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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From Bus Tickets to Temple Management

This is a rather odd post on BESTpedia, but nevertheless, a rather offbeat topic that deserves a mention.

As a precursor to this post, I’d highly recommend reading this article to get a good understanding of Temples and their relevance in India: The Temple As Infrastructure

Trimax IT, the company that successfully set up India’s most advanced Electronic Ticket System for buses in India, as well as some of of the Intelligent Transit Systems, has something known as the Trimax Temple Management System (TTMS).

Now what exactly is this Temple Management System? As the name suggests, it is a framework set up to manage a temple. Why a temple? In India, where each village has atleast one, if not two temples, managing these temples become a herculean task. Temples, big or small, due to their nature, receive a vast number of visitors, and often, managing all the tasks, from the pujas to the archanas to the donations require a large amount of management. In smaller temples, manpower is normally not an issue due to small crowds, and hence all this can be done by one person, or at the most, a handful of them. However, in large temples, where thousands of people visit on each day, it would be a herculean task.

 

So what all is involved in managing a temple?

Let’s try and list out what all are involved; and figure out how it is handled.

  • Accounts: All temples receive money; donations, puja costs, miscellaneous costs. Accounts need to be maintained.
  • Expenditures: Expenses from production of prasad to salaries of the priests are included here.
  • Government relations: No temple can function without support from the government.
  • Safety: A temple must take the safety of devotees seriously.
  • Security: Temples are often targets for terror attacks.
  • Recording Special Functions

 

Now, how do all these fit into a temple management system, and if done manually, how would it work?

A temple would need to hire a bunch of people for each role: Accounts, audits, government relations, et al.

Back in 2008, I cam across this software package called HOMA – Hindu Temple Online Management System. HOMA was designed by a company called Ventech, which was started by a group of Indian-origin engineers to run Temples in the United States. HOMA, among other things, has profiles for various people like board members, priests and devotees.

Now, to Trimax, which has implemented the system in the Siddhivinayak Temple in Bombay. The system is quite advanced, and, like the ticketing system of BEST, it includes a prepaid ‘Aashirwad Card’. Trimax also set up an online portal for performing Pooja. Now this isn’t the first time, an online portal has existed for Pooja, I have heard of, and my family has used ePrarthana before, and I know the Tirumala Tirupathi Devasthanams have an online booking system as well.

However, Trimax, as part of its deal, seems to have done a lot more:

  • An online portal.
  • A prepaid card.
  • Security systems, safety mechanisms, including Fire safety.
  • Live Streaming of Darshans!

Temples are an important part of our economy, and thus, managing a temple in such a manner, is indeed remarkable. I am waiting for more Indian firms to invest in temple management systems.

Till then, I quote a friend of mine: Siddhivinayaka is the mouse-wielding tech savvy lord.

Post this; I’d suggest a reading this article by R Jagannathan on why Temples need Smart Entrepreneurship.

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BEST Limited: A futuristic vision

After Uber and Ola started eating into BEST’s AC profits, it’s time for the Red Bus [not the Bus Booking Website], and also the Purple siblings to face some more competition, this time from it’s own brethren. The future of something as elementary as Transport seems to be in the hands of apps these days. After aggregators such as Lyft and HeyTaxi, for four wheelers and two wheelers respectively, now there is an app for a bus as well. It seems like more bad news for BEST.

Many of these services, such as rBus, CityFlo, Shuttl, ZipGo, are primarily running their services in the Bandra-Kurla Complex, where, BEST has only 2 AC services; AS5 and A77Exp. These buses seem to be a general public equivalent to the MetroZip service for employees in Hinjewadi which took away revenue from the PMPML.

