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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A clock named Bengaluru

So I came across this post on Medium written by someone known to me, that compares Bangalore to a clock; a theory that I have spoken about with respect to the Main Highways of the city, as well as bus services over the past few years.

Most transcos normally have a pattern that their routes follow. Examples of this are:

  • MTC Chennai: Routes that have the same number but a different sub-route [the letter preceding or following the number]  have a common terminal point in one of the directions. Eg: 27C and M27 both have the same origin and destination [CMBT to T.Nagar] but totally different routes.
  • BEST Mumbai: While, the pattern is getting a bit diffused off late in BEST due to the administration altering routes on the basis of the passenger load patterns reported by the ETMs, originally, you could make out which area a bus would serve by looking at the route number. All single-digit and two-digit routes predominantly have one terminal in the suburbs and one in SoBo. 100-199 used to operate exclusively in SoBo. 200-299 served the West of the Western Suburbs. 300-399 served the East of the Western Suburbs, as well as the West of the Central/Eastern Suburbs. 400-499 served the Eastern Suburbs, and Thane. 500-599 entered Navi Mumbai. 600-699 were entirely Mini/Midi-Bus routes, and the 700 series touched Mira-Bhayander.
  • PMPML Pune, Pimpri-Chinchwad: It is worth noting that the PMR doesn’t have a fixed pattern per se, although buses in the 1-20 region serve the Swargate-Hadapsar-Katraj zone and 300+ touches old Pimpri-Chinchwad areas. Route patterns became vague and diffused post the 2007 merger.

Now, coming to Bangalore/Bengaluru. A post on the BTIS website, pretty much corroborates both my theory and the Post that I had originally linked to at the top. However, it ONLY talks about the branded services that BMTC launched in 2009.

Let us take a trip back in the time machine to a decade and a half ago and start deconstructing BMTC routes.

BMTC divided the city into a clock-like network, with each highway, not counting the NICE Link Road, and including Hennur Road, Vidyaranyapura/New BEL Road, etc. Each of these arms was given a Checkpost. The Checkpost is nothing but a bus stop that marks a limit. On Bannerghatta Road, the Checkpost is the Mico Layout bus stop near Shoppers Stop. On Hosur Road it is the Forum Madiwala Checkpost. Now the Checkpost is similar Rani Laxmi Chowk/Mahim Bus Station in Mumbai which acts as a barrier between the City and Suburbs. Buses with numbers from 1 to 200 don’t normally cross this Checkpost, except in rare circumstances, such as the 2, 3, 13, 24, 25, 27 series that cross it to reach destinations like JP Nagar 3rd Phase, JP Nagar 6th Phase, Banshankari 3rd Stage, Kumaraswamy Layout etc.

Buses in the 200-209 range, is limited to 201 and its subset which operate on Inner Ring Road or go via Koramangala and Austin Town, mostly between Banashankari and its nodes and Domlur, Indiranagar, and adjacent areas.

Now, for the clock. The spokes are clockwise. Keeping the centre of the clock as the origin, we assume that services start at wither Kempegowda Bus Station [KBS], Krishnarajendra Market [KRM], or Shivajinagar Bus Station [SBS].

  1. Buses from 210 to 219 ply on Kanakapura Road.
  2. Buses from 220 to 229 ply on Mysore Road.
  3. Buses from 230 to 245 ply on Magadi Road.
  4. Buses from 246 to 260 ply on Tumkur Road.
  5. Buses in the 260-270 series ply in areas such as Jalahalli, Hesaraghatta, Vidyaranyapura, etc.
  6. 280 onwards is Bellary Road.
  7. 290 range targets Hennur and Banaswadi areas.
  8. 300-317 is along Old Madras Road towards Hosakote.
  9. 320 and its cluster takes Old Madras Road till Krishnarajapuram Station and then proceeds to Whitefield.
  10. 330 and its cohort takes Old Airport Road to reach Whitefield.
  11. 340 takes Sarjapur Road.
  12. 350 to 360 targets various destinations on Hosur Road.
  13. 362 plies on Begur Road.
  14. 363 plies on the Central Jail Road. [An exception to the clock model as Parapanna Agrahara is to the East of Hosur Road while Begur Road is to the West]
  15. 364-372 runs on Bannerghatta Road.

