Competition or Not, Why is BEST not innovating much?

It’s not new that BEST is in serious hot water. The Undertaking has for long been in dire straits, going so far as to allow full body advertisements on every bus in the fleet to canceling all AC buses. But what is the reason? Lack of innovation? Yes.

 

The oldest transco in India has been unable to keep up with the times, forcing it into this situation. Why?

Simple. The lack of innovation due to toxic competition, with toxic being the key word. You’ll soon realise why it’s important.

BEST is an autonomous agency of the MCGM. Thus, the MCGM isn’t liable to bail out BEST if it ever needs to. Other transcos, such as DTC, MTC, BMTC, NMMT, PMPML, all get bailed out by their municipal bodies/state governments.

Further, due to BEST’s core competition being NMMT and TMT, both of which are sarkari bodies, innovation won’t happen.

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BEST Tries Out New Colours; Asks For Feedback

Mumbai: BEST has repainted a few of its buses with a new colour scheme and has asked for feedback on them.

 

 

The Press Note is mentioned below:

As

Press Note on New Colours
Press Note on New Colours

As per the Press Note, the newly colour buses will run from 27 April to 30 April on Route 111 between Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus to Gateway of India. Feedback on the new livery can be sent to probestundertaking@gmail.com

Now, for the new livery itself. BEST has replaced its trademark red colour with a white livery and yellow stripes.

Non AC BEST bus with new livery
Non AC BEST bus with new livery

Along with this, the BEST logo on the side has also changed marginally.

They seem to have repainted some of the Purple Faeries as well, in spite of them being pulled out of service.

Howver

AC BEST bus with new livery
AC BEST bus with new livery

However, the new livery looks grand on the Cerita bus.

Let’s see what happens. Don’t forget to send your feedback.

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BEST Suspends All A/C Routes

No, this is not an April Fool’s joke. Not even close to one.
BEST has announced that beginning 17 April 2017, operations of all AC buses will be suspended. This information was announced via a Press Note dated 13 April 2017.

BEST Press Note suspending AC services
BEST Press Note suspending AC services

This is a really sad thing. Mumbai is a huge city with a large number of vehicles. Cancelling AC buses would mean people will opt for cars/bikes/taxis.

BEST was among the first to introduce AC buses, way back in 1998. Things began going downhill when in 2007, then General Manager Uttam Khobragade (named in the Adarsh Scam along with his daughter Devyani Khobragade of the US Underpaid Maid infamy) procured Cerita buses by fakely claiming that they were Chinese Kinglong buses.

This is really a sad day for Mumbai. BEST had done all that it could in the last few months, from slashing fares, to introducing Happy Hours, to reintroducing cancelled AC bus routes. This is indeed a bad moment for us.

Featured Image: AS-524. (Photo Credit: Sameer More)

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Uber Movement: Can it help us solve our Transport Problems?

Uber recently debuted its new Platform, Uber Movement (http://movement.uber.com) which will offer users access to its traffic data.

According to Uber’s blogpost on the same, Movement is meant to be a website that uses Uber’s data to help urban planners make informed decisions about our cities.

Now this might actually work out to be the best thing to happen to us!

Let us take Mumbai and Bengaluru as an example.

Both BEST and BMTC and an eTicketing system and an ITS with a vehicle tracker in place. With these two systems, the transco is able to:

  • Place the bus on a map.
  • Compute the number of tickets sold on different stages of different bus routes.
  • Superimpose the two onto a single dataset to identify where maximum passengers are and and what time. Using this data, one can come to the conclusion of time taken between two stops, and what time people are more or most likely to catch the bus.

Now, what can Uber’s data add to this dateset:

  • Average traffic conditions. While this can be ascertained using the Vehicle Tracking in Buses as well, Uber’s data is bound to be a little more accurate.
  • Alternative routes between two points. Since Uber relies on Google Maps for its navigation, it normally is able to plot multiple routes from Point A to Point B. This data can be used to launch additional bus routes.

The purpose of a Public Transport Undertaking like BEST or BMTC using Uber Movement’s data is to provide streamlined traffic flow.