Now, let us treat BEST as another organisation here, not a public transport unit. At the end of the day, the Brihanmumbai Electricity Supply and Transport [BEST] undertaking is an autonomous body under the aegis of the Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai [MCGM]. It would be wise to compare BEST vs the rest with either the Mumbai-Pune corridor or the Bangalore-Chennai corridor:

  • Mumbai-Pune: MSRTC has buses plying between Pune Railway Station or Swargate and Dadar, Borivali or Thane. There are numerous other companies on the same route, such as Neeta, Metrolink, Prasanna, Purple, MTDC, Konduskar, and even KSRTC. Rest assured, if you miss one bus, you’ll have one of the others waiting for you at any given time.
  • Bangalore-Chennai: KSRTC alone has 40+ services in a day between the two cities, with others such as TNSTC, SETC, Sharma, National, KPN, SRM, and various others. Again, rest assured, if you miss any one, you can get yourself a seat on any of the others.

Now, coming back to BEST, let us look at their connectivity to BKC alone, this being a premium Central Business District, with major financial services, the National Stock Exchange, and the Bharat Diamond Bourse, among others having their base here. The area can be compared to Electronics City of Bangalore, in terms of contribution to the economy, both local and national. It is but natural, that connectivity, especially the premium kind is present.

BEST has a branded bus service on the lines of the Fort Pheri, labelled BKC-1, 2, and 3 connecting it to Bandra Bus Station [East] and Kurla Station [West], but these are non AC services, and thus, not enough.

Now, let us look at the larger picture here, and not just the BKC region. Now, CityFlo and rBus have multiple routes criss-crossing the city. What do they offer, that makes them a better option?

  • Assured seating.
  • Air Conditioned service.
  • Online or in-app payments.

Now, this can be compared with a BEST bus, say A74Express from Oshiwara Depot to Worli [Lotus]. There are two buses at 8am and 8.30am from Oshiwara and two at 5.35pm and 6.05pm to Oshiwara. The route and timings are based on timings of offices located in and around Worli. A vast majority of the commuters are pass holders and there are a few who buy tickets, many of them opting for a Daily Pass, thus implying that they have a Prepaid card. Due to this nature, you invariably get a seat to sit, and very rarely do you see people standing in these buses. The bus is air-conditioned, either a Cerita, or a Volvo. If you are a pass or prepaid card holder, payment is again, a cashless affair. So what makes a passenger prefer these buses over a BEST?

The app affair

Wouldn't it be great if these two were together on an app instead?
Wouldn’t it be great if these two were together on an app instead?

BEST may not have an app, but as far as routes, and timings are needed, it does not need one. m-Indicator is easily the most useful app on my phone. It keeps me connected with details of BEST, NMMT, MBMT, VVMT, TMT and KDMT buses, as well as suburban trains across all lines, plus Metro, Monorail, Ferries, and also gives me details of Indian Railways trains departing from the city. The only thing missing is MSRTC timings. Indian Railways meanwhile, has an app, aptly titled UTS to let users book Unreserved Tickets on suburban trains in Mumbai and Chennai. The app uses GPS to ensure that you are at the right station.Now, imagine if BEST were to offer that kind of a convenience. Buy a daily pass from your phone, and show the BEST app to the conductor. He scans the QR code and keeps going. Cumbersome, given that BEST has invested heavily in its Ticket machines for a long time. What if, like the UTS app only allows you to use GPS to book tickets, the BEST app allowed you to use Radio Frequency Identification/Near Field Communication [RFID/NFC], known to many as S-Beam on Samsung phones to load this, onto your BEST ID card? Purchase the pass on your phone, flash your ID and then show the card to the conductor, who verifies it like he does for normal passes. Sounds cool no?

While all this is indeed far fetched, I dream of a day when BEST operates Public Transport services differently. It offers the basic bus services to its regular crowd, but also premium services, similar to those of a private bus operator for those willing to pay.

 

What do you say? It’d be great to see your responses in the section below.

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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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[Story] Sherlock’s Day Out

This story is dedicated to my furry four-legged friend Sherlock, who has been a constant source of joy for the “hooman” he owns.

