10k respond to PMPML public poll on Colour of Buses

The Pune Mahanagar Parivahan Manahamandal Limited [PMPML] recently conducted a public poll on the colour of of buses that would operate on the BRTS, and the results were mind-boggling.

Voting was on from 5th October to 12th October to select one among the 3 colour schemes shortlisted.

PMPML's Poll to select the Colours of Buses.
PMPML’s Poll to select the Colours of Buses.

Chief Engineer for Buses, Sunil Burse said that over 10,000 people had responded by giving a missed call to one of the three numbers.

PMPML is procuring 1500 new buses for the various BRTS corridors along Pune and Pimpri-Chinchwad. It will also operate feeder buses connecting various Rainbow stations across the city to nearby localities.

Now, while this is indeed a shot in the arm for the PMPML, the real victory here goes to the city of Pune and Pimpri-Chinchwad. The Pune Metropolitan Region, which till a few years ago was infamous for its below-average bus services, is now seeing a major change. For an organisation that was had over a 100 buses off the roads a few years ago because it couldn’t afford to service them, the PMPML has now gone to the extent of getting over 10,000 people to respond to a public poll. That, is the real victory here. Victory that the public cares for proper bus services.

Aesthetics is an important factor in any sphere of life. You choose a product or service on the basis of the feeling it gives you. A badly maintained bus will put you off. A well designed one will make you want to board it. That is one of the reasons why colours also matters. Of course, unless you are in Tamil Nadu, where all buses change colours according to the ruling political party, the fact that PMPML went to the extent of asking the public for its opinion on colours, is the first step towards efficiency.

SO here are the important lessons from this excercise that every transco must keep in mind:

  1. Aesthetics matter. It’s good that the PMPML is acknowledging this and has brought out three different colour combinations.
  2. Public Opinion matters: Garnering public feedback for the services they will pay for is the best thing to do.
  3. Public Interest: Getting 10,000 people to respond in Pune is huge. Pune has otherwise been infamous for pathetic bus services and was the frontrunner in developing a two-wheeler culture, much before Bangalore.
  4. People want better Services: It is wrong to say that in 2016 nobody wants to take a bus and people prefer cars. People still would prefer buses. The sheer number of respondents here proves it.

The Future of Public Transport is indeed the bus.

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My fascination with buses

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here is my philosophy behind taking buses:

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

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

This post is dedicated to three very special friends:

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

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

I am taking my Alexa rank to the next level with Blogchatter. Current rank: 696991 globally and 59804 in India.

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Moving along the Rainbow

This is a continuation to a previous post, The Rainbow Across Pune and Pimpri-Chinchwad.

Several significant changes have happened since then; notably the following:

  • Bus Number 324 has been renumbered to Vajra 6 from Hinjewadi Phase 3 [Maan Gaon] to Bhosari, running almost entirely along the Wakad Chowk-Nashik Phata Corridor.
  • All buses heading for Hinjewadi use the BRTS corridor from Mankar Chowk to Wakad Chowk, where land is still required to build a bus lane for the last half kilometre.
  • A new BRTS Terminal has been built at Bhosari under the flyover, similar to the one at Kiwale.
Bhosari Bus Terminal
Bhosari Bus Terminal. Image copyright Srikanth Ramakrishan, CC-BY-SA 4.0 International, available on the Wikimedia Commons.

Nothing significant has happened on the Nagar Road corridor under PMC and Kalewadi to Empire Estate and Nigdi to Dapodi corridors under PCMC barring the construction of the Nigdi Bhakti Shakti terminal.

However, a lot of new kinks need to be ironed out in this system, and it is crucial that it is done before any damage happens.

The GPS-based Control Unit for the Stop Information System on the Rainbow BRTS.
The GPS-based Control Unit for the Stop Information System on the Rainbow BRTS. Image copyright Srikanth Ramakrishnan, CC-BY-SA 4.0 International, available on the Wikimedia Commons.

The Major problem is the Mixed-Use BRTS and non BRTS sections, most prominent along the Wakad to Nashik Phata corridor. Vajra 6 runs as a non-BRTS bus from Hinjewadi Phase 3 till Wakad Chowk from where it takes the BRTS till Mankar Chowk. From here, it gets into Kaspate Wasti and then gets on to the BRTS corridor at Kalewadi Phata where it stays till Nashik Phata, after which it runs as a regular service till Bhosari Terminal which is a BRTS terminal. This Regular-BRTS-Regular-BRTS-Regular-BRTS system is confusing, for both the passenger as well the driver. It is dangerous for the latter, as he has to go Left-Right-Left-Right while opening the door. Several buses have opened the BRTS doors in a non BRTS area while in motion.

The system needs a bit of automation, which would ideally be a little tricky at this stage given PMPMLs finances. Along with this, the driver needs to be given a single switch for both the Left side doors, and a one for the Right-side doors. There should be an indicator on the ceiling of the bus that can be a simple LED strip on either side. Depending on which side doors are to open, the corresponding LED strip can glow.

Phule Nagar BRTS Station.
Phule Nagar BRTS Station. Image copyright Srikanth Ramakrishnan, CC-BY-SA 4.0 International, available on the Wikimedia Commons.

PMC vs PCMC

On a comparitive level, PMC and PCMC have slightly different bus stations. The former are visually more appealing, have Footbridges and Subways at several stations, and are overall better to be in.

However, the PCMC section is longer, consists of better planned corridors, of which two [Aundh-Ravet and Nigdi-Dapodi] are massive. The two PMC corridors: Nagar Road from Yerwada towards Wagholi, and Sangamwadi to Vishrantiwadi are not connected to each other. One hopes that the PCMC and PMC find a deal with the Kirkee Cantonment Board to build a corridor via Khadi to connect the BRTS corridor from Holkar Bridge to Harris Bridge, which could ideally connect the Sangamwadi and Dapodi corridors.

