The Escape Velocity of JnNURM buses

The Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission [JnNURM] is probably one of the most well known Government schemes that happened from 2005 to 2014. Anyone living in a big city would know what JnNURM is purely because of the ugly JnNURM logo being plastered everywhere, from buses to flyovers and ultimately to ultrasonic flow-meters used to measure water flow in underground supply systems.

Logo of the Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission [JnNURM].
Logo of the Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission [JnNURM]. Image in Public Domain.

Now flyovers, bridges, skywalks, underpasses, et al, are out of the purview of this article. The discussion is about buses. In 2013, it was announced that the Central government was willing to fund the allotment of an additional 10,000 buses and development of ancillary infrastructure such as Depots, Workshops and Control Rooms.

In a letter addressed to the Chief Secretaries, Principal Secretaries of all States and UTs, Municipal Commissioners and Heads of State Transport Undertakings, the Ministry of Urban Development, Government of India, laid down some important guidelines.

Among the various points mentioned in the above document; Point 3 talks about Definitions. It defines State as a State or Union Territory, a city as a City, Agglomeration, or Metropolitan area defined by the State, and Special Purpose Vehicle [SPV] as meant to run bus services within a city. It also states that existing corporations such as BEST, DTC, BMTC et al, also come under the definition of an SPV. A crucial thing to note here is Point 3.4 which talks about Para-Statals like KSRTC and APSRTC, which can operate buses under JnNURM, but would require an SPV at city level, OR could set up an SPV for a cluster of cities under Point 3.5.

Now, not all transcos followed the JnNURM guidelines. State level transcos as well as their city level counterparts did what was ideally not permitted.

Now let us list out all the violations that were possible; and then examine them case-by-case. This article only deals with the operating body, and jurisdictions. Another article will come soon on violations of bus specifications.

  • Not setting up an SPV to handle JnNURM buses.
  • Using JnNURM buses outside the city or area where they were to be used.
  • Using JnNURM buses for purposes other than Public-Transport.

Now that the violations have been listed, let us examine, on a case by case basis, what each transco did.

Metropolitan Transport Corporation/Tamil Nadu State Transport Corporation

An MTC Volvo on Route 588B from Broadway to Mamallapuram.
An MTC Volvo on Route 588B from Broadway to Mamallapuram. Image copyright Vinoth Thambidurai, CC-BY-SA 3.0 Unported, available on the Wikimedia Commons.

One of the earliest pioneers in the JnNURM violations, the MTC recieved a set of Volvo B7RLEs which it operated inside city limits, on routes such as CMBT-Red Hills or CMBT-Chengalpattu. It also ran on routes such as 588B from Broadway to Mamallapuram, which is acceptable as it is a city route. The issue cropped up when MTC transferred some of its Volvo buses to TNSTC Villupuram, and began using them on various intercity routes such as Chennai-Puducherry, Chennai-Hosur, and Chennai-Trichy. Perhaps its MTC which is innocent and TNSTC which is the culprit.

TNSTC Coimbatore and TNSTC Madurai received non-AC Semi-Low-floor [SLF] buses for intra-city use. These buses were not used on routes outside of their respective cities but there was no SPV created for them. Of course, one may argue that TNSTC Coimbatore’s JnNURM buses were used exclusively in Coimbatore and not in Erode or Ooty and thus TNSTC CBE is not the para-statal here but merely a city-specific transport corporation.

Puducherry Road Transport Corporation

On the lines of the TNSTC-MTC mischief-making duo, the PRTC got itself a set of SLFs under JnNURM. PRTC hardly used any of them in its capital city. Instead, it chose to ply them between Pondicherry and Karaikal. One may argue that there is nothing wrong in this as they are two parts of Pondi only. They then ran them on East Coast Road [ECR] along with the TNSTC VPM Volvos. This, made them serial offenders, just like the others.

Kerala State Road Transport Corporation

A Volvo B7RLE bus owned by the Kerala State Road Transport Corporation at Angamally Bus Station, heading for Aroor.
A Volvo B7RLE bus owned by the Kerala State Road Transport Corporation at Angamally Bus Station, heading for Aroor. Image copyright RanjithSiji, CC-BY-SA 3.0 Unported, available on the Wikimedia Commons.