 

Sherlock was a bit upset. He had updated his Facebook status to: upset that the hoomans in the buses didn’t let dawgs like me enter today. He had a dream about driving his own bus one day.

A dog driving a bus named church. Ever since he had seen this image of a dog driving a bus, Sherlock wanted to drive a bus.
Ever since he had seen this image of a dog driving a bus, Sherlock wanted to drive a bus. Image copyright all rights reserved b-mcg, available on Flickr.

 

The sun’s rays broke through the curtains and hit Sherlock right in his eye. He woke up, quickly shaking himself, and started barking. He then stopped barking when he realised that he was probably waking everyone up in the morning. He wagged his tail as he trotted over to the front door. The humans had unlocked the door earlier, he observed. He stood up, opened the door with his paws and grabbed the newspaper. He kicked the door shut and took the paper towards his bowl. He spread the paper out and there it stood out in big bold letters; Corporation launches special bus for Dogs. Sherlock was stunned. He couldn’t believe his eyes. He barked loudly and woke everyone in the house.

His owner, or The Girl He Owned, as he liked to say agreed to take him out and got in touch with the authorities. Sherlock was given a special dog tag for his collar which would act as his bus pass. The initiative was that of one elderly gentleman living where his owners had earlier lived, known to most people only as Mr. Sir. Mr. Sir, unknown to most of his neighbours, was an Animal Psychologist who also ran a shelter for abandoned and abused dogs.

Sherlock was super excited when the day for his first bus ride came. He stood with his human at the Central Bus Station when the the bus pulled up. It was silver in color with the words Special written on it where the routes were normally written. The side of the bus had WoofBus written on it along with pictures of Scooby Doo, Snowy, Ruff and Snoopy.

It was an old Volvo B7RLE with its seats replaced with cushioned dog baskets. The front door was shut and a mini doggy toilet similar to those used at several airports was seen there. Mr. Sir appeared there and greeted all the would be passengers and the humans that they owned.

A Doggy Toilet at Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County Airport. A similar toilet was found inside the WoofBus.
A Doggy Toilet at Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County Airport. A similar toilet was found inside the WoofBus. Image copyright Bob Cromwell, all rights reserved. Image can found on toilet-guru.com

 

Now I’m afraid I can’t tell you what happened further, because I wasn’t there; but Sherlock, who right now is busy looking over my shoulder with great excitement will tell you all that happened once he boarded. All I can do now is provide you with an image of his ticket and then I’ll type out whatever he has to say.

Sherlock's WoofBus Pass for the day. Of course, this was clicked before he got it. When I got it at the end of the day, it was soggy.
Sherlock’s WoofBus Pass for the day. Of course, this was clicked before he got it. When I got it at the end of the day, it was soggy.

And now, over to you Sherlock:

Hullo Hoomans!

I am Sherlock, a dawg who gets fed fer bein’ himself. Woof!

I got into a bus and there was Meester Sur in his uniform, smilin’. He held out his paw, we shook paws, and he scratched me ears. He then took the eye-dee around me neck, and put it to his machine. The noises it made! I couldn’t help watchin’ with a tilted head.

Meester Sur smiled and went to the next dawg. After makin’ noises with eye-dees on every dawg collar, he went to a chair with big letters on it. D-R-I-V-E-R. Some scary, strange noises later, we were all movin’. Some dawgs peeked out the windows of the bus to bark at their hoomans wavin’ at ‘em, some clung to ‘em baskets fer dear life. I had taken a fancy fer the fire hydrant and tried to mark it as mine. A big black Great Dane dawg grrrowled at me. I stared at him, blankly. “Grrrr….”, he went again. ‘Em uptown dawgs think they own everythin’. I finished me business and  walked away, rubbin’ me feet on the grass, as Meester Sur pressed a button and there were sprinklers, cleanin’ up. I gave one look to the Great Dane and walked away, to me comfy little basket from where I could see out of the window.