Vishrantwadi Terminal

BRTS Buses terminating at Vishrantwadi [like Vajra 4] run along the corridor from Sangamwadi to the Wadi terminal. Barring the terminal, all stations use the BRT doors. The terminal on the other hand, is just a series of bus stops on the left side of the service lane with the last two bus shelters reserved for Rainbow buses. This is rather disappointing, as PMC could have done what PCMC did with the Bhosari and Kiwale terminals.

The Bhosari terminal meanwhile, lacks a platform for buses bound to Pune station [via Vishrantwadi], which continue to terminate under the flyover. Both Bhosari and Kiwali need to be provided with a fence to prevent private vehicles from parking next to the BRTS platform.

BRTS Parking

Since most of the stretch from Kokane Chowk to Nashik Phata didn’t exist prior to the the BRTS, the PCMC has ensure that all commercial buildings along the stretch that lie in the vicinity of a BRTS station have allocated a part of their Ground Floors as Parking Space for Buses. This is great, and helps out massively with the ‘Park and Ride’ concept.

Overall

Overall, PMC scores in the design part, but lags in the execution part. It is highly disappointing to see the only major infrastructure development on Nagar Road taking so much time to be complete.

An interesting thing to note is that all buses running along Vajra 6 make use of the Ashok Leyland buses from the Bhosari depot and not Tata buses.

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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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Bums on the Saddle

Since time immemorial, cycles have been a very important mode of transport. They are used for various purposes, from acting as a “business hub” in terms of acting as a point-of-sale for tea vendors to the main business vehicle in rural areas. They are used as the main transport vehicle by many, especially in rural and semi-urban areas. In urban and metropolitan areas, they are viewed as a lower class mode of transport.

Cycles acting as a Business Hub. A vegetable Vendor in Sathyamangalam, TN, uses his cycle as his shop.
Cycles acting as a Business Hub. A vegetable Vendor in Sathyamangalam, TN, uses his cycle as his shop. Image copyright Srikanth Ramakrishnan, CC-BY-SA 3.0 Unported, available on the Wikimedia Commons.

In the recent past, several cities in India have tried to popularise cycling in several ways. Among them are Pune, Bangalore and Ahmedabad. While some have succeeded and some have failed, it is worth relooking at cycling for the various benefits it offers.

A board indicating a Cycle Track in Pune.
A board indicating a Cycle Track in Pune. Image copyright Mahendrapatnaik, under the CC-BY-SA 3.0 Unported licence on the Wikimedia Commons.

Pune got cycle lanes around 2008 while the city got a massive overhaul for the Commonwealth Youth Games, under the JnNURM pattern. A few cycle tracks were laid in and around Kothrud and Shivajinagar, while majority of the cycle lanes were laid from Katraj to Swargate to Hadapsar alongside the first BRTS line. These cycle lanes are usable, but they are usually blocked by traffic, pedestrians, or sometimes, hawkers and homeless people.

Bangalore got cycle lanes in 2012. These lanes are prominent in and around Jayanagar, especially under the Metro. These lanes were basically just a section of the road marked with a solid white line with the image of a cycle painted on it, thus not having a physical barrier separating it from regular traffic like the ones in Pune. The net result, they turned into parking spaces for cars.

Mysore too got cycle lanes, but unlike Bangalore, they were physically separated from motorised traffic.

However, a year prior, in 2011, prior to the opening of the first Reach of Namma Metro, Bangalore also got a Public Shared Cycle system, jointly operated by the BMRCL and BBMP. The system was operated by Kerberon Automations under the brand name Atcag. Each cycle was tracked by GPS and required users to pay a one time registration of ₹1000 for a smart card and then use the card as a prepaid card while using the cycles. The first hour was free, after which a nominal rate would be charged. There were 9 cycle stations in the city.

Ahmedabad got a similar system named MyByk, operated by Greenpedia, with cycle stations across several Janmarg stations.

Cycles for use by everyone inside the Infosys Mysore Campus.
Cycles for use by everyone inside the Infosys Mysore Campus. Image copyright Prateek Karandikar, CC-BY-SA 4.0 Unported, on the Wikimedia Commons.

Now, the success of the public share and ride system is entirely debatable, mainly due to the subscription based nature of the service. The system followed in IT parks like Infosys, or college campuses like the IITs, where a cycle is picked up from the stand and left in another is impractical in public because cycles will get damaged or stolen because the rider is not being held accountable for their actions. Thus, the system of charging users and tracking the cycles, both with GPS and tying it to a user is a necessity.

 

Now, the main section. How do we implement an effective cycling plan across major cities. For this purpose, I plan to use the Pune Metropolitan Region of Pimpri-Chinchwad and Pune, as well as a part of the Mumbai Metropolitan Region consisting of Mumbai, Navi Mumbai and Thane.

Creating cycle tracks and lanes is one thing, but making it safer for cyclists is more important. Cyclists are on par with Pedestrians. Both are treated badly and often traffic doesn’t bother stopping for them, even with the appropriate traffic signals showing.

 

Our first target, the PMR.

