[Story] Jump Around Town

Part – I

The Mayor looked at the proposal sent in by the citizen group. This was what he had been waiting for ever since he had been sworn in. He held a proposal sent in by the citizen group with a detailed action plan to set up a municipal bus service in the town. He quickly sent a copy of it to the Municipal Commissioner for his approval, as well as to the Minister. He knew this was the one thing that the town needed at that moment to get the attention of the local politicians who had been ignoring the town for years. This was the only town in the state that was a District Headquarters but did not have a Bus Service.

The proposal was to purchase five minibuses and hire another ten to run them on ten routes. One of the citizens, a 70 year old War Veteran, had suggested buying five of them first so that the town could keep them forever, on a sentimental basis. The Mayor added his proposal to set up 50 Bus Shelters in the town with advertisements on them to earn some much needed Revenue.

The Municipal Commissioner, who had been appointed a year ago, the same time the Mayor got appointed, was upset that the town was ignored, and thus felt bored most of the time as there was no work to do. It was therefore, but natural for him to feel elated when this proposal was received, for it meant he’d finally have some work to do in this small but bustling town.

The Commissioner sent the signed proposal up to the Minister. He had a plan to get the Minister to accept the proposal without a fuss. The Minister had agreed to meet him for half an hour to discuss the proposal. He walked into her office and sat down.

“So, Commissioner, tell me. How is this proposal going to go through without any government funds?”

“Ma’am”, he replied, “It’s a Simple Deal. All the Council Members of the Municipal Body have agreed to divert their Local Area Development Fund for this year towards this. With all 37 of them agreeing to contribute, that enables us to purchase 35 buses. However, we are spending on only 5 buses for now, hiring an additional 10, so that we may also be able set up a Transport Body and employ drivers, conductors, and other staff. The Municipal Body will totally undertake this operation. The Mayor has a bill ready to be introduced in tomorrow’s session to set up a Transport Board consisting of several Council Members and Citizens as well.”

“I see. I trust, you won’t be bothering me or the State Government once I sign this proposal?”, she asked.

“No ma’am. We just need your approval to set up the board, the undertaking and give us complete autonomy over the entire operation, so that we won’t have to disturb you again.” He wanted to add that he had drafted the document in such a way that the State would also not be able to interfere in the Transport body once it was set up, but he refrained from saying so, as he didn’t want to antagonise her at this stage.

“Alright”, she replied, “You have my approval, now don’t disturb me again.”

“Yes ma’am”, he said, saluting as he left.

He walked out of her room and ran out to the parking lot, where a car was waiting to take him back to town. He couldn’t wait to get back and hand over the signed deed to the Mayor and Council. He reached his office and immediately asked for the Mayor to call for a Council meeting. The Mayor immediately introduced his bill which the Council passed unanimously. The bill referred to the deed that was signed by the Minister, and once passed, the Council set up an ad-hoc Transport Board with three Councillors, the Mayor and the Commissioner.

The Transport Board called for their first meeting an hour later where they decided to discuss three things. The first, was the composition of the permanent board. The bill passed in the Council mandated a seven member panel with three Councillors, three citizens and the Municipal Commissioner. The Mayor and Deputy Mayor would act as Observers, but would get to weigh in and no decision by the board would be valid without the signature of the Mayor. The board agreed to induct two senior councilors who had earlier lived in bigger cities due to their experience, one of the two ad-hoc Board members from the Council as half of the Board. The citizens side was to be represented by two Retired Army Officers, both of whom had experience dealing with bureaucrats, and the wife of the Commissioner of Police. Once this was done, they decided to proceed with the next item on the agenda: Shortlisting manufacturers for the buses to be purchased and hired. This was easier said than done. A week prior to this, the Municipality had invited bids from several Manufacturers for Minibuses. All of them eagerly came forward with fancy buses. After agreeing that they needed a basic, no-frills, but fuel efficient non-airconditioned bus, they zeroed in on one model. The Commissioner sent his deputy to inform the bidders that the process was over and that the winning manufacturer would receive the order in a day. The Municipality had also invited bids for hiring buses, and decided to go with the cheapest offer.