Meester Sur stopped the bus at a three light pole when we all saw it. It took all of one second fer the roof to come crashin’ down on the bus. On the kerb, lickin’ its paws, was a Meow. Like ‘em dawgs on the street, it would not wear a collar. Sheesh! It looked at us, climbed the railin’ on the pavement and stuck its catty face against the glass of the bus. All ‘em dawgs barked like Meow was dinner. I was clearly mistaken. These are no uptown dawgs or downtown dawgs. We are just Dawgs, the kind hoomans use to call each other low-life. All ‘em cats should have their arses bitten, but that no reason why a dawg should leave his dawg-ners. Or “manners” as hoomans would have it. I am a well-dawg-nered dawg, yoo see, even me bark is sophisticated. I studied Barkology at K9 University.

Meester Sur then took us on the new highway from where we saw the beach. A hooman held on to two Golden Retrievers, busy talkin’ on her phone. I barked at ‘em, they returned back. If only…

But, we had just the day, and not an entire lifetime, so we drove along. Meester Sur stopped the bus. I raised me neck to look out of the window. P-O-O-C-H–P-A-R-A-D-I-S-E.   Meester Sur left and came back with some dawg treats. Just like the cat, the place was like a bunch of stray dawgs fightin’ fer biscuits when he threw it in the air. Dawgs, I tell you. While he was gone, I sat at the place that had D-R-I-V-E-R written in big letters. but he probably figured somebody would do that so took the keys away. But I got to sit in the front of a bus, at the driver seat. Half of me dream fulfilled!

Meester Sur stopped next at a place with big, shiny letters: R-U-F-F–T-H-E-A-T-R-E — Excloosively fer them dawgs. hence it was always a mess. So many of ‘em dawgs jumpin’ about and running! One stupid dawg knocked over me food bowl. How utterly dawg-nerless! I gave ‘em all a piece of me mind with some sofisticated barks. Thankfully, the show not ver long, otherwise I would not be able to bear them dawgs. We left, with Meester Sur and his machine makin’ those funny noises with ‘em eye-dees again.

We set off, this time, to our final destination, fer the day. P-A-W-S–L-A-N-D the first theme tree-lamp post-fire hydrant area fer us furry ones. I didn’t feel like joinin’ on any of the rides because of, well, ‘em dawgs. I instead found two nice hooman females with whom I had a nice Barkin’ Symphony.

Meester Sur then rounded us up, and brought us back on the bus, and drove us back to the Bus Station. I got off to see me hooman waitin’ fer me. I looked up at her and gave her the look. She told me that dinner was waiting. How kind of her!

Woof!

Sherlock can be found on Facebook, when he’s not with his hoomans.

This story would not have been possible without the help and support of Rohini, the hooman owned by Sherlock. Rohini can be reached at her page.

Unfortunately Sherlock is no longer with us. He passed away on the 28th of January 2017. His organs were failing, resulting in his sad demise. He turned 11 just two weeks ago. May his soul attain Moksh. Om Shanti.

Sherlock Phadké
Sherlock Phadké

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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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The changing face of Mumbai’s Taxis

Most of us associate a taxi in Mumbai with just one entity: The Black-and-Yellow Premier Padmini. I’m going to attempt to track Taxis in Bombay to their current scenario.

A black and yellow Premier Padmini Taxi on the Streets of Mumbai.
A black and yellow Premier Padmini Taxi on the Streets of Mumbai. Image copyright Ask27, CC-BY-SA 3.0, available on the Wikimedia Commons.

These cabs have been on the roads for decades and have remained the undisputed maharajas of South Bombay. They had competition from only one other entity; the Cool Cab. The Cool Cab is a better vehicle; often a Santro, Indica, or a WagonR. They are Blue in colour and air-conditioned. Naturally, their fares are higher.

A Blue Cool Cab on the Streets of Mumbai.
A Blue Cool Cab on the Streets of Mumbai. Image copyright Ask27, CC-BY-SA 4.0, available on the Wikimedia Commons.

