BEST: Free Bus Passes for Visually and Physically Impaired

BEST has announced that it will issue bus passes to Visually Impaired and Physically Impaired passengers with more than 40% motor disability or handicap.

According to a Press Note dated 19th October 2016, the scheme would be operational from 20-10-16.

The Press Note [in Marathi] mentions the following:

From October 20, 2016, a scheme for free of cost travel for the visually impaired and people with 40% or locomotor disability has been introduced in all buses of the BEST program, excluding the air-conditioned bus service. Highlights of this scheme:

Mumbai – Effective from Thursday, 20/10/2016, a program is being activated for handicapped persons (visually impaired and >40% handicapped) to avail of free transport in buses (except air-conditioned buses) operated by the BEST Undertaking.

Salient features of the program:

  1. The free travel benefit can be availed of by blind (visually impaired) and handicapped (more than 40% physical handicap) persons. This program will be applicable in the Mumbai Metropolitan region and adjoining cities where the BEST Undertaking bus service is operational.
  2. For those availing of the benefit, it will be mandatory to possess a RFID smart card/ ID Card issued by the BEST Undertaking.
  3. The blind (visually impaired) and handicapped (more than 40% physical handicap) persons wishing to avail of the benefit are required to go to Transport Departmental Office in any depot of the BEST Undertaking near their residence (or any other depot otherwise convenient to them), collect the free printed form issued by the undertaking and submit it, filled up along with a photocopy of the handicap certificate to the concerned Administrative Officer or Depot Officer during the office timings (9:00 AM to 4:30 PM, except for Sundays and public holidays).
  4. After the Administrative Officer scrutinises the form and the attached documents, the applicants will be sent to a nearby bus pass distribution centre for registration and photographing. The applicants will have to pay a fee of 40 rupees (only in the beginning) for the RFID card / ID card. The bus pass will and RFID card will be made available within 4 to 7 working days of registration at the bus pass distribution centre.
  5. Once this program for free transport for blind (visually impaired) and handicapped (more than 40% physical handicap) persons is activated, the existing travel fare benefit programs for visually impaired and handicapped persons will be cancelled.

All blind (visually impaired) and handicapped (more than 40% physical handicap) persons are requested to avail maximum benefit of this program of free transport in the in buses (except air-conditioned buses) operated by BEST Undertaking.

Prior to this BEST used to charge a flat fare of ₹2 for totally blind passengers on non-AC buses, irrespective of the distance traveled. This used to be ₹1 earlier.

The only drawback to this entire scheme is that the disabled person has to go to a Pass Issue Counter at a Depot, buy the ₹40 RFID card and submit all the documents. While paying a one-time fee for the card might be justified for BEST to cover costs of procurement and running the system, going to the Depot for a disabled person maybe extremely cumbersome

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. Image: BEST
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. Image: BEST

Accessibility in the Commuting and Transport sector is virtually negligible in India. This is a good step towards changing that. While one may argue that Subsidies are not good, this shouldn’t be treated as a subsidy but rather a necessity.

Thanks to Rohini  and Sameer for help with translations.

Thanks to Zophop for notifying users.

BEST offers free travel to Visually-Impaired commuters. Click To Tweet

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Building a Smart Bus Stop

What is a Smart Bus Stop?

You could say that a bus stop is, well, just a bus stop. Or is it?

Transport for London recently debuted a new Bus Stop display at Waterloo Bride in London. Now, this bus stop displays arrivals and departures. A regular timetable you could say.

Waterloo Bridge - South Bank bus stop P where Transport for London (TfL) are trialling e-ink displays showing bus route information and live arrival information.
Waterloo Bridge – South Bank bus stop P where Transport for London (TfL) are trialling e-ink displays showing bus route information and live arrival information. Image copyright Chris McKenna, CC-BY-SA 4.0 International, available on the Wikimedia Commons.

