USSD Bus Travel: Is it worth a try?

Last week, I wrote an article on Swarajya about a little known Banking System that exists in India: USSD Banking, aka the National Unified USSD Platform (NUUP) that allows anyone with a basic GSM phone to perform financial transactions. You can read the article here: No Smartphone? You Can Still Transfer Money Using A Basic Mobile Phone

A user dialing *99# to access NUUP.
A user dialing *99# to access NUUP. Image: Srikanth Ramakrishnan/Swarajya

Now, to buses. Can we try and replicate the USSD Banking model for bus travel? Why not? We have two major applications for it.

  1. Ticketing.
  2. Tracking.

For all practical purposes, we will try and take BEST and BMTC as an example here. We will also assume a simple USSD number to dial: *456#

Ticketing

Since both BEST and BMTC have an Electronic Ticketing System in place, this can be relatively easy. It is easier for BEST, since BEST has all its bus stops numbered as well. Example: If I am at Nehru Planetarium/NSCI/Lotus bus stop at Worli, with a Bus Stop code 07187. I dial *456#, it asks me to enter the stop code, then I type 07187, it then asks me if I want to 1.Buy a ticket or 2. Know the arrival of buses, I choose 1. It then lists out the buses arriving in the next 30 minutes. I choose AS-4. It then lists out the stops from NSCI to Backbay Depot, I choose Backbay Depot, it asks for confirmation, I say yes. It deducts ₹75 from my wallet and sends me an SMS with the ticket details. It gives a 4-digit reference number which I show the conductor when I board the bus. He enters that onto his machine and that’s all.

Tracking

This is even more simpler than booking a ticket. The process is pretty much the same. Dial *456#, enter stop code 07187, choose 2 and it shows the list of buses. I choose AS-4. It shows the last stop the bus has crossed and the ETA, like : AS-4, Acharya Atre Chowk, ETA 4 min. This is similar to BEST’s existing SMS based system, but provides more real time data.

Shortcodes

A shortcode can be created enabling faster access to frequenters.

Eg: *456*1*07187# to open the list of buses to book a ticket. Or *456*2*07187# to open the list of buses to track then.

Pricing

Now comes the tricky part. Rates for the NUUP are charged, with a maximum cap set by TRAI at ₹1.5 per transaction. As far as tracking is concerned, the existing SMS system (although not functional right now) costs ₹3 per message. A ₹1 charge per transaction/lookup might be good for tracking. The issue comes for payments. Charging a rupee extra per ticket doesn’t sound like a good move. However, since BEST already charges ₹30 for the ePurse Card, and ₹10 per month for bus passes as administrative charges, it might not be a problem if it is charged as a rent from the user’s account.

What do you say? USSD Banking is here. USSD Bus Travel? Why not

 

 

 

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American Elections Are Like Indian Transport: Fragmented

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

To give an example:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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Subsidies in Transport: Good or Bad

Subsidies in Transport are visible everywhere. Tamil Nadu has kept its bus fares at rock bottom rates, gives free bus passes to school students, Delhi has dirt cheap rates with the maximum fares being ₹15 and ₹25 in a non-AC and an AC bus. So, what else?

As stated earlier, extreme amount of subsidies bleeds the Transco of its revenue, and create a heavy indifference among the commuters to quality of services. Given that a vast majority of India’s transport services are entirely General Class services, revenues are inherently low. Similarly, in the case of Roads, a lot of people argue that Tolls are a “scam”, especially when they pay road taxes. Again, this is a false notion, one that can be explained if we cared to look at the Basic Difference between Toll and Road Tax: Toll is a User Fee. Road Tax is a Tax. I repeat, Toll is a Fee, and not a Tax. A tax is levied on a category of people on the basis of the income or what they own, in this case a vehicle. A toll, or a fee, is levied only on those who use the certain service or product, in this case the road. Many users accept this, but go on to further state that they are unjustly charged for using the entire section of a road rather than just the portion they used. Again, this is a flawed point of thought. In India, it would be a superhuman effort to set up Toll Plazas at every junction, man them [an automated one wouldn’t work, people will definitely find a way to avoid paying it then] and operate it. Of course, the Coimbatore bypass has 6 Toll Plazas on it, but 6 of them on a 28km two lane road, we all know the jam that occurs most of the time.