Taxis first made their appearance in the city in 1911, to complement horse-drawn carriages. Traditionally, these taxis operate in the same way taxis operate across the world. The driver gets a Transport-Vehicle licence. Either the driver, or the owner buys the vehicle, approaches the Regional Transport Authority [RTA] for a commercial registration and a Taxicab permit. Then the vehicle is registered to one of the Unions operating under the jurisdiction of the Mumbai Metropolitan Regional Transport Authority [MMRTA].

Under Maharashtra regulations, a cab, like an auto cannot refuse a fare. As long as the Fare-Meter says ‘For Hire’ on it, the taxi driver has to take the commuter to their destination.

For years, these taxis [along with the blue counterparts] remained the primary for-hire service in the city, especially the South, where Autorickshaws are banned to reduce congestion.

The first step towards change, was in 2007 with the appearance of the Fullora Gold Taxi. The Fullora Foundation was an NGO that set up the Mumbai Gold Cab Company. Regular taxi owners were invited to join the company. The deal included the sale of their old Premier Padmini, getting ₹25,000 in hand, shares in the company, a new taxi as well as insurance. A move that the Mumbai Taximens Union vehemently opposed. Among the various reasons to oppose it, the Taxi Union stated that the plan would fail as they would not have a taxi stand and would operate round the clock. When launched, they had a fare lower than that of the standard Cool Cab. The fleet was composed of Esteems, Indigos and similar saloons.

A Fullora Gold Cab in Mumbai.
A Fullora Gold Cab in Mumbai. Image Copyright Mumbai Gold Cabs, All Rights Reserved.

The period witnessed a boom in private cab operations with other players such as Meru, and the all-women Priyadarshini and Forsche joining the bandwagon.

What did this mean for the Common Man in Bombay?

Private cabs can be called when needed. This eliminates the need to look out for a taxi stand. They are mostly monitored by GPS. This makes it easy to track the cab. What really made me happy is the advent of Women-only cabs. Forsche [now Viira] and Priyadarshini cabs. Giving women drivers opportunities, and of course, women passengers feel safer that way.

What happened then?

By 2010, the market was saturated with many call-taxi operators, many of whom had pan-India operations, such as Meru, Mega Cabs, Easy Cabs, TabCabs, et al. The regular black-and-yellow as well as Cool Cabs continue to operate today, as do the Gold Cabs. Somewhere in 2011 Ola Cabs appeared on the scene as a taxi aggregator service. This was followed by Uber and other services. Surprisingly, however, Mumbai was fifth on Uber’s list. Ola and its subsidiary TaxiForSure [TFS], later on tied up with autos to allow you to find an auto on the spot with the app. TFS also launched Tata Nanos in Bangalore, although these are yet to be seen on the streets of Mumbai. Soon, others such as Meru, and TabCab too, lanched their mobile apps.

The scenario today:

The scenario today is rather simple.  If you are in SoBo, you can hail a cab as easy as hailing an auto. Autos and Taxis, traditionally in Bombay have been honest, and rarely overcharge. However, if one is not carrying cash, then an Uber, or Ola would make sense, particularly due to the extremely low fares they charge from their users. Cabs, in the long run do help get user of private vehicles off the streets, but they are among the reasons why BEST is reducing its AC fleet. Its good to see technology being put to good use, for the benefit of the consumer, be it prepaid wallets and Mobile Apps for booking, or Prepaid RFID cards for buses.

 

 

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The curious case of BEST and its AC buses

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What BEST must do now:

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

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

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

Possible Routes BEST can try out are:

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

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

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

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

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

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26 July: Did we learn anything?

It has been exactly 10 years since Mumbai was inundated on 26 July 2005.

A flooded street in Mumbai with a BEST bus on it.
A BEST bus on a flooded street. Image copyright Hitesh Ashar, CC-By-2.0, available on the Wikimedia Commons and Flickr.

What have we learned from this event? Every year since 2005, there has been atleast one day in July [sometimes June] when the city comes to a complete standstill because of the flooding.