Now the entire circle is complete. Bus routes with numbers greater than 209 are classified as Suburban or Red Board services. These services cross the previously mentioned Checkpost on their journeys. This classification became a bit outdated with the advent of LED displays [unlike BEST where मर्या or Ltd is mentioned after the number on the LED because it is impossible to differentiate between Red and Black]. The BMTC later introduced routes like 378 which connect several spokes. 378 connects Kengeri Satellite Town with Electronics City via Begur, Gottigere, Konankunte, Uttarahalli, and Kengeri.

Now for the ring routes. Prior to the advent of the branded routes such as Big Circle, it was the 500 and related series that did the connecting. With the exception of 500 and 501 which essentially have the same route starting and ending at Banashankari TTMC, the 500 series pretty much runs along ORR on the Western Crescent between Banashankari and Hebbal connecting Central Silk Board, Agara, Iblur, Marathahalli, etc, while the 501 series takes the Eastern Crescent via Kengeri, Laggere, Malathahalli, Kottigepalaya. However, there are few buses that use the new Ring Road stretch between Nayandahalli and Summanahalli that opened up in 2011. Similar to the 500 batch, the younger siblings in 400 batch do trips on Inner Ring Road on the East and Chord Road on the West.

BMTC runs several routes called Grid Services, which earlier used to be Dark Blue in colour with routes starting with MBS. These routes attempted to connect two spokes of the grid. For eg: MBS14 used to connect Bannerghatta Road and Hennur Road.  The concept of Branded services like Big 10, Big Circle, Big Trunk, Kendriya Sarige, all came up only in 2009 under the then Transport Minister of Karnataka R Ashoka, who changed the fortunes of the BMTC and KSRTC.

If this hasn’t addled with your brains enough, then do keep in mind that the Bangalore’s Namma Metro follows a similar pattern, and I’m NOT talking about the similarity in the headlights of the trains to the older BMTC Parisara Vahinis. Phase I of NM follows a similar spoke concept, with Reach 1 to Byapanahalli, Reach 2 to Mysore Road, Reach 3/3A/3B to Nagasandra and Reach 4 to Puttenahalli. However the Metro lines do have some minor variations, or do they?

Please post your feedback in the comments below.

A little Flattr love would also be nice. Thank ye!

 

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Roads? Where we’re going, we don’t need roads.

Roads? Where we’re going, we don’t need roads.

– Doc Emmett L Brown, 27th October, 1985.

Fast forward to 21st October, 2015. Today. The day of the flying cars, Jaws 19, and Hoverboards.

Of course, there are no flying cars. Atleast not yet. I’m personally upset that while there was word of Nike’s Shoes with Powerlaces, I don’t have an auto-adjusting jacket that dries itself when wet. But enough of flying cars, we all know that’s still going to cause traffic jams, on the Skyway instead of the Highway. We have already seen a 100km long traffic jam in China, and with the number of cars being added to the roads each day, I won’t be surprised to see the same on the Western Express Highway. If flying cars did exist, expect a massive jam on the Western Express Skyway.

Now given that I am a Bus Aficionado, let us change our focus to buses. Right now, the closest we have got to Back To The Future is a Metro Rail, which is a railway line above the ground. Or, as they refer to the MRTS line in Madras, “Parrakum Rayil” [Flying Rail].

 

If Flying Vehicles existed in 2015, like BTTF predicted.