Toll Roads and other BOT transport projects, such as BOT Railway lines, like the Mumbai Metro One, Rapid Metro Gurgaon, Hyderabad Metro, et al, have specific intervals at which they are allowed to hike fees and fares, which makes it easier to operate and break even. In case of Transcos, most of them are either under pressure from the state or municipal body to keep their fares low [Prime Examples being DTC, MTC, TNSTC]. A few exceptions exist in the form of BEST, BMTC, TSRTC, which by virtue of the autonomy enjoyed by them revise [hike or slash] their fares at a reasonable interval. One method of determining rates is market oriented rates, which is what Uber and Ola normally does. When demand goes up, fares go up so that those who are willing to pay extra for it. However, this isn’t a feasible solution in all cases. In such situations, BEST’s Happy Hours concept works well. Similarly, KSRTC and the Indian Railways have successfully emulated the aviation industry with dynamic pricing in the form of Premium Tatkal tickets. Every transport corporation has schemes to attract customers. Similar to Toll Plazas offering a return ticket and seasonal pass, buses offer Passes and other forms of subsidies to frequent customers like the market.

Now, to take this further, below is an article from the Foundation for Economic Education which talks about the ill effects of subsidies.

 

The Distorting Effects of Transportation Subsidies

This article won the 2011 Beth A. Hoffman Memorial Prize for Economic Writing.

Although critics on the left are very astute in describing the evils of present-day society, they usually fail to understand either the root of those problems (government intervention) or their solution (the operation of a freed market). In Progressive commentary on energy, pollution, and so on—otherwise often quite insightful—calls for government intervention are quite common. George Monbiot, for instance, has written that “[t]he only rational response to both the impending end of the Oil Age and the menace of global warming is to redesign our cities, our farming and our lives. But this cannot happen without massive political pressure.”

But this is precisely backward. Existing problems of excess energy consumption, pollution, big-box stores, the car culture, and suburban sprawl result from the “massive political pressure” that has already been applied, over the past several decades, to “redesign our cities, our farming, and our lives.” The root of all the problems Monbiot finds so objectionable is State intervention in the marketplace.

In particular, subsidies to transportation have probably done more than any other factor (with the possible exception of intellectual property law) to determine the present shape of the American corporate economy. Currently predominating firm sizes and market areas are the result of government subsidies to transportation.

Adam Smith argued over 200 years ago that the fairest way of funding transportation infrastructure was user fees rather than general revenues: “When the carriages which pass over a highway or a bridge, and the lighters which sail upon a navigable canal, pay toll in proportion to their weight or their tonnage, they pay for the maintenance of those public works exactly in proportion to the wear and tear which they occasion of them.”

This is not, however, how things were actually done. Powerful business interests have used their political influence since the beginning of American history to secure government funding for “internal improvements.” The real turning point was the government’s role in creating the railroad system from the mid-nineteenth century on. The national railroad system as we know it was almost entirely a creature of the State.

The federal railroad land grants included not only the rights-of-way for the actual railroads, but extended 15-mile tracts on both sides. As the lines were completed, this adjoining land became prime real estate and skyrocketed in value. As new communities sprang up along the routes, every house and business in town was built on land acquired from the railroads. The tracts also frequently included valuable timberland. The railroads, according to Matthew Josephson (The Robber Barons), were “land companies” whose directors “did a rushing land business in farm lands and town sites at rising prices.” For example, under the terms of the Pacific Railroad bill, the Union Pacific (which built from the Mississippi westward) was granted 12 million acres of land and $27 million worth of 30-year government bonds. The Central Pacific (built from the West Coast eastward) received nine million acres and $24 million worth of bonds. The total land grants to the railroads amounted to about six times the area of France.

Theodore Judah, chief engineer for what became the Central Pacific, assured potential investors “that it could be done—if government aid were obtained. For the cost would be terrible.” Collis Huntington, the leading promoter for the project, engaged in a sordid combination of strategically placed bribes and appeals to communities’ fears of being bypassed in order to extort grants of “rights of way, terminal and harbor sites, and . . . stock or bond subscriptions ranging from $150,000 to $1,000,000” from a long string of local governments that included San Francisco, Stockton, and Sacramento.

