daily bus pass of the PMPML.
A daily bus pass of the PMPML. Image copyright Srikanth Ramakrishnan, CC-BY-SA 4.0 International, available on the Wikimedia Commons.

PMPML has had Daily passes right from the PMT-PCMT era. Even back then, it had mandated a PMT/PCMT issued Identity Card for the Daily Pass. With the subsequent merger of the PMT and PCMT into the PMPML, the PMPML started issuing the ID cards and Daily Passes. The old PMT era Daily Pass is today used as a PMPML Weekly Pass with the start and end dates punched out.

The PMPML Daily Pass, is a Pink or Off-white coloured ticket, with space for the date, month and last three digits of the ID card printed on it. This is valid on all buses including the Rainbow BRTS, Katraj-Swargate-Hadapsar BRT Volvo buses, but are not valid on the AC Pune Darshan and CityAir Airport connectivity buses. The pass is valid on the entire operational region of PMPML, outside the municipal limits of both Municipal Corporations. To prevent its resale, the ID card number is punched out. The pass cannot be used on the same date a year later because the ID card would no longer be valid by then.

MTC and TNSTC

An MTC Daily Pass in Chennai.
An MTC Daily Pass in Chennai. Image copyright Srikanth Ramakrishnan, CC-BY-SA 4.0 International, available on the Wikimedia Commons.

MTC and TNSTC have both had Daily passes in large cities including Chennai and Coimbatore for a long time. In Coimbatore, these passes require a local ID proof in order to be purchased and are valid only if the holder shows the ID card  as well. In Chennai, known as the Travel As You Please ticket, they require an MTC ID card for Weekly/Monthly passes which costs ₹5 [according to the website, while I paid ₹20 for it]. The pass costs ₹50 per day and is not valid for night services. There is no Daily/Weekly/Monthly Pass for Volvo buses, which is surprising.

BMTC and KSRTC

A BMTC Gold Day Pass.
A BMTC Gold Day Pass. Image copyright Srikanth Ramakrishnan, CC-BY-SA 4.0 International, available on the Wikimedia Commons.

BMTC is undoubtedly the leader when it comes to Daily Passes. It has a wide variety of Daily Passes, something like their wide variety of buses as well. They currently have three major daily passes for people who do not have any other pass. This includes a regular daily pass for non-AC services that comes in two forms: One for those who own a BMTC ID Card, and one that costs ₹5 more for those who don’t have a BMTC pass. Those who purchase the former have to write their ID number on the pass, and all passholders have to sign the pass. The Vajra Gold Day Pass costs twice, and is valid on all buses except the Daily Rounds, and Vayu Vajra buses. A pass that is priced between the two exists for AC-Suvarna/Tata Marcopolo AC buses. ID Cards are of two types: One is the Loyalty Card that costs ₹25 for a year and is valid ONLY with the non AC Daily Pass, while the ₹100 ID Card is mandatory for a Monthly Pass as well. Today, BMTC conductors only sell the Gold Day Pass if the commuter has a valid Government issued ID or BMTC ID. Due to high sale volumes, BMTC changes its pass everyday. Each day of the week has a different, colour-coded pass with the day of the week written in Kannada/English and the serial number of the pass starting with a different series for different days of the week. BMTC also has a Saral and Sarag pass that it issues with the BMRCL. Saral is a Gold Daily Pass that allows unlimited travel on the Namma Metro, while Sarag is the same for non-AC services. All Daily Passes are valid throughout the operational area of BMTC. In 2009, BMTC and KSRTC had jointly released a ₹70 rupee pass that was valid on all non-AC BMTC as well as non-AC KSRTC Karnataka Sarige busees in the nearby districts. The AC pass now costs ₹150 including a 6% Luxury Tax introduced by the Central Government.

KSRTC MCTD's Daily Bus Pass for Volvo buses.
KSRTC MCTD’s Daily Bus Pass for Volvo buses. Image copyright Srikanth Ramakrishnan, CC-BY-SA 4.0 International, available on the Wikimedia Commons.

KSRTC in the Mysore City Transport Department has a similar arrangement. It has two passes, one for AC buses that costs ₹96 [with the Service Tax] and one for non AC buses that costs ₹50. The pass is valid throughout the service region of the MCTD and is valid on all MCTD buses. Compared the Bangalore, both the pass rates as well as the fares are low.

TSRTC

TSRTC Travel As You Like [TAYL] Ticket.
TSRTC Travel As You Like [TAYL] Ticket. Image copyright Srikanth Ramakrishnan, CC-BY-SA 4.0 International, available on the Wikimedia Commons.

