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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BMTC’s ITS: Misleading and Fraudulent

BMTC’s much touted ITS is nothing but a fraud. There is a lot more to it, but if you happen to be an ardent BMTC fan, I’d suggest you read this post before defending this third rate transport corporation that needs a major revamp.

For starters, the ticket machines are the biggest problem right now. Some BMTC buses, both the regular rattletraps as well as the Volvo and Corona fleet use the older Ticketing Machines; The older Quantum Aeon machines and not the Verifone machines that Trimax has supplied. These machines are not compatible with the current system. As simple as that. As if this wasn’t enough, there are some Volvo buses where the conductor still uses the older manual ticketing system. He tears out a ticket from his bunch and gives it.

Now, coming to the crucial part:

I wanted to travel from Central Silk Board to Arekere Gate at 7.30pm. I pulled out my phone and checked the BMTC app. It showed me a 411GT Volvo with the number KA57F996 with an ETA of 12 mins. The map showed the bus at Iblur. I waited. I tracked the bus on the map. After Agara, he suddenly turned into HSR Layout, before coming out at 5th main. I had a doubt when I saw the bus with a 57F registration. After a few minutes I saw it whiz past me. A green Vayu Vajra on an ORRCA route.

I looked up the app again. It showed the next 411GT 11 minutes away. This time, the number was KA01FA1418.

Screenshot of the BMTC app showing KA01FA1418 on route 411GT
Screenshot of the BMTC app showing KA01FA1418 on route 411GT

Along with this, the BMTC app shows me buses contracted to Manyata Tech Park, Bagmane Tech Park, ORRCA, etc. All the buses which a regular commuter cannot board.

Fine. I waited. I waited for 25 agonising minutes, possibly because of the traffic. Silk Board is not to blame here. It does its job well by holding up traffic so that the signals on the other side do not get overwhelmed.

The bus arrived alright, but just as I had expected, it turned out to be something else. A 500NA.

BMTC bus KA01FA1418 on route 500NA
BMTC bus KA01FA1418 on route 500NA

This annoyed me to no end. Here I am wasting 40 minutes of my time, and BMTC is taking me for a ride [figuratively].

Now, listing out buses leased out, itself is misleading. For someone new to Bangalore, they simply won’t know that this bus is not meant for them. Listing out a bus as en route, but not plying that route at all, is not only misleading, but fraudulent. I’d call it a criminal waste of my time if I could.

Now, the situation wouldn’t be so bad normally, but this is Bangalore, where the state government has made life difficult for commuters in every possible way. Starting with ridiculous laws for Uber and Ola, thanks to which it is near impossible to find a cab, even a sharing/pooled one. Next, the government came up with a plan to Nationalise bus transport in the state. While I’m not really fond of all those flashy, colourful Private buses on the road that drive like Delhi’s Blueline buses, they are the lifeline for some sections of the society, mainly those going from far flung suburbs to KR Market. On top of all this, remember what a chat with a conductor revealed?

I’d like to title this as the Great Bangalore Transport Scam. Sab Mile Hue Hain.

Remember that all the data from the ITS will be freely licenced for others to tap into the API and use it for their apps. Such wrong data is just going to screw things up badly.

I hope the BMTC learns something fast. It already has a snarky reputation for not stopping at bus stops and not opening its doors when it does stop.

What can be done here?

Decentralisation is pointless. Handing BMTC over to the BBMP is as good as the GoK handling it. Both are inept, incompetent, and brazenly corrupt.

BMTC's ITS is a sham. #TransitssuesIN Click To Tweet

What are your thoughts?

Note: We decided to give the ITS a second shot today. It just confirmed our belief that this is all one big scam.

The embedded tweet below should explain everything. In the event it doesn’t load, here is a direct link to the tweet: BMTC’s ITS Today.