The Pune Metropolitan region offers immense potential for cycling as a mode of public transport. This, coupled with the fact that Pune has been the undisputed Cycling Capital of India for a long time makes one wonder why the government has not done much to promote cycling. For starters, all the BRTS corridors, from Nagar Road, Nashik Road, Aundh-Ravet Road, Vishrantwadi Road, et al must be given proper cycle lanes. Once this is done, cycle parking must be provided. This can be easily achieved at major bus terminals such as Kiwale and Vishrantwadi, but needs to be given a serious thought at other areas. It can be done with relative ease at Kalewadi Phata and Dange Chowk, both of which have a split flyover, providing the much needed space for the parking. Similarly, parking must be offered at major PMPML bus stations, such as Kothrud, Balewadi, Nigdi, Chinchwad, Corporation, Pune Railway Station, Swargate, Hadapsar, etc, as well as Railway stations like Shivajinagar, Kasarwadi, Akurdi etc. Along with this, last mile connectivity should be provided for those using shared cycles. Docking stations must be provided in residential pockets to encourage their use.

And now, for the MMR.

The situation in the MMR is pretty similar to the PMR. Cycle stations can be provided at all of BESTs Depots, Bus Stations, major junctions such as Rani Laxmi Chowk, Khodadad Circle, Dr. Shyama Prasad Mukherjee Chowk, NSCI Worli, as well as under the various rail-based stations. Cycle stations can be built around the Railway stations as part of SATIS, or under Metro and Monorail stations on the Median with an additional staircase of elevator for cyclists to use. In Thane, Navi Mumbai, it can be implemented along several select areas near Hiranandani along Ghodbunder Road, and at all CIDCO railway stations. It would be a massive boon to have it at CBD Belapur Railway station given the connectivity it will soon receive. A cycle station can be set up under the CBD Belapur flyover as well. Similarly, stations must be built at all present and upcoming Jetties, Ferry Wharf, Gorai Jetty, Belapur Hoverport, etc. Other major areas where they can come up are at SEEPZ in Andheri, Powai, etc.

Bangalore and Chennai

Both these cities should seriously consider providing cycle stations at bus stations, railway stations and Metro stations. This might help fulfill the BMTC Park and Ride Concept.

 

Now, for the bigger problem. The Cycle Stations themselves. How should they be built and operated:

Ideally, each ‘Cycle Station’, should consist of two parts: One for the public cycles, and for people riding their own.

The former is not a problem, since each user requires a Smart Card. Thus, authentication and security are sorted as both are connected to the card.

The latter, however might turn out to be a bit of a problem. Unlike a regular Pay-and-Park system, Cycles need a little more. Stealing a car, or a motorised two wheeler, is not too easy, whereas here, it is as easy as lifting a box off the ground and then pushing it out. So how do we solve this problem? Simple, we provide a locking mechanism on the cycle stand. But how would you make it work? There are two methods I see for this:

  • The Old Fashioned Way: Hire a guard or attendant. He gives you a receipt for the parking charge, you park it in the stand, lock it with your own lock and go. You can have a pass system for this. For those who don’t have a lock, provide one against payment of a refundable deposit. Say your parking charge is ₹20 for a day, you charge ₹50 for a chain and lock, upon whose return, you get your money back. You can have a daily-weekly-monthly pass system for this as well. It’s a win-win situation. Print the cyclists photo and a photo of the cycle, specify the date and time details for the pass on a sheet of paper. Just cross the date if it is a daily pass being sold by the vendor. It is as simple as a conductor selling a ticket. But do we really want to go down this path? Especially with Digitisation and eGovernance coming up?
  • The High-Tech Way: Install cameras for security, but yes, do hire a guard. Every user needs to have a smart card, for single transactions, they can get a token or a single use paper RFID token. The user comes in, locks the cycle with a lock built-into the stand, swipes their card on the sensor and leaves. The money for the parking is deducted from the account balance of the card. For the ones who don’t have a card; keep a machine like the Automatic Ticket Machines at Metro Stations. User slots in the time they intend to park for, insert the money, collect the RFID token or printed ticket, lock their cycle and go. On return, they return/slot-in/swipe the card or token and take their cycles out. This can be a good starter with the BEST prepaid card as the Smart Card.

There is a lot of thinking, planning, redrawing, mapping, innovating to be done to implement this. This will potentially improve and increase the number of cyclists on the roads, which might help reduce traffic jams. We all know how healthy and enjoyable cycling really is. Let us share the joy with those who may not know.

 

Do post your feedback in the comments below:

 

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The Rainbow across Pune and Pimpri Chinchwad

So the Pune Municipal Corporation [PMC] and Pimpri-Chinchwad Municipal Corporation [PCMC] have finally managed to get part of their Pet Project; the Rainbow BRTS partially operational.

The Aundh-Ravet section of the BRTS is partially open. BRTS buses make an announcement while crossing Aundh Gaon that from the upcoming stations, the BRTS doors will open instead of the regular ones.

So, let me start with a description of the entire project:

Like a standard BRTS project, this project has bus lanes. However, unlike the Katraj-Swargate-Hadapsar line, it is not just bus lanes in the centre of the road with regular bus stops and boarding. Similar to the Ahmedabad Janmarg, it makes use of level centre-boarding, i.e, it uses the doors on the right hand side, which are at the same height as the platforms. The entire system is operated by the PMPML.

Jagtap Dairy Rainbow BRTS Station.
Jagtap Dairy Rainbow BRTS Station. Image Copyright Srikanth Ramakrishnan, CC-BY-SA 4.0 International. Image available on the Wikimedia Commons.

On the Pimpri-Chinchwad side, there are five lines:

  1. Aundh – Ravet: This starts at Sangvi Phata and ends at Mukai Chowk in Kiwale, right next to the starting of the Expressway.
  2. Nigdi – Dapodi: This starts at the Bhakti-Shakti terminal and goes upto Dapodi, along the Old Mumbai Pune Highway.
  3. Wakad – Nasik Phata: This starts at Hinjewadi Phata, proceeds to Jagtap Dairy, Kokane Chowk, and then crosses the Nigdi – Dapodi Line at Kasarwadi where it terminates.
  4. Kalewadi Phata- Dehu Alandi Road: This starts from the Aundh Ravet corridor and goes over the Pavana, crosses the tracks and Old Highway at Empire Estate and then goes further.