The Telangana State Road Transport Corporation has a Daily Pass System in Hyderabad, referred to as the Travel As You Like [TAYL] Ticket. It is printed using the ETM. It is of two variants, one priced at ₹70 for non-AC, regular, and Metro Express buses and the ₹150 pass which is valid on Sheetal and Metro Deluxe Volvo buses. The pass now costs ₹160 after a 6% Luxury Tax introduced by the Central Government. The conductor asks for the passengers age and mobile number, both of which are printed on the ticket. The passenger is required to write their name as well as sign the pass. The pass is valid in the Twin city regions of Hyderabad and Secunderabad.

In June 2016, TSRTC announced that Daily Passes would be valid 24 hours from the time of issue. Later on, they announced that the passes could be purchased upto 7 days in advance.

BEST

A BEST Magic AC Daily Pass issued on Sunday.
A BEST Magic AC Daily Pass issued on Sunday. Image copyright Srikanth Ramakrishnan, CC-BY-SA 4.0 International, available on the Wikimedia Commons.

The story with BEST is a different one altogether, atleast today. A few years ago, BEST had daily passes similar to the current PMPML passes except there was no ID card. There were two types of Daily Passes, the Regular and Limited Pass for ₹25, which as the name suggests was valid on regular and Limited Routes, and the Corridor Pass at ₹40 which was valid on Express and Corridor services. The pass was punched with the date and gender, and to prevent misuse, the conductor would scribble a description of purchaser on the back. However, later on BEST began insisting on ID proof and asked commuters to write the ID number on the back of the pass. All this changed when BEST went digital in 2011-2012.

Once BEST went digital, they made it mandatory for commuters to have an RFID card for ALL passes. A horizontal ID card was issued for monthly and quarterly passes while a vertical one was issued for prepaid cards. Both can be used for Daily Passes. Till February 2015, BEST charged ₹50 for a non-AC Daily Pass and ₹150 for an AC pass. These passes are also referred to a Magic Daily Pass [AC and non-AC]. After February, BEST increased the rates to ₹70 and ₹200 respectively. All Daily Passes are valid throughout the operational area of BEST including Navi Mumbai, Thane, and Mira-Bhayander.

However, in September 2015, the BEST decided to introduce a new change in the non AC Magic Pass. As per the new system, the BEST now has three kinds of non-AC passes:

  • The regular ₹70 Magic non-AC pass that is valid throughout BESTs operational limits including Navi Mumbai, Mira Bhayander and Thane.
  • The ₹50 Suburban pass that is valid in the Suburban limits, and upto Mahim/Sion/Rani Laxmi Chowk in the South and Dahisar/Mulund Check Naka in the North.
  • The ₹40 City pass that is valid in the Island city region, again upto Mahim/Sion/Rani Laxmi Chowk.

No daily pass on Sundays or Public Holidays requires an ID card. Anyone can buy a pass. Since it isn’t tied to an ID card any longer, it needs to be carefully preserved throughout the day, and the conductor must enter the right gender. Of course, if you give your ID card, it logs it onto your ID card, and automatically detects your gender and the conductor can still validate the card with the ETM.

The Magic AC pass remains the same, however, on Sundays, half the AC buses are cancelled, thus making the Magic AC pass pointless. I personally feel BEST should either charge less for the AC pass on Sundays or go the BMTC way and charge extra for non ID passes on all days. Any pass can be purchased on any bus because they are all digitally printed.

MSRTC

MSRTC has a 4 day, 7 day, Monthly, quarterly and annual pass called the Travel Wherever you Like Pass. They have been in operation since 1988. The current form of the pass is similar to BEST’s Daily Pass system. Users are required to have a Smart Card for it.

For pricing, two seasons have been created:

  • Congested Season: 15 October to 14 June.
  • Non Congested Season: 15 June to 14 October.

Pass rates vary per season. The cost of the passes is mentioned on the MSRTC website.

DTC

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

This is probably the first time I’m mentioning DTC on BESTpedia, but being one of the transcos catering to a large city in India, I guess this needs to be mentioned.