Another arty and masterful violator, KeSRTC received Volvo B7RLEs for use in Kochi and Thiruvananthapuram. What did they do with these? Run them on intercity routes, of course. No SPV was created. The Central Government stepped in and objected to this violation, going so far as taking KeSRTC to court.

However, being crafty, the KeSRTC found a work-around for this. The court order affected only buses belonging to the Kochi division, prompting KeSRTC to transfer most of these buses to the Thrivananthapuram division. The reason? These buses were super-profitable and KeSRTC otherwise had only one Volvo service between Trivandrum and Bangalore, which was running at a loss due to KaSRTCs super-efficiency.

In November 2014, KeSRTC finally created an SPV called the Kerala Urban Road Transport Corporation [KURTC] exclusively for JnNURM buses, thus making it an SPV for a cluster of cities.

Karnataka State Road Transport Corporation

A low-floor Tata Marcopolo Bus belonging to the Karnataka State Road Transport Corporation -Mysore City Transport Department.
A low-floor Tata Marcopolo Bus belonging to the Karnataka State Road Transport Corporation -Mysore City Transport Department. Image copyright Srikanth Ramakrishnan, CC-BY-SA 3.0, Unported, available on the Wikimedia Commons.

Among the most ethical State Transport Undertakings in India, KaSRTC has actually followed most of the rules in the book. However, it did  miss out on a few:

KaSRTC has lived up by trying to follow norms as much as possible. One just hopes that Mysore and Mangalore get their own transport corporations soon.

Andhra Pradesh State Road Transport Corporation/Telangana State Road Transport Corporation

A Volvo B7RLE operating under the brand name of Metro Luxury by the Andhra Pradesh State Road Transport Corporation in Visakhapatnam.
A Volvo B7RLE operating under the brand name of Metro Luxury by the Andhra Pradesh State Road Transport Corporation in Visakhapatnam. Image copyright LOVEofZ, CC-BY-SA 4.0 International, available on the Wikimedia Commons.

The APSRTC, during the United Andhra days operated JnNURM buses in Hyderabad, and Visakhapatnam. It continues to operate the latter, while its younger sibling the TSRTC has taken over the erstwhile capital. There is no SPV to handle city operations. One hopes that the upcoming capital of Amaravati will have its own Transco, with funding under AMRUT.

Along with this, several of the Volvo “Metro Luxury” buses have found their way to intercity routes, both in AP and Telangana.

Note: Thanks to GSR Chaitanya for pointing out that APSRTC/TSRTC did indeed have an SPV. An article on this was posted a year earlier on Love of Z, a blog dedicated to APSRTC/TSRTC buses. You can read the article here.

Buses in Hyderabad, on paper operate under the aegis of the Hyderabad Zonal Urban Road Transport Corporation.

Haryana Roadways

A Haryana Roadways JnNURM Ashok Leyland Bus.
A Haryana Roadways JnNURM Ashok Leyland Bus. Image copyright Srikanth Ramakrishnan, CC-BY-SA 4.0, International, available on the Wikimedia Commons.

Another serial offender, Haryana Roadways has both non-AC buses like the above, as well as Volvo B7RLEs, both of which, were allotted to the Faridabad division. Once again, there is no SPV here, and these buses always operate on the Gurgaon-Faridabad-Ballabgarh route. Buses that operate within Gurgaon, however, are non JnNURM buses.

Bangalore Metropolitan Transport Corporation

A Bharat Stage IV Volvo operated by the Bangalore Metropolitan Transport Corporation.
A Bharat Stage IV Volvo operated by the Bangalore Metropolitan Transport Corporation. Image copyright Hayathkhan.h, CC-BY-SA 3.0 Unported, available on the Wikimedia Commons.

The BMTC, one of the largest beneficiaries under JnNURM, is a mere crook among the no-goodniks of the Transport world. It’s only violation of the JnNURM guidelines? Renting out buses. A large chunk of BMTCs revenue comes from leasing out its Volvo fleet to the IT sector for dedicated pickup and drop trips. The BMTC quickly rectified this however by purchasing brand new Volvo buses and deputing the JnNURM ones for Public Transport. A good move to conform to norms, but the downside? The IT sector gets the really good buses, the rest of us, nothing.

Brihanmumbai Electricity Supply and Transport

A JnNURM double-door second generation Cerita owned by BEST, leased out to Air India for picking up passengers from the aircraft and to the terminal.
A JnNURM double-door second generation Cerita owned by BEST, leased out to Air India for ferrying passengers between the aircraft and the terminal. Image copyright Prateek Karandikar, CC-BY-SA 4.0 International, available on the Wikimedia Commons.