Currently, the Aundh to Ravet line is operational. As part of this line, two split flyovers, one at Kalewadi Phata and one at Dange Chowk were built, along with a grade separator being built at Sangvi Phata. The BRTS stations, are quite similar to the Ahmedabad Janmarg. Some stations like Kalewadi Phata, and Jagtap Dairy have only one entry/exit, on the side towards to the signal, while some, such as Dange Chowk have exits on both sides. Due to paucity of space, the road goes from 6 to 4 lanes north of Tathwade Chowk station, and stations are split. There are two stations, one for each direction till Kiwale. The Ravet Chowk station is a bit precarious, because of the presence of a speed-breaker at both ends plus its location is at a curve. The Kiwale terminal, is a grand structure, located just off the starting of the Mumbai-Pune Expressway. One side of it is for BRTS buses, while the other side is for Feeder buses towards Nigdi, Dehu Road, et al.

Mukai Chowk, Kiwale Terminal BRTS Station.
Mukai Chowk, Kiwale Terminal BRTS Station. Image copyright, Srikanth Ramakrishnan, CC-BY-SA 4.0 International. Image available on the Wikimedia Commons.

The routes running along the BRTS are your regular routes that otherwise use the Aundh Ravet Road, such as 115P, 204, 276, 298, Vajra 5, etc. Vajra 5 goes all the way up to the Mukai Chowk Terminal at Kiwale, while others turn off at Kalewadi Phata and Dange Chowk towards Pimpri, Chinchwad, Nigdi and Hinjewadi. The announcement system announces the name of the station, as well as stops along the non BRTS section. At Sangvi Phata and Mukai Chowk, it is also announced that the BRTS ends. After Sangvi Phata towards Aundh Gaon and after Aundh Gaon towards Sangvi Phata, an announcement is also made instructing passengers the other side doors will be used, Right side towards Chinchwad and Left side towards Aundh.

The system so far seems well done, though I wish the announcements would say ”Next Rainbow Station” instead of BRT station. Drivers, however, still need to know exactly when to stop the bus. Both doors have a Red-Yellow strip with stop written on them to indicate to the driver where to stop the bus so that the door sensor is aligned. I’ve noticed drivers and conductors inching forward and backward to align it so that the sliding platform doors can open. Apart from this, the doors on the left side are also being closed, something similar to Bangalore buses, though in some cases, the rear door is latched, so it doesn’t close even if the driver closes it.

The PMPML has four types of BRTS buses with doors on the right hand side:

  1. Red coloured Tata buses.
  2. Red coloured Ashok Leyland buses.
  3. Pink and White Tata Marcopolo buses.
  4. Pink and White Ashok Leyland buses.

Currently, only the first category of buses ply on the BRTS. Other buses are used on other routes, and if they are used on the Aundh-Thergaon route, they run outside the BRTS lanes, like regular buses. These buses are fitted with Hanover LED displays on the outside as well as inside. Some of them don’t have the system working so, they go with a board placed in the front.

The system makes extensive use of GPS. There are displays in each Bus Station listing the arrival of the next four buses and their destinations. However, those buses whose systems aren’t working, are often not shown by the system, and thus you might see a 276 unexpectedly arriving, en route to Warje Malawadi.

There are ticket counters at each station, which are presently not in use. Punched Tickets are still sold on the bus in the old fashioned way. The Kiwale Terminal also has provisions for shops. It has Washrooms for Passengers, along with Dustbins, which are present at several other stations as well.

Overall, I think for a project that is still under construction, and still in trials, the Rainbow BRTS has done a decent job. However, this is the PCMC half of the project, I am yet to see what happens on the PMC section along Nagar Road and Vishrantwadi, where the latter has been operational for a month.

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Buses in Pune: How the PMPML managed to clean up its act

PMPML: Pune Mahanagar Parivahan Mahamandal Limited, (Pune Metropolitan Transport Corporation Limited) is the Transport unit that serves the twin cities of Pune and Pimpri-Chinchwad. It has been panned by one and all ever since its formation in 2007 for various reasons, from the valid ones like poor quality of buses, to the inane ones like bad looking buses.

My first interaction with buses in Pune began back in 1999 when I visited the city for the first time. Having lived in Bombay for a year, and having travelled in BEST buses then, Pune buses were a bit disappointing, to say the least. It was even more odd because there were buses marked PMT and PCMT. I used to wonder why the same organisation would have different names on their buses.

I soon found out that they were different entities. PMT was Pune Municipal Transport, operated by the Pune Municipal Corporation. It had seven depots, Narveer Tanajiwadi, Kothrud, Hadapsar, Swargate, Katraj, Pune Station, and Market Yard, with it’s head office being located at Swargate, next to the MSRTC Pune Division office. PCMT was the Pimpri-Chinchwad Municipal Transport, operated by the Pimpri-Chinchwad Municipal Corporation with three depots at Pimpri, Nigdi and Bhosari.

The two of them operated independently, without entering into each-others territories except in rare routes, such as those to Pune Station and Wakad. Both of them had a track record for bad services, zero punctuality and rickety buses. In 2005, the Supreme Court made a recommendation that the two bodies be merged to provide better services, which the State Government ensured in 2007. Thus, on 15 October 2007, the PMPML was officially formed after it received its Commencement Certificate.