The DTC refers to its Daily Pass as a Green Card. The DTC Green Card is neither green, nor is it a card. There are two variants. ₹40 for non-AC and ₹50 for AC. Yes, you read that right. The Delhi AC Daily Pass is cheaper than Bangalore, Pune or Mumbai’s non-AC pass of ₹70! But then, it is hardly surprising, given that Delhi has been spoilt by subsidies solely by being the Capital of India. The Green Card is available with the conductor of the bus and a non-AC bus conductor sells both types. It looks like a regular ticket, and the conductor writes the commuters name and age on it, while marking the date and month. That’s it. No other measure to prevent resale. The downside to this is:

  • Very few AC buses compared to regular ones.
  • Due to it being so cheap, AC buses are as crowded as their non-AC counterparts.
  • Neither pass is valid on the Orange-coloured Cluster services, which form roughly 1/3rd of the buses.
  • This pass is ONLY valid within Delhi borders, and not in the rest of the NCR.

CTU

Daily Bus Pass issued by the Chandigarh Transport Undertaking for the Tricity Region.
Daily Bus Pass issued by the Chandigarh Transport Undertaking for the Tricity Region. Image copyright Srikanth Ramakrishnan, CC-BY-SA 4.0 International, available on the Wikimedia Commons.

Another first on BESTpedia, this is the first time I’m mentioning the Chandigarh Transport Undertaking. The CTU, under the UT administration operates buses throughout the Tricity region comprising of Chandigarh, Panchkula and Mohali.

The CTU has two kinds of Daily Passes: A green coloured one for non-AC services that costs ₹30 and a pink coloured one for AC services, priced at ₹40.

Both passes are valid throughout the Municipal Limits of the Tricity Region comprising of Chandigarh, Mohali, Panchkula, Zirakpur, Saketari, Manasdevi, and Mullanpur. For routes that go beyond the Municipal borders, such as to Landran, the pass is valid only till Sohana, where the Municipal Corporation’s jurisdiction ends.

Similar to the DTC Green Card, only the Passenger’s name is written on the ticket. The date is both written, as well as punched by the conductor. Passes are available aboard a bus, or at the ISBTs.

 

So at the end of the day, we can conclude that BMTC is the undisputed leader of Daily Passes. BEST, lags a bit behind, but is great with technology. PMPML, is with BEST. DTC, on the other hand is a totally different ball game. While people may not realise it, Daily Passes are very crucial, for both the commuter as well as the transco. It is useful for tourists and business people.

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Have you ever used a Daily Pass?
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Conductor-less buses: A boon or a bane?

Back in July 2015, BEST had announced that it had plans to operate buses without conductors in South Bombay on an experimental basis. The first thing that came to my mind was the BMTC Pushpak fleet. Thankfully, BEST was not emulating BMTC, but emulating its younger Maharashtrian sibling MSRTC, which has so far been super successful in the field of operating buses without conductors.

So what exactly is the difference? To the layman, a bus without a conductor, is a bus without a conductor. There is a major difference between the two, one that spells the difference between efficiency and incompetence. Let us examine the difference between the two and examine the flaws of each:

 

The BMTC Model

The most prominent of the BMTC no-conductor buses is the Pushpak. Originally a brown-coloured, single-door bus, with a variant of it, called the Pushpak+ with a green livery and an additional centre-door seen these days, they are seen on a lot of routes across Bangalore. A lot of them are also leased out by BMTC to IT giants and others. Another peculiar feature of these buses is that they do not feature the regular 2+2 pattern of seating normally followed in city buses, but have 3 seats per row, on the right hand side, behind the driver. The driver of this bus collects the fare, hands over change (if any), issues the ticket, and if he doesn’t have change, he writes it on the back of the ticket. Thankfully, unlike their BEST counterparts [no pun intended], BMTC conductors just tear the ticket halfway and hand them over. But imagine, doing this for each passenger! As if this was not bad enough, due to the seating pattern in the bus, the walkway width is reduced, and only one passenger can walk across. With only one door, you can imagine what could possibly happen when you reach a bus stop. People have to board, people have to disembark, people have to buy tickets, or passes, show their passes. The driver is overburdened with all this, and has an additional headache- He still has to drive the bus! The time taken at each bus stop becomes a huge figure, resulting in longer commute time and lesser fuel efficiency. Add Bangalore’s narrow roads, badly located bus stops, bumper-to-bumper traffic to this and wallah, you have the perfect recipe for a Traffic Jam! The only possible positive outcome of this mess is that BMTC doesn’t have a conductor on this bus, which would probably save them some cash.