  • Western Railways and Central Railways would be plying flying trains from Chruchgate to Virar, or CST to Karjat and Kasara. Striking workers and rioters would have to tie themselves up to each other and suspend themselves, but the train would skirt them. Thankfully.
  • Idiots who drive like maniacs on the ground will do the same thing in the air. The impact of accidents may be worse because you’d fall a long way, but atleast people on the pavements won’t get run over.
  • BEST will operate them flying Purple Faeries on two types of routes: AS [AC Standard] and AExpress. AS-1 will fly on the Service lanes of the Eastern Express Skyway while A8Express will fly over all traffic. Don’t ask me how they intend to keep coming down to pick up passengers. Of course, they will continue to be loss making due to lack of passengers.
  • NMMT will continue to flood the Mumbai skyline with its fancy Volvo buses, introducing new routes from Worli to Navasari and Mulund to Dehu Road.
  • TMT will continue to operate it smokey, rickety rattle-trap buses, I wouldn’t be surprised to hear news of accidents caused due to the bus parts falling down.
  • The Bandra Worli Sea Link would become a place where homeless people hang out.
  • Thanks to technological advancements, the Metro tracks would be in a condition similar to that of IRs tracks with people using it as their personal loo.
  • Autos will fly and cause traffic jams. Some of them would be replaced by Tata Nanos. Don’t worry, Tata Nanos won’t catch fire in the air.
  • Jaywalkers will find a way to jump across the street, so high up.
  • MSRTC’s Shivneri will reach Pune faster. The Dadar (East) to Pune Railway Station journey will take 3 hours instead of the current 4 hour trip because of the sheer number of cars flying around Lonavala. Don’t forget flying cars selling Maganlal Chikki.
  • KSRTC’s Airavat will take 12 hours on the Bombay to Bangalore route. The Hubli Dharwad Skypass is still two lanes.
  • Ashok Leyland will flood the Skies with the SKiBus.
  • The Andheri flyover will be used by people on Hoverboards.
  • Dadar will continue to be a mess because of flying trains, buses, cars, taxis, everything. Kabootar Khaana would be the root cause of Congestion.

Note. I was originally intending to Photoshop a Cerita in the sky over the Western Express Highway, but it would have looked way too tacky. I’m laughing as I type this.

 

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Bums on the Saddle

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

Our first target, the PMR.

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

And now, for the MMR.

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

Bangalore and Chennai

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Do post your feedback in the comments below:

 

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[Poem] The Little Red Firetruck

I witnessed a fire in the heart of Pune City last week and the sheer number of fire engines present there inspired me to write this:

 

It was once, on this dark and cold night,

We were all asleep, our taps were sealed tight.

Then came alarm, loud and clear,

We were off, and soon the heat was near.

The flames were huge, they were massive,

Into nearby buildings, they were invasive.

There were people trapped, in floors so high,

That was a moment, people wished we could fly.

We rang our sirens, to keep people away,

Water under pressure, we decided to spray.

Lives were saved, we ensured that nobody died,

The buildings were damaged, front, back, and the side.

The next day the papers proclaimed,

₹500crore in insurance had been claimed.

We were given a grand washing to restore our colour,

The bright red was our identity, our honour.

We were happy, we were satisfied,

Our job was to ensure that nobody died.

On Fire Safety Day we were proudly paraded,

The very next day, some of us were derided.

Negativity never affected us much,

The importance we deserved, was never given as such.

To complain, was not in our nature,

But who knew, what would happen in the future?

Then one fine day, I was retired,

I was not upset for I was not being fired.

Then came the day, we were sold as Scrap,

Retirement was a way for us to escape this Trap.

 

This is my first major attempt at poetry. I’d really appreciate it if you could post your feedback in the comments below.

 

 

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The Rainbow across Pune and Pimpri Chinchwad

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Travelling with your television

So, I was randomly going thru the internet when this one thing stood out: Tata Sky Transfer. I couldn’t resist, so I went thru all the possible search results and came across this video:

It is a very interesting thought and I personally feel this would work wonders to provide a comfortable mode of transport for us. As you know, we spend quite a lot of travel time to work. Now imagine this scenario, I work at the World Trade Centre in Cuffe Parade, and I live in Thane. My work times are such that I am unable to catch the A8Express, so I end up catching AS1. Now I have to contend with sitting on that bus from 8am to 10am to reach work and sit from 7.30pm to 10pm on my way back as it makes its way thru Sion, Dadar, Parel and Byculla. I’m spending close to five hours of those in a bus. Now, I, for one would be happy because I love buses. But what if you wanted to do something else?

Let us assume that I want to catch up on my Television viewing instead. Now I’m a fan of Mash, Knightrider and Scooby Doo, and I hypothetically imagine that Comedy Central, Star World and Cartoon Network are playing the three of them respectively. So, I decide to record the episodes in the morning while I catch up on my sleep. I wake up, refreshed, and head to work. I finish my days work, and head back to Backbay Depot, from where I board my AS1. I want to unwind, so I pull out my phone, and turn on the latest episode that I recorded earlier in the day. What if one morning, I decided not to sleep, I could watch Scooby Doo instead. Or maybe, I recorded an episode of Alfred Hitchcock Present the previous night and decide to catch up on some intriguing mystery before I get to work? Imagine, one day, there is less traffic, and I reach home before I can finish my episode. I get home, and finish viewing it on my large screen TV. Or what if there is crucial Football or Hockey match that is going on, and I need to watch it, but don’t have the time, or am at work? I simply hit record, and watch it in the comfort of my AS1, and maybe even my home; that too with the added benefit of pausing and rewinding whenever I want.