The major advantage of the merger was seen shortly after it happened. Pune and Pimpri-Chinchwad were now treated as one large region, the Pune Metropolitan Area. If this move had to be compared, it can be compared to when BEST took over the Bandra Bus Company in 1949.  As a unified body, PMPML had access to funding from both the PMC, as well as the PCMC. The combined population of both cities and their JnNURM eligibility was an added bonus. However, the new body was partly autonomous, like BEST, thus it had to bear its own financial losses and neither Municipal Corporation was liable to bail it out.

It was just before this time that the PMT managed to acquire a few Volvo B7RLE (8400) buses for use on its planned Bus Rapid Transit System (BRTS). The BRTS, later renamed to as the Rainbow BRTS, was officially launched in 2009 by the PMC and PMPML. Unlike the Ahmedabad Janmarg, the initial line of Rainbow BRTS was merely a set of bus lanes with bus stops on the centre of the road. Basically, a replica of the Delhi BRTS. There was no off board ticket collection, no level boarding, nothing.  The route ran from Katraj to Swargate and then to Hadapsar. Bus lanes were built on Satara Road from the Katraj Octroi Checkpost till Jedhe Chowk at Swargate. This set-up has been partly disrupted due to the Jedhe Chowk flyover and Dhanakwadi flyover. From Swargate to Hadapsar, the BRTS ran along with regular traffic through Pune Camp till Racecourse on Solapur Road where it again got a dedicated lane. Today, enforcement is lax, and all sorts of vehicles enter the bus lanes.

A Volvo used on the Pune Rainbow BRTS by PMPML.
A Volvo used on the Pune Rainbow BRTS by PMPML. Image copyright Rovan Vaz, CC-BY-SA 3.0Unported, available on the Wikimedia Commons.

The old Pune BRTS uses Volvo B7RLE/8400 buses that belong to the Katraj Depot. This is the only time that I have seen anyone create openable windows on any Volvo bus. The buses have been badly maintained, are covered with paan stains on both, the inside and the outside.

The PMC and PCMC have been building a new Bus Rapid Transit System, this time, a proper one with Centre-stations, off board ticketing, et al, similar to the Janmarg. The PMC has built this along Nagar Road, connecting parts of Vishrantwadi, Alandi Road, Sangamadi, and Yerwada. The PCMC has built multiple corridors, mainly along the Aundh-Ravet-Kiwale and the Nashik Phata – Hinjewadi Phata routes with intersecting lines at Kalewadi Phata, Empire Estate and one major line along the Old Mumbai-Pune Highway from Nigdi to Dapodi.

A PMPML BRTS bus built by AGCL. These buses have BRTS doors on the right side.
A PMPML BRTS bus built by AGCL. These buses have BRTS doors on the right side. Image copyright Srikanth Ramakrishnan, CC-BY-SA 4.0 International, available on the Wikimedia Commons.

 

The PMPML ticketing system has been a rather controversial one. The PMPML started out with an eTicketing system in 2010 with a private firm called Vansh Nimay, which is known for running bus services for the NMPL in Nagpur. The system was similar to the one BEST and MSRTC had implemented with Trimax. However, there was one major flaw in the system that neither PMPML nor Vansh Nimay could do anything about. The system could not back up ticket sales and revenue data, thanks to both a technical glitch as well as a loophole in the agreement. Thus, Vansh Nimay got its commission for each ticket sold and the PMPML had no clue how many tickets were sold and how many conductors were actually pocketing the money. Subsequently, this was scrapped and the punched tickets returned, although this time, they were yellow in colour.

In December 2014, then State Inspector General of Registration and Controller of Stamps, Shrikar Pardeshi, an IAS officer, was given the additional responsibility of Chairman and Managing Director of the PMPML. Pardeshi had earlier managed PMPML in July 2013 where he rationalised all ticket stages to multiples of ₹5 to overcome problems with returning change. This time around, Pardeshi took some major steps towards reform, and managed to get most of the PMPML’s grounded fleet on the roads. The PMPML had 160 odd buses that were lying in depots for want of repairs, but couldn’t be fixed due to lack of funds. He set up a bank account for PMPML to deposit 6% of the daily revenue for purchase of spare parts. In less than 3 months, Pardeshi increased the functional fleet from 60% to 75%, which is a major turnaround. He worked on improving schedules, drivers efficiency, as well as addressing staff concerns, including health checkups for them.  He stated in an interaction about his efforts to tie up with many NGOs and other bodies to set up a new website for the PMPML, and a proposed mobile app. He set goals and targets for revenue collections, passengers in buses, and advertisements. Unfortunately for PMPML, but fortunately for India, Pardeshi was called up to join the Prime Ministers Office as Deputy Secretary in April 2014. One hopes that he will create such a turnaround for the country in his new role.

In 2015, the PMPML announced a tie up with a Delhi based company along with the Central Bank of India to set up a new electronic Ticketing system. The system would be rolled out to conductors of the Pune Station Depot and then to others. These are expected to work similar to the ones in use by BEST in Mumbai.

PMPML, is now a better organisation, though it has miles [or kilometres] to go to reach the levels or efficiency that other Transport undertakings have reached. It needs more land for buses to park, better depots, better facilities for it’s staff.The Katraj Depot is the most profitable. Take a look at the Market Yard Depot and decide for yourself if it is worth calling it a depot.

PMPML buses at the Market Yard Depot. They are so rickety that they fly when they go over a speed breaker, and are called Udaan Khatara.
PMPML buses at the Market Yard Depot. They are so rickety that they fly when they go over a speed breaker, and are called Udaan Khatara. Image copyright Srikanth Ramakrishnan, CC-BY-SA 4.0 International, available on the Wikimedia Commons.

Among various issues the PMPML still has to work on are; friendlier staff, more buses on schedule, cleaner buses, more buses to the outskirts. Route maps on bus stops, better bus stops, and bus stops with route numbers marked on them are needed.