With two hurdles out of the way, the Board now had only one major item in their agenda. They needed to find drivers. The Mayor suggested that they hire drivers and conductors along with the buses, and find a permanent solution for the purchased buses. The Commissioner agreed, and decided that the Transport Undertaking that had been formed would formally put out advertisements the next day. With the main problems sorted, the meeting was adjourned, and the Mayor posted the minutes of the meeting on the Noticeboard outside the Town Hall.

That night while eating dinner, the Mayor was going thru the documents prepared earlier in the day and realised that there were three things to be done. He called up the Commissioner and told him that they needed to build a depot, set up a system for tickets, and set up bus stops.

The next day, the newly formed Transport Board called for a meeting with full strength. The Commissioner tabled the Mayor’s recommendations and the agenda was set. The Municipality had a barren plot of land at one end of the town where the new four lane highway connecting the town to the State Capital was to end. The State Transport body was planning to shift the ST terminus there as well. The Board agreed that this plot would be fenced and divided into two, one for the depot and one for the bus station. Once funds started flowing in, a proper bus station would be built. The Board agreed to name the body ‘Jump Around Town’ and on the suggestion of the Deputy Mayor, decided to invite bids from advertisers to set up Bus Stops with hoardings across the town. A local Printing Press was given a contract to print 25,000 tickets of different denominations and the board set up a fare slab.

Part – II

A week had passed after the Board Meeting. A bank account for Just Across Town – JAT, had been created where all the Councillors had deposited the money they had pledged. The Manufacturer had said that buses would be delivered in a week as they were quite popular among government agencies. The Printing Press had delivered the entire set of tickets to the Municipality. Twenty drivers and conductors, as well as five depot managers had been hired on a permanent basis. Ten buses had been hired, and ready to be put in service. The board had decided to put up advertisements on the bodies as well as the inside of each bus. Several advertisers had come forward and one was selected. One advertiser had set up 20 bus stops around town and signed a deal to pay 10% of the income to JAT. The land for the depot had been leveled, concreted, and a wall erected all around it, as well dividing it into two. The depot was given an office block as well as a resting area for staff, build using Ready to Assemble components. The Bus Station was given a proper shelter, washrooms, platforms and benches, with a huge signboard proclaiming: CENTRAL BUS STATION.

The Board was ready for the inauguration of bus services.  They had invited the Minister, as well as the Politicians representing the town to the event, although none of them turned up. Four routes were planned:

  1. Central Bus Station to the State Transport Depot
  2. Central Bus Station to the Railway Station
  3. Central Bus Station to the Fire Station
  4. Central Bus Station to the Hockey Stadium

The Board announced that there would be free transport on the day of inauguration. On the suggestion of one of the Board Members, a few thousand Daily Passes, and Monthly Passes were also printed. Each conductor was given a ticket punch, and each bus was fitted with a bell-pull.

With 20 bus stops in place from the Advertiser, the board had allocated funds from their Corpus to set up another 50 bus stops across the city, and leased it out to advertisers, thus earning a lot more. A pay-to-use car park was built across the street from the Bus Station which was made operational that morning. Shops were set up inside the parking and the bus station and rented out to several traders.The Mayor and the Commissioner had thought of everything humanly possible that was left to be done before services commenced.

The inauguration ceremony was simple. The Mayor made a short speech about JAT, and the Commissioner made a quick intro to what the Undertaking’s setup looked like. Once this was done, they unveiled a special collectible Medallion with an engraving of a bus on one side and JAT on the reverse. This was to be sold at a premium rate at the bus depot. 5,000 of them were produced in the first lot. Once done, all four buses left from the Bus Station. The townsfolk happily boarded them and took a joyride. Around a hundred Monthly Passes were sold then and there.