Overall, I think #TATASkyTransfer seems to be a good deal. Go for it, and if you take A8Express or A13Express, ditch those for an AS1 so you could spend more time watching the Telly.

 

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Public Transport and Cleanliness

They say Cleanliness is next to Godliness. Well, I wouldn’t disagree with that. When PM Modi started the Swachh Bharat Abhiyaan, I, for one was really happy. Here was a mission, endorsed by the Prime Minister himself with half the parliament supporting it. Indeed, it would mean that we could soon progress towards becoming a cleaner nation. However, this movement alone won’t suffice, for a lot remains to be done. Here, I am going to have a look at how cleanliness affects us while commuting.

Commuting is a very sticky situation from a cleanliness point of view. Lakhs of people use Public transport, we do not know where they come from, we do not know what they have  touched, nothing.

Among various factors, germ transmission is very high in public transport. Among various carriers for germs, apart from the air, especially in air-conditioned buses and trains, are currency notes and coins. Due to their extremely long life, since they are in circulation for periods extending to several years, they are hotbeds of germ activity. Similar to bank currency,  are the reusable tokens that are used in modern rapid transit systems. However, that isn’t all. If you use a ticket vending machine at a railway station, like in Mumbai, or the automated machines on the Metro, you would still be performing germ transactions. Possibly, the cleanest mode of payment would be using the Coupon Vending machine, since you won’t be touching the Coupons, or, using the UTS app. In BEST, I carry my prepaid card inside a small plastic packet, so if I buy a pass, I put it into that packet and keep it there behind the pass. Other sources of germs are the grab handles of course, since most people hold on to those, as well as the seats themselves, especially the fabric ones. Thankfully, on most long distance routes these are fumigated after each ride, but I still recall cockroaches behind the last seat of a Volvo B7RLE owned by TNSTC between Madras and Pondicherry in 2012.

Now, this brings us to another source of contaminants: Insects, Pests, Rodents, et al. Cockroaches on a TNSTC Volvo is  noteworthy, for it signifies that they are providing services on par with Greyhound buses. Similarly, there have been cases of rodents in transit systems. These, could lead to serious health issues.

Then there is the case of people spitting everywhere, inspite of boards asking them not to spit, or litter, everywhere. These give rise to other problems, they may not be contagious, but I sure wouldn’t want to step on them.

In PMPML and BMTC buses, I have noticed that there is a lot of junk on the floor of the bus. These include dust, hair, wrappers if food items, tickets, and what not. Most people may not realise it, but these can cause dust mites to spread as well as cause respiratory issues.

So, what exactly needs to be done?

For starters, we can not litter in buses and trains, as well as in stations. Find a dustbin, and dispose of trash in that. Transcos should ensure that they provide dustbins at all stations/stops and handover maintenance and disposing of trash to a private party. Metro rail and BRTS services have totally banned consumption of food and water on their premises as well as during transit. It would further help if major bus stations, BRTS terminals, and Metro stations had clean, paid, well maintained toilets on their premises for commuters to use, thus preventing the need for people to do it in the open.

However, the situation can be brought under control, if commuters changed their mindset. For example, I always carry a packet of tissues along with a plastic cover to store used ones when I’m sick. I also carry a Hand Sanitizer with me, but I realise it isn’t practical for everyone to carry a bottle of Dettol with them everywhere.

Prime Minister Modi indeed started a noble mission with the Swachh Bharat Mission. While previous governments may have done it, nobody made it such a major affair till now, and that must be commended. It is up to us citizens to honour our PMs wishes and help keep the country clean. So, stop littering, and keep our country, and its transport systems safe. Maybe, it’s high time someone kept a bottle of Dettol Hand Sanitizer next to the ATVM or Ticket counter for people to use after purchasing a ticket.

What are your opinions? Do post them in the comments section below.

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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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