Government also revised tort and contract law to ease the carriers’ way—for example, by exempting common carriers from liability for many kinds of physical damage caused by their operation.

Had railroad ventures been forced to bear their own initial capital outlays—securing rights of way, preparing roadbeds, and laying track, without land grants and government purchases of their bonds—the railroads would likely have developed instead along the initial lines on which Lewis Mumford speculated in The City in History: many local rail networks linking communities into local industrial economies. The regional and national interlinkages of local networks, when they did occur, would have been far fewer and far smaller in capacity. The comparative costs of local and national distribution, accordingly, would have been quite different. In a nation of hundreds of local industrial economies, with long-distance rail transport much more costly than at present, the natural pattern of industrialization would have been to integrate small-scale power machinery into flexible manufacturing for local markets.

Alfred Chandler, in The Visible Hand, argued that the creation of the national railroad system made possible, first, national wholesale and retail markets, and then large manufacturing firms serving the national market. The existence of unified national markets served by large-scale manufacturers depended on a reliable, high-volume distribution system operating on a national level. The railroad and telegraph, “so essential to high-volume production and distribution,” were in Chandler’s view what made possible this steady flow of goods through the distribution pipeline: “The revolution in the processes of distribution and production rested in large part on the new transportation and communications infrastructure. Modern mass production and mass distribution depend on the speed, volume, and regularity in the movement of goods and messages made possible by the coming of the railroad, telegraph and steamship.”

The Tipping Point

The creation of a single national market, unified by a high-volume distribution system, was probably the tipping point between two possible industrial systems. As Mumford argued in Technics and Civilization, the main economic reason for large-scale production in the factory system was the need to economize on power from prime movers. Factories were filled with long rows of machines, all connected by belts to drive shafts from a single steam engine. The invention of the electric motor changed all this: A prime mover, appropriately scaled, could be built into each individual machine. As a result, it was possible to scale machinery to the flow of production and situate it close to the point of consumption.

With the introduction of electrical power, as described by Charles Sabel and Michael Piore in The Second Industrial Divide, there were two alternative possibilities for organizing production around the new electrical machinery: decentralized production for local markets, integrating general-purpose machinery into craft production and governed on a demand-pull basis with short production runs and frequent shifts between product lines; or centralized production using expensive, product-specific machinery in large batches on a supply-push basis. The first alternative was the one most naturally suited to the new possibilities offered by electrical power. But in fact what was chosen was the second alternative. The role of the State in creating a single national market, with artificially low distribution costs, was almost certainly what tipped the balance between them.

The railroads, themselves largely creatures of the State, in turn actively promoted the concentration of industry through their rate policies. Sabel and Piore argue that “the railroads’ policy of favoring their largest customers, through rebates” was a central factor in the rise of the large corporation. Once in place, the railroads—being a high fixed-cost industry—had “a tremendous incentive to use their capacity in a continuous, stable way. This incentive meant, in turn, that they had an interest in stabilizing the output of their principal customers—an interest that extended to protecting their customers from competitors who were served by other railroads. It is therefore not surprising that the railroads promoted merger schemes that had this effect, nor that they favored the resulting corporations or trusts with rebates.”

Reprising the Role

As new forms of transportation emerged, the government reprised its role, subsidizing both the national highway and civil aviation systems.

From its beginning the American automotive industry formed a “complex” with the petroleum industry and government highway projects. The “most powerful pressure group in Washington” (as a PBS documentary called it) began in June 1932, when GM president Alfred P. Sloan created the National Highway Users Conference, inviting oil and rubber firms to help GM bankroll a propaganda and lobbying effort that continues to this day.