Part – III

Jump Around Town was very successful in the coming years. The number of routes went up from 4 to 56 in a year. All rented buses had been returned as JAT bought itself another 100 buses. The State Transport department stopped running its buses through the town and handed over its routes to JAT. Thanks to the new National Highway, the town began to expand in along the Highway. The National Government agreed to set up Bus Stops along the highway for JAT, while the State Government grudgingly expanded the Municipality’s limits in the newly added areas. Route 56 became the longest route operated by JAT, connecting a Refinery on the Outskirts to the Fire Station via the Central Bus Station. The Mayor and the Commissioner were happy and pleased with their work.

However, the State Government was not too pleased. The Minister, who had approved the Transport Plan, deemed it illegal and unconstitutional when she realised that the State Government would not be able to meddle in its affairs. She had the Commissioner transferred to State Health Department and replaced him with another fellow, one who was loyal to her. This move did not go down well with the townsfolk or the neighbouring villages, which were also now served by JAT.

Elections were around the corner. The Mayor’s party wanted him to stand as a candidate from the Town to the State Legislature. Thanks to its unpopularity, the previous government fell and the Mayor’s party pulled through with a slim majority. The Mayor himself won with an overwhelming majority and was now made the Minister of Transport with his former friend, the Commissioner assisting him as the Commissioner of Transport. They knew that good times were ahead for the state. They had five years to turnaround the fortunes of the ailing State Transport undertaking, and integrate services with the numerous local services. The future was bright. Very bright.

 

The name Jump Around Town [JAT] was inspired by Jump Around Carson [JAC], the Municipal Transport Body in Carson City, Nevada, USA.

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If you came here from IndiBlogger, please do promote this post on IndiVine.

 

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A Smarter BEST for a Smarter Mumbai

This can be taken as a continuation of two earlier posts, BEST Limited and NMMT Limited.

BEST Bus No. 56 at Versova Yari Road Bus Station.
BEST Bus No. 56 at Versova Yari Road Bus Station. Image copyright Srikanth Ramakrishnan, CC-BY-SA 4.0 International, available on the Wikimedia Commons.

Recently, BEST made an announcement that it would enable users to track a BEST bus live using a phone app.

Public Information System / Intelligent Transport System

Now, I am going to start by introducing BEST’s Public Information System [PIS], also known as Intelligent Transit System [ITS], that I had attempted to explain in my post on Electronic Ticket Systems. As stated earlier, each bus stop in BEST is numbered. This number is used to identify the buses that stop at that particular bus stop and is used to determine the ETA of the buses that are arriving at that stop. This number also ensures that each stop is unique and in the database, so that the conductors can enter it on their ETMs. While, there may be two or more bus stops, adjacent to each other, sharing the same name, each bus stop caters to different buses and has a different Stop Code. However, for a particular bus, only one of those stops matters and thus, there is no confusion for the conductor as well.

In partnership with several firms, including Trimax IT, Verve Compusoft, Overtures Infotech, the BEST PIS is visible at its website http://bestpis.in.

Each bus is fitted with a set of GPS devices that are present above the drivers’ seat. This helps coordinating the location of the bus and transmitting the location to the server.
So, now:
At 9.10am on 8 September 2015, I sent
BEST 07187 as an SMS to 56060.

I promptly got a response with the following:

NEHRU PLANETARIUM STOP : 003AS ETA 09:41,004AS ETA 09:41,033 ETA 09:44,305 ETA 09:48,592AS ETA 11:07,086 ETA 13:01,, Powered by Verve Compusoft Pvt. Ltd.

Here, 07187 is the stop code for the last Bus Stop towards Tardeo at Nehru Planetarium, where AS4 and A74Express stop. The response may be a bit confusing if it is the first time you are reading it, but here is what it means:

Nehru Planetarium is the name of the stop. The Expected Times of Arrival of the following buses are:

  • AS-3 at 9.41am
  • AS-4 at 9.41am
  • 33 at 09.44am
  • 305 at 09.48am
  • AS-592 at 11.07am
  • 86 at 1.01pm.