Overall, I think PMPML has done a good job in the last one year, thanks mainly to he great capabilities of Srikar Pardeshi. With offers pouring in from firms like Asian Concierge to provide AC Volvo buses for free in lieu of advertising rights, similar to BEST, PMPML should seize them and make itself a brand name in the city. The PMPML has already lost a significant chunk of its revenue to MetroZip in the Hinjewadi region.

 

Have something to say about the PMPML? Feel free to post it in the comments below:

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Branded Bus Services

Branding Public transport has been an exercise tried out by many transport bodies worldwide, to various degrees. Few have succeeded, while few have failed in this venture.

There have been multiple attempts by various transcos in India at Branding services. While Metro Rail services have had branding as an integral part of them from Day 1, the same is not the case with buses, as many of them have been in operation for several decades now.  Here, I shall attempt to break-down the branding used by our transcos, as well as try and understand some lesser known details about them. In the event you want to see how branding works outside of India, there is a research paper here.

Note, I have used the term CBD numerous times in the article below, for those who are unaware; CBD stands for Central Business District. It is invariably a part of the core city area where many offices exist. It is the equivalent for what Americans often refer to as Downtown.

A BMTC Big 10 bus on Route G1 in Bangalore.
A BMTC Big 10 bus on Route G1 in Bangalore. Image copyright Ramesh NG, CC-BY-SA-2.0, available on Flickr and the Wikimedia Commons.

The first time I heard of branding of bus services was in 2009, when BMTC launched the Big 10  and Kendriya Sarige series of buses. These were touted as a major change in BMTC services, and the way the public viewed the services. The Big 10 covered the main ten highways of Bangalore city, starting from the CBD, and were numbered G1 to G10 in a clockwise fashion. The number of routes has now been increased to 12. The Kendriya Sarige, or Hop-On, Hop-Off [HOHO] series, were Volvo buses in blue and orange liveries, doing clockwise and anti-clockwise routes in the CBD, with a flat fare. The HOHO was discontinued due to poor patronage and the buses were used on regular Vajra routes. The Vajra, and Vayu Vajra concept itself was the biggest branding that BMTC has ever done for its services. Branding AC Tata Marcopolo buses as AC Suvarna, to keep lower fares was also a good exercise. Post the success of the Big 10, the BMTC rebranded some of the 500 and 501 series of buses, running on Outer Ring Road, as the Big Circle series. Services were numbered C1, C2, et al. Similarly, the Inner Circle, numbered K1, K2, et al, was launched for buses on Inner Ring Road, and Chord Road. This continued with the silver-coloured Metro Feeder routes, and more recently the Big Trunk series, which is basically just giving existing routes a new, more complicated number [Which is easier; 360B, or KBS3A?]

 

A Volvo used on the Pune Rainbow BRTS by PMPML.
A Volvo used on the Pune Rainbow BRTS by PMPML. Image copyright Rovan Vaz, CC-BY-SA 3.0Unported, available on the Wikimedia Commons.

PMPML experimented with branding back in 2008-2009 with the BRTS, also called the Rainbow BRTS, with the PMPML procuring Volvo B7RLEs [with openable windows] to run on the bus lanes on Satara Road from Swargate to Katraj and Solapur Road till Hadapsar.

A BEST Tata Starbus running on Fort Pheri 1, parked at CST.
A BEST Tata Starbus running on Fort Pheri 1, parked at CST. Image copyright Srikanth Ramakrishnan, CC-BY-SA 4.0 International, available on the Wikimedia Commons.

Now, let us move on to BEST. The BEST launched it’s Fort Pheri services in 2011. The Fort Pheri is probably the first branded bus service run by BEST in ages. Unlike BMTC, BEST does not brand its AC services. In fact, the BEST AC services, have a rather bad image, thanks to the Purple Faeries. So much for branding. So, BEST took their aging Tata Starbus fleet, gave them a pseudo makeover of sorts by painting them with a Fort Pheri Special livery. Some buses continue to operate with their original Starbus liveries, but most of them have been repainted to say Fort Pheri  1 or Fort Pheri 2 in Marathi. These buses were procured in 2004, break down very often, and thus were shifted to the Colaba Depot which is close to the route of these buses. They charged a flat fare, ran in clockwise and anticlockwise circles, and were an instant hit among office-goers in the CBD. A good move to make use of the fleet which was otherwise bleeding the BEST in terms of maintenance costs. Shortly after this, the BEST launched the Fort Pheri AC service. Unlike their non AC siblings, these buses had no special branding, but thankfully were not the Purple Faeries either. BEST decided to run all six of its Volvo buses from Oshiwara Depot to Backbay Depot on AS4, in the first six departures, park them at Backbay Depot, from where these buses would operate on Fort Pheri 1 and 2 AC till 3pm, before sending them back to Oshiwara as AS4. The remaining AS4 and A74Express would continue to have the Cerita buses on them.

A BEST Volvo on Fort Ferry 1 -AC.
A BEST Volvo on Fort Ferry 1 -AC. Image copyright Superfast1111, CC-BY-SA 3.0 Unported, available on the Wikimedia Commons.

Now that all the gyaan has been given, time to look at this whole exercise from a Marketing Point of View.

 What does Branding of Bus Services entail? Why must it be done?

To answer this question, let us take a take a quick look at high-end services offered by two intercity transcos: MSRTC and KSRTC.