Another small-time crook in the world of the Mafioso, BESTs only mistake in violating JnNURM guidelines was leasing out its Second-Generation Cerita [yep, them Purple Faeries] to Air India to ferry passengers between the aircraft and the terminal. The cash-strapped body, with annual losses of ~₹700crore needed to monetise its fleet, and did so by leasing them out. However, word has it that the after the Air India agreement ended, BEST has been leasing out its older, First-Generation, Single-Door Cerita buses which were not acquired under JnNURM. In order to further monetise them, BEST put out full body adverts on them, thus turning them into giant, moving billboards.

Now that we’re done with the villainous lot, let’s head to the heroes of the hour!

Jaipur City Transport Services Limited

This SPV was set up by the Rajasthan State Road Transport Corporation in 2008 to handle city buses in Jaipur. It operates JnNURM buses, other buses as well as the Jaipur BRTS.

Atal Indore City Transport Services Ltd

A bus operated by Atal Indore City Transport Services Ltd in Indore.
A bus operated by Atal Indore City Transport Services Ltd in Indore. Image copyright Prateek Karandikar, CC-BY-SA 4.0 International, available on the Wikimedia Commons.

Set up to run bus services in Madhya Pradesh’s largest city, Indore, the AiCTSL, operates city buses, as well as the BRTS. It also operates a Radio Cab service in the city.

For a further reading on JnNURM funding of buses, please read this.

JnNURM has been scrapped in favour of the Atal Mission for Rejuvenation and Urban Transformation [AMRUT]. While nothing concrete has been set for buses, one hopes that AMRUT paves the way for more intelligent transit in the country.

Which Transport body has violated JnNURM guidelines in the country? 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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How Amaravati can be a True Smart City

Amaravati, the upcoming capital of Andhra Pradesh, is touted to be a major game changer in Indian cities. While it will be the fourth major planned State Capital, after Bhubaneshwar, Chandigarh and Gandhinagar, it will be the first major Smart City in India as a State Capital.

The Capital Region Development Authority [CRDA] which is the planning authority for the upcoming city has planned to have 9 sub-cities of 6000 acres each and three metro rail corridors.

Among other plans, Amaravati is also poised to get a transparent, underwater tunnel through the River Krishna as well.

Now, all this sure sounds rosy on paper, but fancy stuff isn’t what we’re looking for right now. What we need is functionality. Here are some key pointers that I have decided to put across for Amaravati’s transport, which will help livability in the city massively.

Theoretical Stuff

Start a new unified transit body

Create a new entity from scratch for Amaravati’s transport. That’s right. A new entity, solely for transport within the Capital Region. It can be either a Municipal-run body like BEST, or a State-run body like MTC. However, this body should be a Unified body on the lines of Transport for London [TfL] or New York’s Metropolitan Transit Authority [MTA]. Let this authority or agency handle buses, trains, and also be a nodal point for autorickshaws/taxis. The Transco can also be jointly managed by all three levels of government. Road related works can remain under existing agencies like the Public Works Department or Andhra Pradesh Road Development Corporation

Keep out of existing Establishments

Amaravati must not rely on APSRTC or Indian Railways for its Transport. Buses in Hyderabad were earlier run by the APSRTC, and now by the TSRTC. Rail transit for the new city must be independent of Indian Railways, to prevent congestion and avoid red-tapism on the network like on the Mumbai Suburban Railway. MSRTC operates inter-city buses in Mumbai. BEST operates intra-city services. The other transcos [NMMT, TMT, MBMT, et al] handle services between the different jurisdictions within the MMR. Amaravti might be made up of multiple Municipal bodies for Vijayawada, Guntur and the upcoming city, but transport within these regions must be kept for a single entity that exclusively serves it.

Practical Stuff

Underground Metro Corridors

Since the entire city is being built from scratch, the entire Metro corridor needs to be built underground. This will help keep the city aesthetically appealing. If elevated corridors are built, they should use the 25m segment like what Mumbai Metro 1 and incorporate the cantilever station design of the Hyderabad Metro.