Now let us take a real-world example:

Bengaluru

Building up on a previous post (Stuck in Traffic: How I Might Have Averted a Major Jam), let us assume that one would have to travel between Arekere Gate on Bannerghatta Road and the junction of 5th Main and 17th Cross in HSR Layout. As discussed earlier, there are two main routes. Traffic data from Google, Uber and BMTC’s ticket sales would be able to place things on a map. Since BMTC does not have a smart card system in place, it would be difficult to ascertain if the passengers disembarking at Jayadeva are taking a bus towards HSR Layout. If it did have a Smart Card system, or load passes onto an RFID card, this could be ascertained easily.

BMTC can then, based on traffic movements and passenger loads, introduce minibuses between Arekere and HSR Layout via Bomanahalli during peak hours.

Mumbai

Here, let us assume that one has to travel from Cadbury Junction, Thane to SEEPZ, Andheri.

Buses have two routes. Some of them like AS-422 take the Cadbury Junction-Marathon Chowk, Mulund Check Naka, Bhandup, Powai Route. Some, take the direct route by continuing on the Easter Express Highway and taking a right turn onto the Jogeshwari Vikhroli Link Road and then proceeding on to SEEPZ. Uber Movement can help BEST figure out when there is maximum congestion, and using its dataset on how many passengers and where they travel from and to, plan a more optimal route.

 

At the end of the day, Uber Movement is nothing revolutionary, it is merely Google Maps with a little more data, but more data is good for all of us.

What Uber Movement will certainly help us with is planning of land acquisition for newer transit projects, wider roads, metro lines, et al. But those are capital intensive projects. Newer bus routes would be the first step to implementing a full-scale transformation project. It will help make the city’s people smart, irrespective of whether city itself is smart or not.

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BEST Comes Up With Three Pronged Strategy To Curb Accidents

Mumbai: BEST has devised a new three-pronged strategy to curb accidents with its fleet.

A BEST bus that was involved in an accident.
A BEST bus that was involved in an accident. Photo: News18

Among them are:

  1. CCTVs
  2. Smaller Tyres
  3. Larger Mirrors
Survey report by BEST in March 2015 . Image credits: Mid-Day
Survey report by BEST in March 2015 . Image credits: Mid-Day

CCTVs

BEST has written to the state government to set up more CCTV cameras on streets. BEST wants to be able to monitor its drivers en route, monitor their driving skills and safety, and identify corridors where accidents are common. This should be extended to the buses too. One would wish that the requested CCTVs are for the exterior of the bus too, something which currently only the Volvo fleet has: A CCTV camera on the top of the rear window panel that can be monitored by a display next to the steering wheel.All BEST buses, barring the Volvo fleet have two CCTV cameras in them, as part of the agreement with Verve Compusoft for the PIS and Advertising system. However, BEST themselves are unsure as to how many of them are functional, and like the PIS, it is also in bad shape and nothing can be done due to a badly enforced contract. While more CCTVs is one thing, whether they will be properly utilised, is another thing.

Smaller Tyres

BEST has decided to get smaller tyres for its buses, as a alternative to installing a speed governor. While this might be great for certain routes, care must be taken and larger tyres must be present on buses that ply on Express or Long Distance routes such as A74Express or A8Express which ply on the Bandra-Worli Sea Link and the Eastern Freeway as well as go on top of almost every flyover on the Western and Easter Express Highways respectively.

6,500 new tyres will be fitted in 775 Tata buses (out of the total 3,800 buses that BEST has) and will be procured at a cost of ₹4.72 crore. The older nylon tyres are 9.00 x 20-14PR while the newer nylon tyres will be 9.00 x20-16PR.

Speed Governors are mandatory on heavy vehicles like buses, trucks and trailers under the Central Motor Vehicle Rules of 1989.

Mirrors

The Undertaking will also install newer mirrors. The new mirrors, with a dimension of 380mm x 190 mm is being tested. The existing mirrors are 40% smaller. If they are found to be useful, it will be retrofitted into 303 new buses and then gradually into the rest of the fleet as well.

Overall, BEST seems to have done a great deal of study to reduce accidents. We wish them all the BEST (pun intended) and hope they succeed.

 

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Dindoshi To Get A Makeover

The Dindoshi Bus Station (next to the Dindoshi Depot) on the Goregaon-Mulund Link Road near Oberoi Mall is all set to get a facelift.