Whatever the political motivation behind it, the economic effect of the interstate system should hardly be controversial. Virtually 100 percent of roadbed damage to highways is caused by heavy trucks. After repeated liberalization of maximum weight restrictions, far beyond the heaviest conceivable weight the interstate roadbeds were originally designed to support, fuel taxes fail miserably at capturing from big-rig operators the cost of pavement damage caused by higher axle loads. And truckers have been successful at scrapping weight-distance user charges in all but a few western states, where the push for repeal continues. So only about half the revenue of the highway trust fund comes from fees or fuel taxes on the trucking industry, and the rest is externalized on private automobiles.

This doesn’t even count the 20 percent of highway funding that’s still subsidized by general revenues, or the role of eminent domain in lowering the transaction costs involved in building new highways or expanding existing ones.

As for the civil aviation system, from the beginning it was a creature of the State. Its original physical infrastructure was built entirely with federal grants and tax-free municipal bonds. Professor Stephen Paul Dempsey of the University of Denver in 1992 estimated the replacement value of this infrastructure at $1 trillion. The federal government didn’t even start collecting user fees from airline passengers and freight shippers until 1971. Even with such user fees paid into the Airport and Airways Trust Fund, the system still required taxpayer subsidies of $3 billion to maintain the Federal Aviation Administration’s network of control towers, air traffic control centers, and tens of thousands of air traffic controllers.

Eminent domain also remains central to the building of new airports and expansion of existing airports, as it does with highways.

Subsidies to airport and air traffic control infrastructure are only part of the picture. Equally important was the direct role of the State in creating the heavy aircraft industry, whose jumbo jets revolutionized civil aviation after World War II. In Harry Truman and the War Scare of 1948, Frank Kofsky described the aircraft industry as spiraling into red ink after the end of the war and on the verge of bankruptcy when it was rescued by the Cold War (and more specifically Truman’s heavy bomber program). David Noble, in America by Design, made a convincing case that civilian jumbo jets were only profitable thanks to the government’s heavy bomber contracts; the production runs for the civilian market alone were too small to pay for the complex and expensive machinery. The 747 is essentially a spinoff of military production. The civil aviation system is, many times over, a creature of the State.

The State and the Corporation

It’s hard to avoid the conclusion that the dominant business model in the American economy, and the size of the prevailing corporate business unit, are direct results of such policies. A subsidy to any factor of production amounts to a subsidy of those firms whose business models rely most heavily on that factor, at the expense of those who depend on it the least. Subsidies to transportation, by keeping the cost of distribution artificially low, tend to lengthen supply and distribution chains. They make large corporations operating over wide market areas artificially competitive against smaller firms producing for local markets—not to mention big-box retailers with their warehouses-on-wheels distribution model.

Some consequentialists treat this as a justification for transportation subsidies: Subsidies are good because they make possible mass-production industry and large-scale distribution, which are (it is claimed) inherently more efficient (because of those magically unlimited “economies of scale,” of course).

Tibor Machan argued just the opposite in the February 1999 Freeman:

Some people will say that stringent protection of rights [against eminent domain] would lead to small airports, at best, and many constraints on construction. Of course—but what’s so wrong with that?

Perhaps the worst thing about modern industrial life has been the power of political authorities to grant special privileges to some enterprises to violate the rights of third parties whose permission would be too expensive to obtain. The need to obtain that permission would indeed seriously impede what most environmentalists see as rampant—indeed reckless—industrialization.

The system of private property rights . . . is the greatest moderator of human aspirations. . . . In short, people may reach goals they aren’t able to reach with their own resources only by convincing others, through arguments and fair exchanges, to cooperate.

In any case, the “efficiencies” resulting from subsidized centralization are entirely spurious. If the efficiencies of large-scale production were sufficient to compensate for increased distribution costs, it would not be necessary to shift a major portion of the latter to taxpayers to make the former profitable. If an economic activity is only profitable when a portion of the cost side of the ledger is concealed, and will not be undertaken when all costs are fully internalized by an economic actor, then it’s not really efficient. And when total distribution costs (including those currently shifted to the taxpayer) exceed mass-production industry’s ostensible savings in unit cost of production, the “efficiencies” of large-scale production are illusory.