My first experience with similar installations in India was in Bangalore at the Shanthinagar TTMC. There was a LED display with a wireless reception unit. It displayed the arrivals of Vayu Vajra buses towards the Airport in Kannada and English. This was followed by one in Mumbai along the Western Express Highway which displayed the ETAs of all buses in Marathi, and was pretty accurate. This was pretty much explained, in a previous post. In our transport-obsessed group, we have several discussions relating to buses and bus stops. During one of our conversations, we discussed a similar set-up at several bus stops along Mettupalayam Road in Coimbatore by the Corporation of Coimbatore for TNSTC buses.

A bus stop with a scrolling LED display in Coimbatore.
A bus stop with a scrolling LED display in Coimbatore. Image copyright Srikanth Ramakrishnan, CC-BY-SA 3.0 Unported, available on the Wikimedia Commons.

This display, in Tamil shows the time, on the left, 05:37, which from the image metadata, I can gather is 05.37 in the evening, and the temperature 24°C. In between the two is the bus stop name: Vadakovai. The second line, which is scrolling, currently displays “Do not smoke here”. I’ve been told that it showed ETAs when it picked up an ETA. How this happened, however is a mystery. These displays appeared in 2012 and mysteriously vanished a year later.

Now, let us go deeper, and try and come up with an ideal ‘Smart Bus Stop’ shall we?

ACCESSIBILITY

An accessible bus stop in Paris.
An accessible bus stop in Paris. Image copyright jean-louis Zimmermann, CC 2.0 Generic, available on the Wikimedia Commons.

The most crucial aspect of a bus stop is accessibility. Even if the bus stop is just a unipole like the BEST bus stops in Mumbai, the area around the bus stop must be marked, tiled, and leveled for people who are differently-abled. Ramps must be provided for both wheelchair-bound passengers as well as those with motor disabilities.

LEVEL BOARDING

An example Level Boarding.
An example Level Boarding. Image copyright ByteOfKnowledge, CC-BY-SA 4.0 International, available on the Wikimedia Commons.

Level boarding refers to the level of the floor of the bus being at the same level as the platform, similar to Metro Rail and BRT systems.

The advantages of level boarding is simple: It allows people to board and disembark faster, therefore reducing crowds at the exits. In the case of a BRTS bus, the platform can be raised as the doors are on the right-hand side and thus there are no steps. However, to achieve this on regular buses and bus stops, which are normally at a foot’s height from the road level, a low-floor bus would be required.

DYNAMIC INFORMATION DISPLAY

A Bus Stop with a Display Unit at Christchurch.
A Bus Stop with a Display Unit at Christchurch. Image copyright Chris Downer, CC-BY-SA 2.0 Generic, available on Geograph/Wikimedia Commons.

All bus stops need to be able to display details of buses, their arrival, route, in a dynamic manner. Digital signage similar to what Transport for London or the Corporation of Coimbatore did. When this is possible for trains, why not buses? Why do people who are waiting at a bus stop have to rely on their instinct to know when the next bus is due? Why can’t they just look up at a board and see where the bus is going? It would be cheaper to set up Display Units to show when the next bus is expected, rather than asking users to lookup an app or send a text message.

EASE OF USE

A bus stop with a box for Visually-Impaired people to hear details of incoming buses at Sealife Centre.
A bus stop with a box for Visually-Impaired people to hear details of incoming buses at Sealife Centre. Image copyright Paul Gillet, CC-BY-SA 2.0 Generic, available on the Wikimedia Commons/Geograph.

While this deals with the same as Accessibility as discussed above, this deals with how a commuter uses the bus stop rather than gets to it. The bus stop should have a tactile path around it, as well as a device to announce the bus routes stopping there. It can have a panel with the route details embossed in Braille as well. If the system picks up a bus less than 100 metres away, it can automatically announce the number.

The Bottom Line

So here are what a smart bus-stop needs, assuming that the buses on the service are low-floor buses with a GPS-based tracking unit to broadcast their location.

  1. Accessible for people with motor disabilities, differently-abled passengers, with a tactile path for the visually impaired.
  2. Have an information display unit connected to a central network to show the arrivals of buses and their routes.
  3. Announce route information, either based on availability [from GPS], or on request [by pressing a button].
  4. Incorporate level boarding for buses to speed up the process of getting on or getting off a bus, as well as reduce the effort taken in doing so.

 

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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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