KSRTC has branded its basic Volvo B7R services as Airawat, with the B9R being branded as Airawat Club Class. Further, the Airavat Superia is a B9R with a pantry and Airvat Bliss has a toilet. The newly acquired Scania buses are branded as Diamond Class. Similarly, MSRTC has branded its B7R services as Shivneri and B9R as Ashwamedh, and has retained the same names for the new Regular and Dual Axle Scania Metrolink buses as well. All said and done, MSRTC still carries the ST legacy. It is known as ST, and ST is an official part of the logo [in Devnagari]. While the Mahabus, and Shivneri services were launched as premium AC services, people still associated these with ST. However, that has changed a bit. Last year, when I asked a traffic police officer at Dadar for the starting point of Pune bound ST buses, he told me “You’ll not get an ST bus, but only a Shivneri to Pune“.

Similar to MSRTC being called ST, BEST also has a brand readily available. The name BEST is a brand in itself. Unlike other transcos, BEST itself is a brand name. Similarly, in Tamil Nadu, TNSTC buses are referred to as Arasu Perundu which literally translates to Government Bus. Some transcos use a logo to identify themselves with, for example the Ahmedabad Janmarg, the Delhi Transport Corporation, Navi Mumbai’s NMMT, and even the BMTC. The BMTC logo is nothing but the Gandaberunda, which is a Mythological bird with two heads; used as a logo for most entities under the Government of Karnataka, even KSRTC and the other sister bodies in North Karnataka. Even BEST these days is seen with its logo, a bus inside a lamp, seen now as the watermark on tickets and often on the front of an AC bus, above the display.

Now imagine the following two scenarios:

  • You live in the suburbs of Mumbai. You rarely come down to Fort, simply because you don’t have to. One day, you make it to CST because you need to go to the National Centre for the Performing Arts [NCPA]. Would you rather take a Bus number 108, or a Fort Pheri 1?
  • You live in East Bangalore. You need to head to Banashankari one day. Would you rather take a Bus number 500A or a Big Circle C-1?

Thus, bus branding is an important exercise. There are several reasons why bus services must be branded, all with a marketing tactic behind it. Here are some of them:

  • The most logical reason why anyone would want to market anything: To increase the number of customers and improve revenue streams. With the advent of cab aggregators like Ola and Uber, buses are losing out big time.
  • To give a feel good factor to the commuter. Passenger comfort is crucial. In a city like Bangalore, a person may get out of a bus and hail a cab, or in Bombay, take a train, if the bus is not comfortable.
  • A higher fare. A branded service is a premium service, it can have a higher fare, like BMTC does with the Vayu Vajra series, which have much higher fares than the regular Vajras. There are exceptions however, like the Atal Sarige, again run by the BMTC.
  • Make optimum use of existing properties: BEST re-branded its aging, semi-retired, nearly decommissioned fleet of Tata Starbuses for the non-AC Fort Pheri, and the idle Volvo buses for the AC Fort Pheri. Similarly, when the Kendriya Sarige flopped, BMTC used the Volvo buses on regular routes to Electronics City and Bannerghatta.

At the end of the day, transport is very important, since our lives depend heavily on it. Not many of us are lucky enough to live close to our workplaces or daily commute destinations, and those of us who don’t, will end up taking public transport. When other things around us a branded, why not transport? If a person pays ₹180 for a coffee at Starbucks, instead of ₹20 at a roadside stall, he or she is doing it for the brand value. Similarly, one might walk in to a fancy parlour and spend ₹500 for a haircut, that the barber under the tree might charge ₹30 for. When everything else can be branded, and packaged as a premium item, why not transport? After all, a good transport system is not one that is used by all the poor people, but one that gets the rich to give up their cars instead.

Looking at BEST, it can certainly brand its services as premium, and offer a better travel environment to the daily commuter. BEST branded their Limited Stop Buses, plainly as Limited, and its Express services with the C-series of routes. It is now upto BEST to rebrand its AC services as well, as mentioned in the earlier post. Unlike BMTC, who branded Volvo and Corona services as Vajra and AC Tata Marcopolo services as AC-Suvarna, BEST branded all its AC services as AC, a move that MSRTC has also seemingly done. Unlike KSRTC, MSRTC treats the Shivneri and Ashwamedh on par and charges the same rates for the two.

 

I look forward to some interesting feedback from those who are in the marketing and branding scene. Please do leave your comments in the section below. If you liked this post, please do consider hitting the Flattr button below for some microdonation love.

 

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Electronic Ticketing Systems: Who got it right and how

Electronic Ticketing Systems are commonly used now-a-days. Here, we take a look at the various aspects of Electronic Ticket Systems, and how they fare compared to Manual Fare Collection systems.

Before we delve into the world of ETMs, let us begin with Manual Fare Collection in different parts of the country and how things were different then.

Manual fare collection systems have been prevalent in India for decades in different fashions.  Trancsos like BEST, NMMT, PMPML, MSRTC have had standard punched tickets, while their southern counterparts like BMTC, KSRTC, MTC, TNSTC have similar looking tickets, though they may not be punched.

A ticket box with tickets waiting to be punched in a BEST Bus in Mumbai, India.
A ticket box with tickets in in a BEST bus in Mumbai. Image copyright Srikanth Ramakrishnan, CC-BY-SA 4.0, available on the Wikimedia Commons.

 

What did Manual ticketing entail for the conductor as well as the commuter?