Kevin A. Carson


Kevin A. Carson

Kevin Carson is a senior fellow of the Center for a Stateless Society and holds the Center’s Karl Hess Chair in Social Theory. He is a mutualist and individualist anarchist whose written work includes Studies in Mutualist Political Economy, Organization Theory: A Libertarian Perspective, and The Homebrew Industrial Revolution: A Low-Overhead Manifesto, all of which are freely available online. Carson has also written for such print publications as The Freeman.

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

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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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A sneak peak at BMTC’s and MCTD’s ITS

A lot has been said about Smart Cities and Smart Transport. Earlier, a post on Smart Bus Stops made an appearance as well. This article aims to cover the Intelligent Transport System [ITS] of two Southern Cities: The Bangalore Metropolitan Transport Corporation [BMTC] in Bengaluru and the Mysore City Transport Division of the KSRTC in Mysuru.

Bangalore

BMTC has recently rolled out their [ITS]. I managed to get a chance to talk to someone in the Office of the Chief Systems Manager at Shanthinagar today.

The ITS is being implemented by Trimax Infra, who earlier implemented the Electronic Ticketing System for BEST, RSRTC, and UPSRTC.

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

Here is what I gathered. The ITS is being implemented in three parts:

  • Electronic Ticketing Machines: Trimax has deployed 10,000 Verifone ETMs to 39 depots of the BMTC and trained 7,000 of its drivers. The earlier used Quantum Aeon machines were junked in favour of the new ones which BMTC claims was to enable compatibility with RFID-smart cards. Real-time monitoring of ticket sales is possible, although not being used.
  • Tracking of Vehicles: Every bus has been fitted with a GPS-based tracker which can be tracked online, or via an app.
  • Public Information System: Under the PIS, displays have been installed at major bus stations to inform the public of which bus is arriving soon. This is similar to what several BEST bus stops on the Western Express Highway have, and what Coimbatore was experimenting with in the post on Smart Bus Stops.

All three components of the ITS are already in operation with the PIS displays installed only at select Bus Stations. BMTC has decided to go for an Open Data Policy, thereby allowing developers to build apps and interfaces with an API to access the data from the ITS.

For more details on the Open Data Policy of the BMTC, do read this post on DataMeet.

Smart Cards are not part of the ITS project. They are being done separately and are due to be rolled out in 3-6 months with all the Pass Issuing Centres being upgraded to issue Smart Cards.

A chat with a conductor later did explain the shortcomings with the ETMs, although Trimax does take quick action on faulty equipment.

BMTC's ITS: Electronic Ticketing and Vehicle Tracking get a Boost! Click To Tweet

Mysore

The Mysore City Transport Department [MCTD] of the Karnataka State Road Transport Corporation [KSRTC], also has an ITS in place, called the Mysore Intelligent TRAansport System, known as MITRA. MITRA was formally inaugurated in 2012 by the then Minister for Transport R Ashoka.

Among MITRA’s aims are:

  • Real-time monitoring and tracking of buses and help reduce road congestion and other transport issues.
  • ITS improves passenger safety, fleet efficiency, services and traffic situation through transmission of real time information.

According to the MITRA microsite, it’s components are:

  • Vehicle Tracking
  • Real Time Passenger Information System
  • Electronic Display Systems

Mysore was smart enough to implement it before the situation got out of hand and sought funds from the World Bank under GEF and JnNURM.

As part of MITRA, the MCTD recorded the pronunciation of every bus stop name, fitted buses with LED Displays, Speakers, set up display units at Bus Shelters, as well as trained its staff to handle the system. An app was also released less than a month ago for commuters to be able to get bus details as well as fare details on their phone.

KSRTC also ran a User Satisfaction Survey, which showed positive results. The entire results of the survey can be seen here.

While MITRA may not seem as fancy as BMTC’s ITS, it is most certainly benefiting commuters positively and helping promote Public Transport in Mysore. One hope that BEST learns a lesson from this, when restarting its own ITS.

Mysore's MITRA is certainly a game changer in Intelligent Transport! Click To Tweet

Both BMTC and MCTD built a huge control room with a server to handle the large volume of data. Data is crucial to any project that involves the common man, mainly for operational efficiency.

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A Prepaid Card system for Manual Fare Collection

Presenting: #1 on the list of things that shouldn’t be implemented in the transport world, as well as a Logistical Nightmare: A Prepaid Card system for Manual Fare Collection.