 

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A sneak peak at BMTC’s and MCTD’s ITS

A lot has been said about Smart Cities and Smart Transport. Earlier, a post on Smart Bus Stops made an appearance as well. This article aims to cover the Intelligent Transport System [ITS] of two Southern Cities: The Bangalore Metropolitan Transport Corporation [BMTC] in Bengaluru and the Mysore City Transport Division of the KSRTC in Mysuru.

Bangalore

BMTC has recently rolled out their [ITS]. I managed to get a chance to talk to someone in the Office of the Chief Systems Manager at Shanthinagar today.

The ITS is being implemented by Trimax Infra, who earlier implemented the Electronic Ticketing System for BEST, RSRTC, and UPSRTC.

A handheld ticket machine used in BMTC buses in Bengaluru.
A handheld ticket machine used in BMTC buses in Bengaluru. Image copyright Srikanth Ramakrishnan, CC-BY-SA 4.0 available on the Wikimedia Commons.

Here is what I gathered. The ITS is being implemented in three parts:

  • Electronic Ticketing Machines: Trimax has deployed 10,000 Verifone ETMs to 39 depots of the BMTC and trained 7,000 of its drivers. The earlier used Quantum Aeon machines were junked in favour of the new ones which BMTC claims was to enable compatibility with RFID-smart cards. Real-time monitoring of ticket sales is possible, although not being used.
  • Tracking of Vehicles: Every bus has been fitted with a GPS-based tracker which can be tracked online, or via an app.
  • Public Information System: Under the PIS, displays have been installed at major bus stations to inform the public of which bus is arriving soon. This is similar to what several BEST bus stops on the Western Express Highway have, and what Coimbatore was experimenting with in the post on Smart Bus Stops.

All three components of the ITS are already in operation with the PIS displays installed only at select Bus Stations. BMTC has decided to go for an Open Data Policy, thereby allowing developers to build apps and interfaces with an API to access the data from the ITS.

For more details on the Open Data Policy of the BMTC, do read this post on DataMeet.

Smart Cards are not part of the ITS project. They are being done separately and are due to be rolled out in 3-6 months with all the Pass Issuing Centres being upgraded to issue Smart Cards.

A chat with a conductor later did explain the shortcomings with the ETMs, although Trimax does take quick action on faulty equipment.

BMTC's ITS: Electronic Ticketing and Vehicle Tracking get a Boost! Click To Tweet

Mysore

The Mysore City Transport Department [MCTD] of the Karnataka State Road Transport Corporation [KSRTC], also has an ITS in place, called the Mysore Intelligent TRAansport System, known as MITRA. MITRA was formally inaugurated in 2012 by the then Minister for Transport R Ashoka.

Among MITRA’s aims are:

  • Real-time monitoring and tracking of buses and help reduce road congestion and other transport issues.
  • ITS improves passenger safety, fleet efficiency, services and traffic situation through transmission of real time information.

According to the MITRA microsite, it’s components are:

  • Vehicle Tracking
  • Real Time Passenger Information System
  • Electronic Display Systems

Mysore was smart enough to implement it before the situation got out of hand and sought funds from the World Bank under GEF and JnNURM.

As part of MITRA, the MCTD recorded the pronunciation of every bus stop name, fitted buses with LED Displays, Speakers, set up display units at Bus Shelters, as well as trained its staff to handle the system. An app was also released less than a month ago for commuters to be able to get bus details as well as fare details on their phone.

KSRTC also ran a User Satisfaction Survey, which showed positive results. The entire results of the survey can be seen here.

While MITRA may not seem as fancy as BMTC’s ITS, it is most certainly benefiting commuters positively and helping promote Public Transport in Mysore. One hope that BEST learns a lesson from this, when restarting its own ITS.

Mysore's MITRA is certainly a game changer in Intelligent Transport! Click To Tweet

Both BMTC and MCTD built a huge control room with a server to handle the large volume of data. Data is crucial to any project that involves the common man, mainly for operational efficiency.