  • Different tickets with different denominations had to be printed, serial numbers had to be stamped and then delivered to the depots, from where they’d be handed over to the conductors. Now this would have hardly been an issue with Transcos like NMMT and TMT who have just 2 depots each, but it becomes a headache for larger ones like BEST or BMTC with 26 and 43 depots respectively. The problem is compounded when it comes to State level transcos as well.
  • What if the conductor runs out of a particular denomination?  If it is a larger denomination, I’m sure he’d be able to give it in smaller denominations like BMTC and TNSTC conductors have given me but what if it is the smallest denomination possible.
  • The conductor has to remember stages for the entire route. Long-distance routes, become a pain in the neck.
  • Trip-sheet maintenance was a herculean task for all conductors, they had to count the number of tickets sold, tally it with the money they got and get it approved by the Depot manager.
  • It becomes a headache for the Ticket Examiner as he has to decipher the stage and fare in a bus full of people.
  • If the passenger [like me] collects tickets and keeps a bunch of them in his or pocket, and the Examiner asks for your ticket, well, I was let off with a warning because I was 11.
  • The upside of these tickets were that they were equivalent to Collectors items. While American kids grew up with Trading Cards at the same time, we grew up trading our bus tickets. They were colourful, had different numbers, and different punchmarks on them. Unless it is a PMPML ticket.

Now, let us make the transition to Electronic tickets.

 A handheld ticket machine used in BEST buses in Mumbai
A handheld ticket machine used in BEST buses in Mumbai. Image copyright Srikanth Ramakrishnan,  CC-BY-SA 4.0 available on the Wikimedia Commons.

My first interaction with Electronic Ticket Machines [ETMs] was in 2008 when I had shifted to Bangalore. BMTC was using the MicroFX BTM series at that time. These devices were used on various routes, mostly on Suvarna and Vajra services. These machines however, disappeared somewhere around the onset of 2011. Around 2010, I saw some MTC and mofussil routes of TNSTC use these machines on certain routes, as well. KSRTC [Karnataka] had deployed these machines in 2004, and by 2008, the entire on-board ticketing was done using ETMs. MSRTC too, today has implemented ETMs across Maharashtra, for both, on-board ticketing, as well as the off-board ticketing on their Shivneri and Hirkani routes.

Now, let us look at some of the benefits the ETMs have given our transcos. I have taken this from a Case Study on KSRTC by the World Bank and a Case Study on MSRTC by CIO.IN.

  • The need to run a printing press to print tickets has gone. Along with it, the overheads of transport and running an entire accounts team to monitor the process is eliminated.
  • Conductors no longer need to maintain a trip-sheet. The data is already on the ETM, so they just have to synchronise it with the Depot, either at the end of the day, or wirelessly on the fly.
  • These systems allow the Corporation to monitor routes in real-time. This means that statistics and revenue details can be had for any route, at any given point in time, which helps in maintaining an efficient route network, eliminate overlapping routes, modify loss-making routes, and more.

Now, after all this, one would like to assume that whoever implemented ETMs would be better off than those who didn’t. Unfortunately, that isn’t the case. As is the case with most new ventures in India, a venture is only as good as its implementation.

Here are a few instances of problems:

  • The PMPML, ended up scrapping its entire ETM range because they were unable to back up any of the data from it. The ETMs were failing as often as their buses.
  • The BMTC scrapped its initial set of ETMs and then got a newer set later on.

However, only one organisation in India has taken full advantage of Electronic Ticketing Machines, and that is the BEST. The BEST, in 2011, decided to go the MRTC way by partnering with Trimax IT for its Electronic Ticketing System. As per the Trimax Case Study on BEST, the arrangement was made under a Build-Operate-Transfer (BOT) agreement where Trimax would supply the infrastructure needed and keep a percentage of the revenue generated.

So, what was the deal all about?

Well, here goes:

  • All Ticket boxes were replaced with ETMs.
  • All bus passes were replaced by RFID cards.
  • Trimax set up a Server, which runs on Open-Source Software.
  • Setting up an online payment system for Bus Passes.
  • The all important ePurse.
The template of a BEST RFID bus pass. It has the Users photo in the box, and their name and ID number on the right
The template of a BEST RFID bus pass. It has the Users photo in the box, and their name and ID number on the right. Copyright, BEST.

The most important parts of this development were:

  1. Connecting a Bus Pass to the ID card
  2. The ePurse Concept.

In the last few years, several Transcos have insisted on an ID card for issuing Daily Passes to prevent their resale. BMTC started charging extra for passes if the commuter did not have a BMTC ID. BEST went one level ahead by saying a Daily Pass could only be bought if the user had an RFID card. This eliminated the need for manual verification and validation of both the ID as well as the pass. Simply scan under the ETM and it tells the Conductor whether a Pass has been issued or not.

The ePurse, on the other hand, is basically a prepaid card. It allows the holder to purchase upto 6 tickets at one go, and allows for any amount of tickets to be purchased, so long as there is a minimum of ₹50 balance on the card. The ticket that is printed, comes with the balance printed on it.

BESTs ETMs are connected to the servers via GPRS, thus keeping them in-synch, eliminating the need for conductors to transfer data manually. This also helps in sending announcements and notifications to the conductor and driver. When fares are revised, the ETMs automatically pick it up.

In order to do this, BEST had to create an entire database with the names of each bus stop, with their coordinates, routes that halted there and assigned each of them a unique ID. This ID can be found on the physical bus stop. It can be used to find out the Estimated Time of Arrival of a bus by sending BEST<space><Bus Stop ID> to 56060. Each bus is connected with a GPS unit that transmits data to the server.

Now all this may sound rosy, but to be honest, may not not work outside of BEST. It may not work with NMMT, TMT, PMPML, or BMTC. The reasons are:

      • No fixed bus stops, especially in newer areas. Without fixed bus stops, it can’t be named and assigned an ID.

Specific BEST bus stops have specific buses stopping at them, some of the others don’t. Thus, there may be four Unipoles at a Bus stop, each with a different bus marked on it, each with a different ID.

Thus, I think it is clear that at the end of the day, BEST is indeed the BEST here. They have done a truly wonderful job with their system. MSRTC is close behind, with KSRTC just missing the real-time synchronisation. Other transcos, must try and catch up, or risk losing revenue due to leaks.

 

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