Of course, do note that this doesn’t mean that the next 86 is going to come after 4 hours, it merely means that the next 86 with  working GPS device is that far. It could also mean the system is faulty, since it was showing an ETA of 3.42am for AS-4 last night.

Now, BEST plans to integrate the existing system with a map that will show the exact position of the bus, live, on the map. While I personally feel this is a great move, BEST should also use this opportunity to ensure that all its buses are taken into consideration.

Stop Information System

This was something that started with the Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission [JnNURM], now replaced with the Atal Mission for Rejuvination and Urban Transformation [AMRUT]. Under this, all buses were fitted with three exterior LED displays, one at the front of the bus, one on the side and one at the rear to display the route. While cities like Bangalore, Chennai and Mysore alternatively scrolled English and Kannada/Tamil on these displays, and Coimbatore showed only Tamil on all displays, BEST decided to have only Marathi on the front display, with English on the other two displays. A fourth LED display was present inside of the bus, behind the drivers area. This panel would display the upcoming stops, accompanied by an announcement. In most cases, they rarely work. They work in most of the older Blue-coloured JnNURM BMTC buses where they display the destination and the next stop. These systems work excellently in the Ahmedabad Janmarg as well as PMPML Rainbow. In BEST, I have experienced this only once, back in 2012, when I was in an AS-505 between Bandra Bus Station and CBD Belapur Bus Station. This system works with GPS too. However, it is nonfunctional on most BEST buses today, and needs to be revived soon.

Bus Identification System

Now this may come as a surprise to many, including my fellow BEST users, because it is not a very well known system. Some people may have seen it in a few buses that are part of Backbay Depot.

OnBoard Bus Identification System for Visually Impaired Passengers on a BEST Bus of the Backbay Depot.
OnBoard Bus Identification System for Visually Impaired Passengers on a BEST Bus of the Backbay Depot. Image copyright Coolguyz.

This device is called OnBoard, and is jointly developed by the Xavier’s Resource Centre for Visually Challenged (XRCVC), in collaboration with Assistech of IIT-Delhi. It was tested first by BEST in two buses in February-April 2015 and then tested out in DTC. From what I gather, the system requires a visually impaired person to activate a switch which then informs them of any approaching bus. The box is fitted on the window frame next to the single seat up front. I believe this has scope to connect to the existing GPS set-up in order to make it automated, so when the bus reaches a stop, it gets triggered on its own. So, imagine if someone is waiting at World Trade Centre, for Bus No. 134. A bus fitted with OnBoard arrives, detects its location, or synchronises itself with the Bus Stop [a slightly expensive, difficult to maintain, but more efficient system] and it announces to the passenger: बस क्रमांक १३४: बॉकबे आगार ते प्रबोधनकार ठाकरे उद्यान शिवडी , followed by Bus Number 134, Backbay Depot to Prabodhankar Thakre Udyan Sewree. This would be great in my opinion.

This would be BESTs second attempt at trying improve accessibility for disabled passengers, with the previous one being the induction of the Ultra-Low-Floor Tata Starbus in 2004 with automatic doors and ramps for wheelchairs.

At the end of the day, BEST has done a good job at trying to do what it is supposed to do: Be a Transport Undertaking that caters to the Passengers, rather than try and rake in money, which is what NMMT , TMT, and mainly the BMTC seem to be doing.  BEST was among the first transcos in India to reserve seats for women, senior citizens, physically-impaired commuters, and charge visually-impaired commuters a flat fare of ₹2 [earlier ₹1].

A smarter BEST, one that is able to cater to its commuters effectively, will most certainly help in making Mumbai a smarter city.

What are your thoughts?

 

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The 56 saga

Greetings, and welcome to my new post.