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[Unsung Heroes] A candid chat with a BMTC conductor

Today, I had the luck of having a candid chat with a BMTC Volvo conductor at Shanthinagar. Here is a quick summary of what all I learned:

  • Lack of confidence in the new ticketing machines: The new Verifone ticket machines [procured by Trimax, yes the same Trimax who set up BEST’s system]. Apparently, these new machines hardly last for the sale of 100 tickets before the battery dies out. This, happens on a full charge after being plugged in for 6 hours. The earlier Quantumn Aeon machines, still being used by KSRTC lasts a full two days on a full charge. The new machines are also prone to system crashes, and lack of connection to the server. He equated the new ETMs with the AC Tata Marcopolo buses, which frequently broke down [similar to BEST’s Purple Faeries].
  • Frequent breakdowns due to complete lack of maintenance: He said that all buses, including the Corona and Volvo fleet were not maintained at all and were prone to breakdowns, especially on Airport services. If a bus broke down on the road, it would lead to them getting a Challan from the Traffic Police, and if it happened in a Bus Station, BMTC would issue a memo. The fines would get deducted from the salaries of both the driver and conductor. Due to this happening, cases of staff committing suicide has also seen a significant rise. He mentioned that these would go unreported more often than not.
  • Actions taken on faulty parts: When any LED display got spoiled, conductors and depot workers normally try to fix it. They have gained knowledge on fixing the circuit after years of experience. However, if the administration, got wind of it, they’d junk it and procure a fresh piece which would normally cost anywhere from ₹50,000 to ₹1,50,000.
  • Kickbacks while purchasing buses: Apparently, babus and politicians have got huge kickbacks while buses were purchased, resulting in losses to the exchequer.
  • Lack of attention from higher ups: Complaints about faulty equipment, breakdowns, etc go unheard. Staff is supposed to fill out their feedback and personnel details and put in into a box, which goes unseen for ages.

Overall, he said that BMTC alone could fill a book in terms of mismanagement, maladministration, and general negligence on the part of the higher officials.

He further added, that due to the additional 6% Luxury tax charged by the government, which BMTC has not yet integrated into the Electronic Ticketing System, conductors have to sell the extra surcharge as paper tickets and keep a stagewise log of these extra tickets being sold.

I was told that the reason BMTC discarded the earlier machines for the new one was to enable RFID integration for the near-future Smart Card rollout, which is rather strange, because according to MicroFx and Quantum Aeon,the ETMs used earlier were RFID enabled.

 

That is all in this post. A follow up post on the BMTC ITS will come soon.

 

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A Prepaid Card system for Manual Fare Collection

Presenting: #1 on the list of things that shouldn’t be implemented in the transport world, as well as a Logistical Nightmare: A Prepaid Card system for Manual Fare Collection.

A template for a punched bus ticket.
A template for a punched bus ticket.

Now, the concept of a prepaid card works well with an Automatic Fare Collection system in place, but would it work with a manual one?
Of course it would, why not? However, there are some things that need to be factored in this case.

Presenting, with images [designed by yours truly], a Prepaid Card for Manual Fare Collection Systems, or, a Prepaid Card for Punched Tickets, or a Prepaid Punched Card. Geeks like me will naturally be excited by this idea, as much as we are with out collection of Vintage IBM Punched Cards.

The concept is simple. Like in the case of the BEST Prepaid Card, the Commuter needs to have an ID card. Since we are looking at a non-computerised system, the ID Card can be similar to PMPML’s ID cards, which are nothing but cardboard ID cards with a photo stuck onto it, stamped, a Hologram sticker, and the Users Name, Age, and Address. There is no record kept of the card anywhere. The date of issue is stamped on top, and so is the Serial Number. The same can apply here, except, perhaps a copy of the User information can be kept as backup.

Now, before we go into the actual system, one thing needs to be done: All fares must be rationalised into multiples of 5, like what PMPML did. Once this is done, the rest is a piece of cake.

