American Elections Are Like Indian Transport: Fragmented

The world’s oldest democracy is going to vote soon. Two years ago, the world’s largest democracy voted. What is the difference between the two? Well, without going into the nitty-gritties of both, let’s just focus on one point: Fragmentation.

In India, elections be it General, State Assembly, Municipal or Presidential are conducted by the Election Commission of India. Each state has a Chief Electoral Office [CEO] who is repsonsible for voter enrollment, candidate declarations, etc. While each state has a different way of getting the Enrollment done [Karnataka enabled Voters to submit scanned copies of their documents and fill the form online, as far back as 2013], the Election Process is Uniform across India. In the United States, the system is totally different. The Constitution, under Article 1, Section 4 gives complete power to the State governments in matters relating to voting. The Federal Elections Commission oversees the election in general, enforcing term limits, disclosing campaign finance information, etc.

Due to this decentralised nature, each state has its own method of conducting elections. Some states may use Electronic Voting Machines, so may use Ballot Papers, etc. This may result in some anomaly. The Butterfly Ballot issue of Palm Beach County Florida [explained here in the American Political Science Review] is one such example.

Reconstruction of the Butterfly Ballot Paper from Palm Beach County Florida in 2000.
Reconstruction of the Butterfly Ballot Paper from Palm Beach County Florida in 2000. Image copyright Gzuckier, CC-BY-SA 3.0 Unported, Wikimedia Commons.

In places where Electronic Voting is followed, the voter has to fill up an optically-readible ballot paper which is then fed into a machine.

In India, a standard uniform system is following using the Electronic Voting Machines developed by Bharat Electronics Limited and the Electronics Corporation of India Limited.

An Electronic Voting Machine in India.
An Electronic Voting Machine in India. Image: பரிதிமதி, CC-BY-SA 3.0 Unported, Wikimedia Commons

Now, while diversity is a good thing, for it results in better quality of products and services, fragmentation is not really that good in reality.

Now that we understand the issues relating to a fragmented system, let us come back to Indian Transport.

Transport in India is largely a fragmented segment. Excluding aviation, which is governed by central policies and is full of private players, and the Indian Railways network, let us focus on the Buses and their operations.

Depending on which part of India you are in, the bus you board would be operated by either the State Government or the Municipal Corporation. The exception is Chandigarh, where the CTU comes under the Union Territory Administration, and in the absence of a Legislative Body like in Delhi or Puducherry, it comes under the Union Government.

But it is not this fragmentation that I am talking about. This is due to the various levels of decentralisation that is prevalent across our country. The fragmentation that I am talking about is what is prevalent within a single Transco, or a single City division/SPV of a State level Transco.

To give an example:

BEST is among the most defragmented Transcos. Every bus used the same ticket machine, every conductor issues the same kind of ticket and every bus or conductor accepts a Smart Card, be it a Pass or a Prepaid Card. The fragmentation arises in matters such as the LED display: Some buses have a full length LED display on the front, some have the tiny one visible in new buses, and irrespective of whether these are functional or not, some still use the old Rolling Cloth system for displaying the route and number.

In the case of BMTC, fragmentation is higher. Not all buses are properly hooked on to the Tracking platform, some buses still use the old Quantum Aeon ticket machines or worse, some still issue the old punched tickets.

Simmilarly, NMMT shows some amount of fragmentation. While earlier, only AC services had Electronic ticketing, now, all have it. But, only AC bus tickets can be booked using an app, while others still have to go through the machine.

Delhi too, is a good example of fragmentation. While regular buses, Cluster Buses and the Blueline buses are all operated by different entities, they essentially operate on the same route. However, buses operated by the DTC still use manual fare collection, with a handful of ticket machines thrown in for good measure in the last few months. The Cluster buses operated by the DIMTS have ticketing machines, can be tracked online, but there is compatibility of their systems with the DTC ticketing process. Blueline/Metro Feeder and other private buses, don’t have any form of connected ticketing.

Now, this brings us to an important point. Common mobility.

More Card: National Common Mobility Card
More Card: National Common Mobility Card

The Government of India had rolled out the More Card in 2012 as a common mobility card. Initially restricted to the Delhi Metro and Route 56 of the DMRC Feeder Bus, it was launched post the failure of the Go Mumbai Smart Card. While Mumbai has gone ahead with its Smart Card System, although extremely fragmented [one card each for BEST, Metro, Monorail and the Suburban Rail], it has managed to make cashless travel in almost all forms of transit. Autos and taxis are not covered, although Ahmedabad has gone ahead with such a proposal. I haven’t seen the More Card anywhere in Delhi in the last two years, and I have seen all Metro Feeder buses issue regular paper tickets.