Bus Rapid Transit Systems

Marechal Floriano BRT station, Linha Verde (Green Line), Curitiba RIT, Brazil.
Marechal Floriano BRT station, Linha Verde (Green Line), Curitiba RIT, Brazil. Image copyright Mario Roberto Duran Ortiz, CC-BY-SA 3.0 Unported, available on the Wikimedia Commons.

Amaravti has the potential to make Bus Rapid Transit Systems [BRTS] work more efficiently than other cities including Ahmedabad and Surat. It can implement them on a large scale as a feeder system to the aforementioned Metro systems. Again, since the city is being built from scratch, bus lanes can be made signal free, making them truly rapid. Trolleybuses, or even trams can be run to make it more eco-friendly.

Smart Buses

The new Transco that was spoken about earlier needs to make itself ready for the year it was built for and not the 1950s. All buses need to be fitted with a Passenger Information System [PIS], as well as a system to allow the visually-impaired know the route number and destination of the bus. Let the bus be traceable using GPS, develop a smartphone app as well as a website for commuters to be able to use. Use GPRS-enabled always online ETMs similar to what the cluster buses of Delhi use, except ensure that they use Smart Cards for passes and prepaid payment systems like what BEST has achieved in Mumbai. Ensure that the fleet is an even mix of AC and non AC buses, if getting a fully-AC fleet is not possible. Additionally, encourage corporate bodies to take up bus clusters similar to Delhi on a Public-Private partnership.

Cycle-Friendliness

Amaravati must ensure that roads are built with proper cycle lanes that are separated from pedestrian lanes and motorised traffic. Encourage the usage of cycles, and incentivise riding them. Public cycles should be introduced. Use a smart card for parking spaces and renting cycles.

Accessibility

Bicycle lane and a pedestrians' path in Tsurumi, Yokohama, Japan.
Bicycle lane and a pedestrians’ path in Tsurumi, Yokohama, Japan. Image copyright Meme-Meme, CC-BY-SA 3.0 Unported, available on the Wikimedia Commons.

All roads must feature properly laid and leveled pedestrian walkways as well as ramps for the differently-abled. With the Prime Minister stressing on the word Divyang for differently-abled people, it is imperative that this is taken up seriously. Traffic signals must be fitted with audio devices to let visually-impaired people know that they can cross the road. Bus stops should feature Braille signage and pavements should feature a tactile path similar to the one in Metro stations.

Smart Design and Technology

Solar Panels at HUDA City Centre Parking Lot.
Solar Panels at HUDA City Centre Parking Lot. Image copyright Srikanth Ramakrishan, CC-BY-SA 4.0 International, available on the Wikimedia Commons.

All roads must be designed with ducts for cables, pipelines, and other channels to prevent them from being dug up very often. This is similar to what is done in Mumbai and Bangalore [the latter thru TenderSURE]. Roads should be laid using plastic waste to recycle the waste as well as make the road long lasting. Electric cables should be underground to prevent accidents. Traffic signals, bus stops, footbridges, parking lots, benches, should be fitted with CCTV cameras for safety and security, as well as fitted with solar panels to generate power as well as provide shade.

Common Payment instrument

A super crucial point, a Common Payment Instrument must be instituted across the city. A single smart card should be used for Metro, Buses, BRTS, Cycles, etc. This model is followed abroad in many places. Like several cities abroad, NFC-enabled smartphones can be used as a payment mechanism. As stated earlier for buses, an App could be developed for buses, trains, availability of cycles and payments. Keep it simple silly!

TAXIS and autos

Autos, while seen as a burden on the roads by many, are very crucial. Electric Rickshaws can be mandated to keep the air clean. Similarly, permits should be issued for regular taxis, similar to the Cool Cabs and regular Kaali-Peelis of Mumbai. However, these auto and taxi drivers must be given a loan to purchase a GPS-enabled Fare Meter that can support RFID/NFC payments so that people can use the aforementioned smart cards and phone payment methods. The Transport Department, City Administration and Traffic Police must strictly enforce this however.

Water Transport

Sitting on the banks of the Krishna river, Amaravati can make use of this natural resource. A network of channels can also be built across the city, with boats, similar to Allepy.

 

Overall, the future of Amaravati seems to be quite bright, with Chandrababu Naidu as the Chief Minister of Andhra Pradesh. I just hope some of these suggestions are taken seriously.

Do share this post. Tweet it out and use the hashtags #SunriseAndhra and #SmartCity so that it can reach the government.

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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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