A similar model existed back in 2008-9, where green-coloured buses labelled “Pass Bus” would ply. These buses were also single-door, devoid of a conductor, but had one interesting feature- No tickets (or passes) were sold. Only pass holders, be it daily, weekly, monthly, students, senior citizens were allowed. BMTC later on started selling daily passes on these buses, adding to the drivers burden. They were later given a rear door, a conductor and painted in the blue-off white colour scheme and became regular buses. BMTC probably realised that there was no point in running services that didn’t generate any revenue while on a trip.

 

The MSRTC Model

This model started off a decade ago with the Shivneri series. Originally only on the Dadar East – Pune Railway Station route, it has since been extended 113 other routes as well as the Hirkani/Asiad and Parivartan buses. In this model, MSRTC has bus booths at several places, like Khodadad Circle in Dadar, where the Bus Terminus is the lane under the flyover, between its pillars, or Maitri Park in Chembur, Wakad in Pimpri-Chinchwad, or Nigdi on the Old Mumbai-Pune Highway. A conductor sits at these booths, with a Trimax electronic ticket machine. When the bus arrives, he or she punches in the bus number onto the ETM, which automatically brings up the departure time onto the ETM, as well as seats left. To prevent error, they also check the trip sheet with the driver, and after selling tickets, log it onto the sheet so that the next conductor, if there is any other stop en route, can cross-check with it. This model existed even in the time of the Punched Paper ticket. The buses here are the same as the buses with conductors in them. For instance, the Swargate – Borivali Shivneri has a conductor due to number of stops it has on the Western Express Highway. MSRTC benefits here mainly because of the fact that buses run faster due to fewer stops, and it has to employ fewer conductors. Of course, conductors themselves are not too enthused by the move. In the long run, this impacts the organisational health of ST in a positive way, which is good for both commuters and staff.

 

Now, coming to BEST

BEST intends to run these buses on four routes:

  • Special 1 – CST <-> NCPA
  • Special 2 – CST <-> World Trade Centre
  • Special 8 – Churchgate <-> Churchgate via World Trade Centre
  • Special 9 – Churchgate <-> Churchgate via Nariman Point

These buses will operate on the MSRTC model, with conductors at the bus stops, especially given that these are short routes. Now, my main concern here is that if there are 10 stops, will BEST have a conductor at each of the ten stops? Also, more importantly, will it provide seating and shelter arrangements to the conductors? You can’t expect them to stand for hours with the heat, pollution and traffic. One may argue that here, the BMTC model would be better as conductors wouldn’t be waiting on busy roads, but do remember, making the driver do all the work isn’t such a good idea altogether.

Now, the funny part is that BEST says that it has sent a proposal to the Government of Maharashtra to allow buses without conductors as this is prohibited under the Motor Vehicles Act, 1988. Now, the MVA is a pan-India law, and thus, if it is illegal in Maharashtra, for a Stage Carrier/Stage Coach to operate without a driver, then has BMTC been violating the law jeopardising the lives of commuters all this time? However, the interesting point is that as per the Motor Vehicles Act of 1988, there two clauses which are interesting:

The first, which allows the driver to temporarily take charge as conductor:

the conditions subject to which drivers of stage carriages performing the functions of a conductor and persons temporarily employed to act as conductors may be exempted from the provisions of sub-section (1) of section 29;

and the second, which implies that a conductor is not needed:

Duty of the driver to take certain precautions at unguarded railway level crossing. Every driver of a motor vehicle at the approach of any unguarded railway level crossing shall cause the vehicle to stop and the driver of the vehicle shall cause the conductor or cleaner or attendant or any other person in the vehicle to walk up to the level crossing and ensure that no train or trolley is approaching from either side and then pilot the motor vehicle across such level crossing, and where no conductor or cleaner or attendant or any other person is available in the vehicle, the driver of the vehicle shall get down from the vehicle himself to ensure that no train or trolley is approaching from either side before the railway track is crossed.

 

Confusing, isn’t it? If indeed, buses without conductors weren’t permitted, then BEST should be sending a proposal to the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways [Morth], Government of India and this ideally shouldn’t be a problem, since the Minister is Nitin Gadkari. At the same time, this would also imply that BMTC is violating the law by plying buses without a conductor, even if Karnataka has a law since Central Law usually overrides State Law if they are in conflict. I’m hoping for a lawyer to clarify on this below.

So now, the pros and cons:

Pros:

  • Money saved by employing fewer conductors.
  • Time Saved because you have to have fewer stops.

Cons:

  • You need to reduce the number of stops.
  • You need to make special arrangements for the conductor while waiting for the bus to arrive.