In 2015, the Ministry of Urban Development came up with another proposal for a National Common Mobility platform with collaboration from the National Informatics Centre [NIC], Centre For Development of Advanced Computing [C-DAC], Bureau of Indian Standards [BIS], and the National Payments Corporation of India [NPCI]. The new system is proposed to use Europay, MasterCard and Visa [EMV] Open Loop system with a stored value system. It also took into account the deficiencies with cards in Singapore. It took the Octopus Card from Hong Kong as a base for its working, in order to support Passes as well; a crucial feature of BEST’s RFID Cards. While C-DAC will develop standards for existing Metro Rail systems, the problem will arise with other modes of transport. Ferries in India don’t use eTicketing. They still use the old fashioned ticketing. Barring Mumbai and Kerala, no other area of India has a proper water transit system or anything resembling one in place. Similarly, with Tolls, will this be accepted at toll plazas operated by other bodies except the National Highways Authority of India [NHAI]? Will it be compatible with FASTag? With each Transco using different ticketing machines [BEST uses Balaji, BMTC uses Verifone, both supplied by Trimax], will the entire system be compatible with each other?

Further, with vehicle tracking. A National Mobility platform will require the Vehicle Tracking System in place. BEST uses a GPS device fitted onto a bus, BMTC and DIMTS use the location from the ticketing machines. All this results in a jumble that nobody would seem to understand.

Let us hope that provisions are made to ensure backward compatibility of systems so that money is not wasted in procuring new technology.

Moral of the story: The odds of Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump winning are the same as the odds of getting into a BMTC bus and getting either a printed ticket, or the regular ticket.

 

 

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Delhi and its Bus Melee

Delhi -The National Capital Territory of India, has a serious problem with buses.
Before getting into details, let us just list out modes of transport within the city.

  • Delhi Suburban Railway: EMUs and MEMUs connecting Delhi to nearby cities such as Ghaziabad, Faridabad and Gurgaon.
  • Delhi Ring Railway: A 35km long railway running parallel to Ring Road, with 7 services clockwise and 7 anticlockwise with a peak hour frequency of 60-90 minutes.
  • Delhi Metro: A 213km long Rapid Transit system consisting of a mix of Underground, Elevated and At Grade tracks and stations.
  • Buses: Buses, like every other city in India.
  • Auto rickshaws: Autorickshaws with GPS-enabled Meters who rarely charge by the fare meter.

Now, coming to Buses.

Delhi has three kinds of buses that operate on its street, all by different operators. Yes. Three of them.

  • DTC Buses
  • Cluster Buses
  • Metro Feeder Buses

DTC Buses

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

The DTC operates two distinct services in the city. Green coloured non-AC buses and Maroon coloured AC buses. Barring a few old buses which are pre-2000 buses, all the buses are low-floor, rear-engined CNG buses. Buses are either Ashok Leyland or Tata Marcopolo models, in both variants. Daily Passes for both regular and AC services are sold on board the bus like most other cities. Monthly passes are available at 30+ odd centres across the NCT. Barring the Jheel centre, all are computerised. Passes are supremely cheap, with the non AC pass costing ₹800 and AC pass costing ₹1000 a month. Minimum fares are ₹5 for the Green bus and ₹10 for the Maroon counterparts. Similar to what Western and Central Railways did in the Mumbai Suburban Railway and what PMPML did in Pune, fare stages are in increments of ₹5. The highest fare in a non AC bus is ₹15!

Feeder Buses

Delhi Metro Feeder Bus
Delhi Metro Feeder Bus. Image copyright Srikanth Ramakrishnan, CC-BY-SA 4.0, available on the Wikimedia Commons.

Operated by the Delhi Metro Rail Corporation [DMRC], these are minibuses with the aim of linking Metro stations to localities around them. The funny part is that similar to Bangalore’s Metro Feeder buses, they travel long distances too. For example, at Saket Station, you can see Feeder buses going upto Badarpur. They follow the same fare structure of the regular DTC bus.

Cluster Buses

A DIMTS Cluster Bus.
A DIMTS Cluster Bus. Image copyright Srikanth Ramakrishnan, CC-BY-SA 4.0, available on the Wikimedia Commons.

And now, for the long part of this article. Cluster Buses. The orange-coloured buses in Delhi, were introduced in 2011 to compensate for the shortage of buses since the Blueline fleet had been eliminated. Delhi’s buses have always had a huge percentage of private players in it, and with the cluster buses, they have been corporatised with under the Banner of Delhi Transit, run by the Delhi Integrated Multi-Modal Transit System Ltd. [DIMTS]. These buses use the same fare stages as the regular DTC buses, except that Daily Passes are not valid on them, and tickets are issued digitally.