This post is to explain the significance of the number 56 in my life.

My connection with this number started out in a mundane way, yet the significance today seems cosmic. I see 56 everywhere, including in politics, for after all, our Prime Minister has a 56-inch chest.

Jokes apart, let me start at the beginning. The very beginning.

The first BEST bus I have ever taken was 505Ltd. The bus that today runs between Bandra Bus Station and CBD Belapur Bus Station. This was back in 1998, I don’t quite recall where the bus terminated, but I remember we had taken it from Vashi to Bandra and then took an autorickshaw to Santacruz. Subsequently I shifted to Andheri, and with a school bus or a car around, taking a BEST was a once-in-blue-moon activity. However, if and when I did board one of them, it was invariably a 38 or a 79, then running on the Hutatma Chowk-Goregaon Depot and Gadkari Chowk-Charkop routes. Circa 2002, we shifted to a new house. We had exactly three buses then: 38, 56 and 221 [Yari Road to Andheri Station via JVPD]. I was bad at Hindi and used to dance at that time. This meant tri-weekly trips to Seven Bungalows and bi-weekly trips to Versova for classes. The former, had a common bus stop for both 56 and 221, while the latter, had separate ones. Being tired, I’d usually walk to the closer bus stop, and 56 it was. 56 was also the most reliable bus to go to school, math tuition later on, and to meet my friend. Thus, over a period of 5 years, 56 became the most used bus for me. Bus number 56 made a casual appearance in my life, in various drawings, poems, stories and what not.

Circa 2008, I moved out to Bangalore. BMTC couldn’t fill the void that the lack of BEST had caused. Bad bus services, closing doors, in and out of the same doors, and horrible route planning made me dislike them strongly, but then, Volvo services helped out once in a while. Most of my trips were restricted to 365, 356 and their various sub-routes. Three years later, I was in Coimbatore. I saw 56 multiple times in a day, but it went in a different route, and I was never interested.

Fast forward to 2014. I come to Pune. I make a trip to Bombay, where I see 56. Memories are relived, I am transported back to 2007. The only difference is that it no longer uses a Rolling Cloth Display but now uses a scrolling LED display.

It was at that moment, that I decided to Start my Project 56. I managed to click buses number 56 operated by the PMPML, TMT and BEST. I convinced a friend to click Abu Dhabi, Madrid, and Winnipeg as well. My crazy mind decided to take PMPML 56 to Wadgaon from Shanipar. It took me through Sinhagad Road, which soon became among my favourite parts of Pune. Soon, I started travelling all the way to Versova to click a BEST 56. It took several attempts, but one day, after a polite chat with a driver, I managed to get it. A perfect click. Two months ago, I clicked the newly launched NMMT 56 between Kalamboli and Mansarovar Railway Station.

I’ve been seeing 56 everywhere ever since I came to Pune. It once cost me ₹56 in an auto to meet a friend. I clicked a photograph of the Tunnel on the Dehradun-Saharanpur National Highway and the timer on the traffic signal showed me 56 seconds. I was however, upset that I couldn’t click a BMTC 56, which is very rare, or a DTC 56, which got scrapped a month before I went to Delhi.

 

And that, is my obsession with 56.

For the sake of saying so:

BEST 56: Worli Village – Versova Yari Road Bus Station

बेस्ट ५६: वरळी गांव – वेसावे यारी रोड बस स्थानक

PMPML 56: Shanipar – Wadgaon

पीएमपीएमएल  ५६: शनिपार – वडगांव

TMT 56: Thane Station (West) – Tiku Ji Ni Wadi

टीएमटी  ५६: ठाणे स्थानक (पश्चिम) – टिकुजीनीवाडी

NMMT 56: Mansarovar Railway Station – Kalamboli Police Headquarters

एनएमएमटी  ५६: मानसरोवर रेल्वे स्थानक – कळंबोली पोलीस मुख्यालय

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