This model will definitely work with BEST because there is no reservation or booking of seats involved and because, well, the Trimax ETMs.

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The curious case of BEST and its AC buses

BEST and AC buses don’t exactly go hand-in-hand. Atleast not anymore. BEST should think of a way to reverse that.

Not so unusual site! An AC BEST of Mulund Depot runs southwards on BRTS-1 at Lalbaug
One of the original Ashok Leyland AC buses that the BEST procured in 1998. Image copyright, Ojas Parab, Flickr.

BEST introduced AC buses, back in 1998. These buses were built by Ashok Leyland and had Opening Windows. Tickets were a bit on the higher side, and included a newspaper [English or Marathi] and a 300ml bottle of water. These buses operated on the following routes routes initially:

  • A1 – Hutatma Chowk to Andheri Station (West)
  • A2 – World Trade Centre to Oshiwara Depot
  • A4 – Hutatma Chowk to Ghatkopar Bus Station
  • A422 – Agarkar Chowk to Mulund Bus Station
  • A461 – Mulund Bus Station (West) to Borivali Station (West)

These buses ran mostly in the mornings and evenings, mainly serving the office-crowd.

In 2008, under then General Manager Uttam Khobragade, BEST procured the first set of their purple ”Kinglong” buses. It took a lot of time to figure out that these Purple Faeries weren’t actually Kinglong buses. These buses were assembled in Punjab by Jaycee Coach Builders Limited [JCBL] and sold under their ”Cerita” brand.

The Kinglong buses owned by BEST were not Kinglong at all. Click To Tweet

A BEST Cerita running on route AS 461. Also known as them Mumbai Purple Faeries.
A BEST Cerita running on route AS 461. Image copyright Srikanth Ramakrishnan, licenced under CC-BY-SA 4.0, available on the Wikimedia Commons.

These buses were powered by CNG, and unlike other AC buses, didn’t have a slave engine to power the air-conditioning unit, thus resulting in slow speeds and bad pickup. In simple terms, they struggle to climb the simplest of slopes. Yet, they had comfortable seats. These Purple Faeries used to breakdown frequently and some of them caught fire, thus leading to deteriorating quality of BEST AC services.

Somewhere around this time, BEST received a CNG version of the Volvo 8400 on the B7RLE chassis for trial runs. After a few weeks of trial runs from the Oshiwara depot, the bus was transferred to the Wadala Depot, after wihch it was returned to Volvo. Unfortunately, BEST never purchased the bus. It had a separate Slave Engine to power the AC, thus overcoming all the shortfalls of the Cerita buses.

Post this, BEST inked a deal with an advertising firm called Asian Concierge who were ready to supply BEST with 50 Diesel-powered Volvo 8400s in exchange for full body advertisements on them for 15 years. The deal was quite revolutionary and would have changed the transport scene, however, only 6 buses were procured. All of them belong to the Oshiwara Depot and ply on AS-4 between Oshiwara Depot and Backbay Depot.

A BEST Volvo on Route AS-4 from Backbay Depot to Oshiwara Depot.
A BEST Volvo on Route AS-4 from Backbay Depot to Oshiwara Depot. Image copyright Srikanth Ramakrishnan, CC-BY-SA 4.0 International, available on the Wikimedia Commons.

BEST was given 50 Volvo buses free, in lieu of advertising rights. Click To Tweet

Now, the deal is that BEST, which was among the first Transcos in India to get AC buses is slowly phasing them out because of competition from the TMT, NMMT and MSRTC. For starters, BEST used to run a bus AS-505 from Santacruz Depot to CBD Belapur. They curtailed it because NMMT flooded the roads with AC-105 which ran from Bandra Bus Station to CBD Belapur. When I requested BEST to restart AS-505, they replied stating that it was a loss making route, and hence would not be possible. However, BEST’s 505Ltd is among the most profitable routes in the sector. Subsequently, NMMT has launched AC-106 which goes to CBD Belapur via Nerul (West). AC-105 remains their most profitable route.