Dindoshi Depot Render by WRI India
Dindoshi Depot Render by WRI India

Below is a slideshow on the whole subject:

In the above slideshow, a lot of emphasis is laid as to why Dindoshi was chosen for this. Dindoshi Bus Station is among the busiest bus stations in Mumbai. The plan takes into account the number of buses entering and leaving, the different routes along with the existing facilities at the bus station. The depot and terminal occupy 3242.9 sqm., and witnesses approximately 8331 passengers a day.

The existing terminal has a terminal building, bus bays, bus parking bays and a passenger boarding area. For pedestrians, it is a bit dangerous due to the large gap in the central median outside the depot as well as vendors on pedestrian pavements. It is a little difficult to spot as well, due to its inconspicuous look. Further, due to a single entry point for drivers and buses, it is accident prone. Passengers further have to often board buses in the parking bay, thus making them walk across the open area of the terminal where buses are in motion. Due to haphazard parking, buses may also collide with each other.

Several changes have been proposed to the layout, in two phases:

Phase One

Phase One lists the basic changes that need to be made:

  • Improving pedestrian safety while accessing the terminal
  • Changing bus circulation and the pattern in the terminal
  • Reorganising the terminal layout for better accessibility and safety
  • Amenities for both passengers and staff

Phase Two

Phase Two involves commercialising the entire structure.

Multiple concepts have been provided in the entire plan, which can be seen in the Slideshow.

 

Overall, this is a good move. If it is done in the right way, with proper accessibility for pedestrians and those who are visually or physically impaired, it would be a big boon for the city and for BEST.

 

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USSD Bus Travel: Is it worth a try?

Last week, I wrote an article on Swarajya about a little known Banking System that exists in India: USSD Banking, aka the National Unified USSD Platform (NUUP) that allows anyone with a basic GSM phone to perform financial transactions. You can read the article here: No Smartphone? You Can Still Transfer Money Using A Basic Mobile Phone

A user dialing *99# to access NUUP.
A user dialing *99# to access NUUP. Image: Srikanth Ramakrishnan/Swarajya

Now, to buses. Can we try and replicate the USSD Banking model for bus travel? Why not? We have two major applications for it.

  1. Ticketing.
  2. Tracking.

For all practical purposes, we will try and take BEST and BMTC as an example here. We will also assume a simple USSD number to dial: *456#

Ticketing

Since both BEST and BMTC have an Electronic Ticketing System in place, this can be relatively easy. It is easier for BEST, since BEST has all its bus stops numbered as well. Example: If I am at Nehru Planetarium/NSCI/Lotus bus stop at Worli, with a Bus Stop code 07187. I dial *456#, it asks me to enter the stop code, then I type 07187, it then asks me if I want to 1.Buy a ticket or 2. Know the arrival of buses, I choose 1. It then lists out the buses arriving in the next 30 minutes. I choose AS-4. It then lists out the stops from NSCI to Backbay Depot, I choose Backbay Depot, it asks for confirmation, I say yes. It deducts ₹75 from my wallet and sends me an SMS with the ticket details. It gives a 4-digit reference number which I show the conductor when I board the bus. He enters that onto his machine and that’s all.

Tracking

This is even more simpler than booking a ticket. The process is pretty much the same. Dial *456#, enter stop code 07187, choose 2 and it shows the list of buses. I choose AS-4. It shows the last stop the bus has crossed and the ETA, like : AS-4, Acharya Atre Chowk, ETA 4 min. This is similar to BEST’s existing SMS based system, but provides more real time data.

Shortcodes

A shortcode can be created enabling faster access to frequenters.

Eg: *456*1*07187# to open the list of buses to book a ticket. Or *456*2*07187# to open the list of buses to track then.

Pricing

Now comes the tricky part. Rates for the NUUP are charged, with a maximum cap set by TRAI at ₹1.5 per transaction. As far as tracking is concerned, the existing SMS system (although not functional right now) costs ₹3 per message. A ₹1 charge per transaction/lookup might be good for tracking. The issue comes for payments. Charging a rupee extra per ticket doesn’t sound like a good move. However, since BEST already charges ₹30 for the ePurse Card, and ₹10 per month for bus passes as administrative charges, it might not be a problem if it is charged as a rent from the user’s account.

What do you say? USSD Banking is here. USSD Bus Travel? Why not

 

 

 

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[Satire] BEST Buses To Stop At Bus Stops For Two Minutes

BEST today announced that henceforth all buses would stop at bus stops for atleast two minutes irrespective of whether passengers boarded or disembarked.
This announcement came following the speech by former Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh in the Rajya Sabha where he quoted British economist John Maynard Keynes and said “In the long run we are all dead” yesterday.