A template for a punched bus ticket.
A template for a punched bus ticket.

Now, the concept of a prepaid card works well with an Automatic Fare Collection system in place, but would it work with a manual one?
Of course it would, why not? However, there are some things that need to be factored in this case.

Presenting, with images [designed by yours truly], a Prepaid Card for Manual Fare Collection Systems, or, a Prepaid Card for Punched Tickets, or a Prepaid Punched Card. Geeks like me will naturally be excited by this idea, as much as we are with out collection of Vintage IBM Punched Cards.

The concept is simple. Like in the case of the BEST Prepaid Card, the Commuter needs to have an ID card. Since we are looking at a non-computerised system, the ID Card can be similar to PMPML’s ID cards, which are nothing but cardboard ID cards with a photo stuck onto it, stamped, a Hologram sticker, and the Users Name, Age, and Address. There is no record kept of the card anywhere. The date of issue is stamped on top, and so is the Serial Number. The same can apply here, except, perhaps a copy of the User information can be kept as backup.

Now, before we go into the actual system, one thing needs to be done: All fares must be rationalised into multiples of 5, like what PMPML did. Once this is done, the rest is a piece of cake.

Now for the Punched Card:

  • Have a card [not a sheet] with a fixed denomination. Ideally ₹200 or ₹500 would be good. A template for a ₹500 is provided below.
  • Since all fares, passes, et al are in denominations of ₹5,  when a passenger buys a ticket, the conductor issues the ticket and punches out the number of ₹5s that have been sold on the card. If a passenger buys a ten rupee ticket, and a 5 rupee ticket, the conductor issues the tickets normally, and punches out 3 5s from the card.
A Prepaid Punched Card for Manual Fare Collection systems
A Prepaid Punched Card for Manual Fare Collection systems

Now, hold on. There is problem here:

In a manual fare collection system, how is the total fare collection calculated?

The entire route is divided into different stages with each stage having a few bus stops. Tickets are issued between two or more stages. At the end of each stage, the conductor writes down the serial number of the ticket on top of the bundle for each denomination onto a log sheet provided. This is often time consuming and this was the reason why ETMs were introduced in the first place. The number of tickets sold per denomination is calculated, multiplied by the denomination, and totalled at the end of the trip. This is then compared with the cash collected. What could be the problem here?

Now, for the aforementioned problem. There will be a major discrepancy in the cash collected vs tickets sold.

How do you solve this?

Simple: Follow the BMTC method of Daily Passes!

In 2010, BMTC had introduced the Concept of Loyalty Cards; an ID card valid for one year, priced at ₹25 instead of the ₹100 ID card which Monthly Pass holders had for a three year period. Then, they charged ₹5 extra for people who wanted non-AC Daily Passes but did not have either the ID Card or the Loyalty Card. The net result? BMTC conductors had to carry two different sets of passes, one for the ID holders and one for others. They sold passes and ensured that ID holders filled in their details.

The Transco just has to give out a second set of tickets for Prepaid Card Holders. Colour code them if needed, or keep an identifying pattern on them. Issue them to Prepaid card holders only. This will supremely increase the work-load of conductors, but then, that is precisely why this article starts with the equivalent of a “Do not attempt this at home.” kind of warning.

Impact of this ridiculous idea:

  • Conductors will work more.
  • The Organisation will have to print more tickets.
  • Passengers may increase.

So there you have it folks, as stated earlier, Do Not Attempt This At Home. This needs to be junked and never implemented, but who knows? Somewhere, someone might just be doing this!

Note: It is unsure at this stage if JAT used this or not.

Prepaid Cards and Punched Tickets: An idea. Click To Tweet

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

 

 

 

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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.

Which Daily Pass is meant for you? Click To Tweet

Have you ever used a Daily Pass?
Do leave your feedback below.

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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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NMMT Limited: Will it succeed?

NMMT Limited; after my previous post on BEST, seems to be an interesting development. Note I am only calling it NMMT Limited; the word Limited is just a figment of my imagination.