Similarly, BEST’s AS-700 is doing miserably these days between Borivali Station (East) and Thane Station (East) because of competition from both TMT’s AC-65, AC-125, and NMMT’s AC-131. Now I can understand. Borivali comes under the jurisdiction of the Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai and Thane under the Thane Municipal Corporation, both pass through the jurisdiction of the Mira-Bhayandar Municipal Corporation as well, but NMMT? AC-131 starts from Borivali Station (East), takes the same route via Ghodbunder Road to reach Kopri [Thane Station], from where it proceeds to Airoli Sector 5, via the Mulund-Airoli Bridge, thus running a total of 9km within its own jurisdiction. What is the need to enter Thane Station? NMMT plies two more AC routes to Borivali, AC-123 and AC-125, from Borivali to Ova Camp in Kharghar. Both take Jogeshwari Vikhroli Link Road, where one takes LBS Marg, and the other the Eastern Express Highway, to reach the Mulund Airoli Bridge and then continue along Thane-Belapur Road. Where is the logic in this? The irony is that if you calculate the number of stops between Dindoshi Junction and the Mulund Airoli Bridge Toll Plaza; here is the interesting result that you get:

  • BEST 523 Ltd has 42 stops.
  • BEST 525 Ltd has 36 stops.
  • BEST AS-524 has 23 stops.
  • NMMT AC-123 has 43 stops.
  • NMMT AC-125 has 36 stops.

This makes BEST the fastest on this route. With fewer stops, any bus runs faster. This is the theory under which Limited Stop Services normally operate.

TMT runs a bus from Cadbury Junction to Agarkar Chowk in Andheri East. This bus enters Mumbai via the Mulund (West) Check Naka and takes the same route as AS-422 to reach Andheri. It travels a total of 3.5 km within Thane and close to 21km in Mumbai. NMMT’s Borivali to Kharghar routes overlap majorly with BEST’s AS-461.

As if all this was not enough, the MSRTC, went one level over all of this, by launching their now-discontinued Shivneri Corporate service. These buses where the regular Shivneri Volvo B7R buses running along the Kandivali-Bandra Kurla Complex [BKC] route, non-stop. BEST plies A77Express on the same route, at the same hours. The only difference was that A77Express started from Gorai, took all flyovers on the Western Express Highway and had a total of 20 odd stops while the Shivneri had none. The service was soon shelved because the fare of ₹100 one way was too high.

What BEST must do now:

BEST must start looking into the profitable routes of the competition and find ways to maximize its revenue streams there. One must remember that all TMT and NMMT AC routes enter Mumbai. None of them are entirely within their territories.

BEST here has an advantage that they must make use of completely. Electronic Ticketing Machines and the Public Information System are two features that only BEST has in its kitty. Prepaid cards, a Daily Pass system for AC buses, and GPS based tracking of buses is what can help position BEST above its competition.

BEST must also pursue the matter with Asian Concierge for the remaining of the 50 Volvo buses so that newer routes can be planned. BEST must allocate these buses onto these routes.

Possible Routes BEST can try out are:

  • Restart AS-505 from Santacruz Depot to CBD Belapur. Run it every half an hour. Make sure the Bus Tracking system works for it.
  • Start a bus, exclusively for the Western Suburbs. It can be on the lines of AS-4 from Oshiwara, but should terminate at Bandra, and can take alternate routes like going into Seven Bunglows and taking the route taken by 56. Run it at half hour intervals. With rising auto fares, people will definitely take these buses. Start similar buses along the Central Suburbs in both West and East.
  • Increase the frequency of AS-6 which connects Backbay Depot to King’s Circle. Let this be a bus that connects the Central Part of South Mumbai. Similarly run a bus from Backbay to Chembur along the Eastern areas. The Western part of South Mumbai is served by AS-4, whose frequency should be increased.
  • Start an AC bus from Mantralaya to CBD Belapur and to Kopar Khairane. Route these buses via Tadeo, Lotus (Worli) and then go towards Navi Mumbai. Perhaps an Express service can work here, via the Sea Link, land up at Sion and go on to CBD Belapur, while avoiding Vashi Bus Station.

BEST must innovate and provide more options for commuters. BEST has an edge over the other two players, which it is sadly not making good use of. Being India’s oldest Public Transport Corporation, I hate to see BEST lose out to newer entities who are just flooding the roads with their buses, and turning BEST buses into Bus. No 8954.

BEST must innovate with their AC fleet for the benefit of Mumbai. Click To Tweet

In 2015, BEST brought out some drastic measures including curtailing of a few routes, reducing frequencies of AS700, cancelling AS706, and scrapping AS422 on Sundays.

Early 2016, NMMT placed orders for Volvo B7RLEs that were Diesel-Electric Hybrids. Shortly after that, MMRDA purchased 25 AC Tata Starbus Electric-Diesel Hybrids which would ply on dedicated lanes in Bandra-Kurla Complex. The impact of it, is to be seen.

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