There are five major rivers in Mumbai, the Oshiwara, Poisar, Dahisar, Mithi and Ulhas. While the last one doesn’t exactly touch Mumbai per se, Salsette island lies on its Mouth, which makes it equally important, if not to Mumbai, then to the remaining areas of the metropolis, such as Thane, Kalyan, Karjat, etc.

The Mithi is the most talked about river in Mumbai. Sometimes, referred to as the Mithi Nala, it originates by the confluence of water discharges from the Vihar and Powai lakes,  flows south, passing under the Runway at Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport before emptying out into the Mahim Bay. Now, throughout the course of the river, the Mithi, as are most other rivers passing through an urban area [except perhaps the Sabarmati in Ahmedabad], is subject to a huge amount of pollution. Pollutants in the Mithi come in the form of industrial waste, human waste, animal waste, and the ever-present, littering. This results in the river being toxic through much of its course, and being clogged with plastic and other such substances, just makes things worse. However, the last ten years have seen a lot of improvements. The MCGM has done a lot in digging up and desilting the river, thus increasing its water-carrying capacity. This was achieved by partnering with several private firms and NGOs. The river also acts as a source of livelihood to anglers in the monsoons who catch fish. Due to the high dissolved toxic components in the river, the MCGM came up with a plan to pump in Oxygen into it. Many areas of the river now have concrete walls to prevent encroachements, as well as to ensure the uniform width of the river.

The Dahisar River, originating in the Tulsi Lake inside the National Park, flows for around 12km. It passes under the Dahisar Bridge, which at one point in time, was a cinematic background used by the industry. Polluted in the same way as the Mithi, a few residents associations joined hands to start cleaning it up.

The Oshiwara River, half the length of the Dahisar, originates in the Aarey Milk Colony, and flows west towards the Arabian Sea. A lot of buildings are said to have been built on the mouth of the river. It passes next to the BEST Oshiwara Depot. Among the various measures suggested to fix this river are conversion into a waterway, and generating biogas out of the sludge.

The Poisar River, again begins in the National park and proceeds to the west, passing next to BEST’s Poisar Depot. What is interesting is that the MCGM began its clean-up back in 2006 itself. A land exchange between the MCGM and the Government of Maharashtra enabled the widening of the river, thus making it less encroached. Towards the eastern side, concrete walls and other measures have been taken to keep the river unobstructed.

Now, this brings us to one major project that was meant to fix everything: BRIMSTOWAD.

The Brihanmumbai Storm Water Drain [BRIMSTOWAD] project was launched in 2007 to help fix the city’s Century old drainage system. Under it, the MCGM increased the capacities of more than 2/3rds of the drains in the city. Under BRIMSTOWAD, eight pumping stations were to be built. Among these, four at Irla, Haji Ali, Love Grove and Cleveland Bunder have beem put into action. The Mithi River was designed to accommodate 120mm/hour precipitation. Various measures are meant to be taken, but when is the operative question.

Powai Lake Overflowing in 2005.
The Powai Lake overflowing in 2005. Image Copyright Bhadani, CC-BY-SA 2.0, Available on the Wikimedia Commons.

Here, the Powai lake is bursting at its seams. The lake is full of water hyacinths. These flowers need to go, they ruin the lakes. They can be used to generate energy however.

All in all, the city seems to have done a lot to combat the rain gods, but it seems this has not had much of an impact of the rains. The MCGM, along with the National Disaster Management Authority [NDMA] both need to team up and find a solution out of this mess once and for all for Mumbai to flourish in the monsoons.
Given how bad and inefficient administration, bad coordination between city and state, have ruined the Civic infrastructure, turning the city into a Wannabe Venice every year, we must focus on cleaning up the rivers, if not for water yo flow, then atleast for transport purposes.

 

Note: This article is dedicated to a friend, who at the age of 8, braved the entire floods a decade ago.

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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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