A boy running to catch a bus (Representative).
A boy running to catch a bus (Representative). Image copyright Fengalon. Image in Public Domain.

When contacted, BEST chairman Mohan Ramchandra Mithbaokar was unavailable to comment. We were told by his assistant that the new move was to give commuters ample time to reach the bus stop. “If people run to catch a bus, it could be dangerous, they might die,” we were told. “Hence, the order was issued that all buses would stop for a few minutes to allow those running to slow down and walk to the bus. We are also planning to insure people who buy tickets in case the long run kills them,” he added.

Meanwhile, when contacted, NMMT chairman Saboo Daniel was visibly angry. “BEST thinks they can outdo us? No way! We will beat them to this. We will show that we care more for the passenger than they do. We will prevent their buses from stopping in Navi Mumbai just like we prevented their buses from entering our depots. Why, we’ll even stop our buses everywhere so that people do not have to run or walk at all! That way, nobody will die in the long run!”, he fumed. When asked if NMMT had any insurance plans like BEST, he said, “It is only needed if people run right?”

We just hope that whenever these happen, nobody will die in the long run.

BEST to take additional measures to prevent people from dying in the long run! Click To Tweet

Note: All content in this article is fictitious, and must not be taken seriously. This article is satire, and should ideally be treated as such.

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100th post!

This is the 100th post on the blog. Yes. 100.

It has been a very interesting journey so far, blogging about buses (and stuff that have no connection to buses but still linking them to buses).

If you want to know why I love buses, I’d suggest you reading an earlier blog post: My Fascination With Buses!

At this juncture, I look back and reflect on a lot of stuff that I have done in the past and where all it has got me. Blogging (especially about Buses) has taken me places and I really am glad about it.

I managed to attend the CII Partnership Summit and Make In India Week earlier this year only because of my blogging skills. I was hired as an intern because my employers were impressed with my blog.

Last year, I managed to see Bruce Dickinson of Iron Maiden live (not performing music mind you) at BNLF because I was a blogger.

So, a bunch of thanks go around:

  • IndiBlogger: They got the best of me on the blog. Posts for various drives and campaigns from International Toilet Day to the Chennai Floods. Yo can see my IndiVine posts here.
  • BlogChatter: For their wonderful prompts and campaigns, and weekly chats. I’ve met so many fellow bloggers and learnt so much more from them. A special shoutout to my Blogbuddy teams: InkingPages (2.0) and WriteOn (3.0)!
  • Swarajya: For publishing my articles on Transport and matters that affect Urban Life a lot (and for sending some traffic this way). You can read my Swarajya articles here.
  • The Unreal Times: Undoubtedly India’s best satire portal, for giving me chance to make others laugh. You can laugh at my work here.
  • OpIndia: I get to do the unconventional bit of writing. That unconventional stuff can be seen here.

Yes. I’ve come a long way thanks to the writing community at large, and I am really grateful to them. Thank you guys!

And now, for an image of what drove me to start this blog:

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.

 

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BEST: Old Notes Can Be Used For Bus Passes

BEST today has announced that the old ₹500, and ₹1000 notes can be used till 24-11-16 to buy Bus Passes/Renew Bus Passes.

The higher value notes, that had been pulled out of circulation for most purposes on 08-11-16, were to be valid in Government Hospitals, as well as to buy air tickets, railway tickets and bus tickets at airports, railway stations and bus terminals of State Transport Undertakings respectively.

BEST announced this by sending a text message to existing passholders and prepaid card holders.

SMS from BEST notifying that Old Currency of ₹500 and ₹1000 can be used for bus passes.
SMS from BEST notifying that Old Currency of ₹500 and ₹1000 can be used for bus passes.

While the demonetisation of notes presents us with a great opportunity to go cashless, it will take time to start.

For a list of Point of Sale (PoS) Counters from where you can Buy/Recharge/Renew Bus Passes and ePurse Prepaid cards, please refer to Page 11 of this document.

Note: You will be required to provide your Name, Address, Phone Number along with the Serial Number of the notes.

Read: Going Cashless In Transit: Blurring The Line Between Digital And Physical Approach by Srikanth Ramakrishnan on Swarajya

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