 

Back in 2014, NMMT had a meeting with several IT service providers, including Trimax, ARS, and Atos to set up an Intelligent Transport System [ITS], which would have brought NMMT more or less along the lines of BEST. However, nothing of the sort has taken place so far. I still see NMMT issuing punched tickets, they have no Bus tracking mechanisms like BEST, and their buses are mostly rickety. However, a recent article in ToI stated that NMMT was in talks with App Developers to create an app to book an AC Bus ticket. A rather interesting development indeed.

In November 2014, ten months ago, NMMT was issuing punched tickets on its Volvo bus on Route AC-105. I was given 3 tickets of ₹20, one of ₹10 and one of ₹5 for a ticket worth ₹75. This was two months after I had got my BEST smart card. The situation was the same in April 2015.

A 5 rupee punched ticket issued by the Navi Mumbai Municipal Transport
A 5 rupee punched ticket issued by the Navi Mumbai Municipal Transport. Image copyright Srikanth Ramakrishnan, CC-BY-SA 4.0 International. Image available on the Wikimedia Commons.

Now, with punched tickets, and no Electronic Ticket Machines in sight, this could only mean that NMMT is manually handling accounts as well. With such a system in place, how do they expect to go straight to App based bookings? How will the conductor add it to his or her tally? Or will they treat the passengers similar to the way they treat a passholder for a limited route or distance? There are a lot of questions involved in this, so let us have a look at the possible problems that might occur.

 

Let us take an NMMT route with significant competition along it and examine what might happen:

Route: Borivili Station [East] – Thane Station [East] via Ghodbunder

There are four buses that run primarily on this route:

  • BEST 700Ltd: This is a non-AC service, with limited stops. [50 stops]
  • BEST AS700: This is an Air-Conditioned service with fewer services than 700Ltd. [44 stops]
  • TMT AC65: This an AC service with fewer stops than AS700. [18 stops]
  • NMMT AC121: This is an AC service with the same number of stops as AS700. [44 stops]

Now, given the competition along this corridor, we can say that just like the Bangalore-Chennai or Mumbai-Pune corridor, if one misses one bus, rest assured they will have another one, assuming they are not a Pass holder or a BEST prepaid card holder. For most people living in Borivili, being passholders, AS700 would be the ideal choice. For those living in Thane, AC65 would be the ideal choice. NMMT ideally would be catering to commuters between Borivili and Airoli, or Thane and Airoli.

Now, NMMT is planning an app for its commuters to buy tickets. The purpose of the app can vary. It may be to allow cashless travel, or paperless travel like the Indian Railways UTS app for the Suburban Railway lines across Mumbai and Chennai. However, if this was the case, then why is NMMT still issuing punched tickets? Another purpose of the App can be to reserve a seat, similar to CityFlo or rBus. However, my question is, if NMMT is still on punched tickets, this will lead to a big mess. For example: What if all the seats in the bus are full, and a commuter waiting for the bus has reserved a seat using the app, and walks into the bus to see there are no seats free? The app-user cannot be denied a seat since they paid for it, and the conductor cannot ask a seated passenger to get up. Similarly, if the app is indeed for paperless ticketing like the Railway app, how does it help in curbing frauds? The UTS app currently works in two ways:

  1. One is the GPS method, which works on select routes, mostly the Western and Central lines wherein you have to be either inside the station premises or within a certain radius of the station in order for the app to work. The ticket doesn’t need to be printed and showing the app screen is enough if a TTE comes along.
  2. The second method is the Printed Ticket method. This works on non GPS enabled routes, where after a ticket is bought, it needs to be printed. A reference number is given, which can then be entered into an Automatic Ticket Vending Machine [ATVM] at the Origin Station. The ticket cannot be printed anywhere else to prevent frauds.

How does NMMT plan to do this? The first method would be problematic since not all buses are equipped with GPS, unlike their purple counterparts with the BEST. The second method would be cumbersome for the conductor to punch in a number into their machine, if they have one, to log it. Since, they use punched tickets, the conductor would have to note down the number on a sheet to submit to the depot manager.

All this leaves a lot to wonder. Is NMMT equipped to handle all this? Can they outdo BEST at BEST’s own game?

Only time will tell us.

 

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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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