Now how does the Cluster Service pan out?

Delhi has always had a mix of private and public buses on its streets.

A Blue Line bus in Delhi.
A Blue Line bus in Delhi. Image copyright stevekc, CC-BY-SA 2.0, available on the Wikimedia Commons.

Till 2010-2011, the private sector was composed of Licenced Stage Carriers, known as Blue Line buses. They were individual buses, operating under no fixed rules, and thus could take any route they wished to. This caused a major issue, since most operators chose only the profitable routes and in order to maximise profits, overloaded the buses as well as drove negligently to make more trips. This often put passengers at risk, and on an average, 100 people died in a year, both inside and outside the bus. In 2008-2010, the then Sheila Dikshit-led government decided to discontinue these buses in favour of the new Corporatisation scheme. Accordingly, permits to operate these buses were withdrawn and new permits were no longer issued. In 2011, the first set of Cluster Buses were launched.

So, what formed the basis for these Cluster Buses and why are they called so?

The DIMTS, a joint venture of the Government of NCT Delhi [GNCTD] and the IDFC Foundation, did a analysis of the 650-odd bus routes in Delhi and grouped them into 17 clusters. A list of the clusters as well their constituent bus routes is available on the GNCTD website. Within these clusters, 40% of the buses were to be run by DTC and the remaining 60% by DIMTS. DIMTS, meanwhile is just a Government Body, which among other things, maintains GPS data of every auto-rickshaw in the NCT, which is fitted with a GPS-enabled Fare Meter. The buses themselves are operated by Private Parties. Unlike the erstwhile Blue Lines, they are operated by large corporate bodies. Cluster buses today form the 60% Private share in the 17 clusters, though Private Stage Carriers with the Blue Line livery are slowly making a come back under the current government.

Each Cluster Bus is GPS-enabled with the position being relayed to the Public Information Website [http://businfo.dimts.in/businfo/] which shows the ETA of the buses, similar to what BEST does. Touch-screen Verifone Ticket Machines are utilised on these buses. Since there are only 3 fare stages, the driver only has to press the fare, ₹5, ₹10 or ₹15, and the location is automatically picked up via GPS. Similar to BEST, data is automatically sent to the server, thus eliminating a lot of issues.

A DIMTS Cluster Bus Ticket Machine.
A DIMTS Cluster Bus Ticket Machine. Image copyright Srikanth Ramakrishnan, CC-BY-SA 4.0, available on the Wikimedia Commons.

So what exactly is the issue here?

Now, there are several issues here, with all the buses in question:

  • Fares: Fares in Delhi are too low. With a minimum fare of ₹10 on AC services and fare stages of ₹5, ₹10 and ₹15 only in non AC services, fares are too cheap for both DTC and private operators to sustain themselves, even with low taxes and cheap CNG. It costs ₹15 in a bus from Okhla to Old Delhi Railway Station. The same journey costs ₹19 in a Metro from Okhla to Chandni Chowk. The only city where a bus ride is cheaper than a train.
  • ETMs: The Orange Faeries have GPS-based ETMs that instantly transmit data but have no purpose other than these two. BEST ETMs can sell passes and validate them. There should be a plan to sell Daily Passes with these machines and validate prepaid cards.
  • Passes: Daily Passes, even of AC buses are not valid on DIMTS buses, which form 3/5 of the buses on the road. They are also not valid on Feeder buses.
  • Feeder buses: Since the feeder buses are out on a contract basis with private carriers, they end up acting like Blueline minibuses.
  • Delhi BRTS: The Delhi BRTS is another case of Bus Lanes masquerading as as BRTS. It is similar to the original Swargate-Katraj BRT line in Pune. All sorts of vehicles enter bus lanes, there are no barricades at some place, bus stops are confusing. The funny part of the BRTS is that there are two layers of bus stops, parallel to each other at a junction, resulting in a mini pile-up.

Overall, Delhi’s transport system leaves a lot of space for improvement. DTC also operates buses to neighbouring cities in the NCR, such as NOIDA and Gurgaon. Passes are not valid on these buses. DIMTS doesn’t cross the border. All buses going away from Delhi terminate at the border. DTC also operates a shuttle bus service between Terminal 3 and 1 at the Indira Gandhi International Airport, as well buses to Lahore, Pakistan and Kathmandu, Nepal.

Delhi’s bus problem is that buses try to be direct competition to the Metro. Operations need to be streamlined into a single integrated system, along with some fare hikes to make it sustainable.

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