Now for the Punched Card:

  • Have a card [not a sheet] with a fixed denomination. Ideally ₹200 or ₹500 would be good. A template for a ₹500 is provided below.
  • Since all fares, passes, et al are in denominations of ₹5,  when a passenger buys a ticket, the conductor issues the ticket and punches out the number of ₹5s that have been sold on the card. If a passenger buys a ten rupee ticket, and a 5 rupee ticket, the conductor issues the tickets normally, and punches out 3 5s from the card.
A Prepaid Punched Card for Manual Fare Collection systems
A Prepaid Punched Card for Manual Fare Collection systems

Now, hold on. There is problem here:

In a manual fare collection system, how is the total fare collection calculated?

The entire route is divided into different stages with each stage having a few bus stops. Tickets are issued between two or more stages. At the end of each stage, the conductor writes down the serial number of the ticket on top of the bundle for each denomination onto a log sheet provided. This is often time consuming and this was the reason why ETMs were introduced in the first place. The number of tickets sold per denomination is calculated, multiplied by the denomination, and totalled at the end of the trip. This is then compared with the cash collected. What could be the problem here?

Now, for the aforementioned problem. There will be a major discrepancy in the cash collected vs tickets sold.

How do you solve this?

Simple: Follow the BMTC method of Daily Passes!

In 2010, BMTC had introduced the Concept of Loyalty Cards; an ID card valid for one year, priced at ₹25 instead of the ₹100 ID card which Monthly Pass holders had for a three year period. Then, they charged ₹5 extra for people who wanted non-AC Daily Passes but did not have either the ID Card or the Loyalty Card. The net result? BMTC conductors had to carry two different sets of passes, one for the ID holders and one for others. They sold passes and ensured that ID holders filled in their details.

The Transco just has to give out a second set of tickets for Prepaid Card Holders. Colour code them if needed, or keep an identifying pattern on them. Issue them to Prepaid card holders only. This will supremely increase the work-load of conductors, but then, that is precisely why this article starts with the equivalent of a “Do not attempt this at home.” kind of warning.

Impact of this ridiculous idea:

  • Conductors will work more.
  • The Organisation will have to print more tickets.
  • Passengers may increase.

So there you have it folks, as stated earlier, Do Not Attempt This At Home. This needs to be junked and never implemented, but who knows? Somewhere, someone might just be doing this!

Note: It is unsure at this stage if JAT used this or not.

Prepaid Cards and Punched Tickets: An idea. Click To Tweet

This blog post is inspired by the blogging marathon hosted on IndiBlogger for the launch of the #Fantastico Zica from Tata Motors. You can apply for a test drive of the hatchback Zica today.

 

 

 

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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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The BEST Parking Lot

So a few days after BEST announced its new bus to Imagica, it now has new plans to monetize its assets: BEST will now offer parking space for private vehicles at its Depots and Bus Stations.

BEST's Vikhroli Bus Depot
BEST’s Vikhroli Bus Depot. Image copyright Srikanth Ramakrishnan, CC-BY-SA 4.0 International, available on the Wikimedia Commons.

This is great news. During the day time, BEST depots are mostly idle with buses on the roads.

Three spaces, the Santacruz Depot, the NSCI Worli Terminus and the Bandra Reclamation Bus Station.

A very wise move. During the day, most buses of the Santacruz Depot are out on the roads, thus leaving it relatively empty and thus, BEST has done the right thing by monetising it. Similarly, Bandra Reclamation has four buses that enter the bus station: 1, 86, 212, 215, all of which terminate there. The area occupied by the Bus Station is vast though. Meanwhile at the NSCI terminal, only buses such as AS-2, AS-592, A74Express, A75Express, A7Express terminate or start here, that too at specific times in the morning and evening, thus keeping the area empty for most of the day.

Overnight parking is not an option as of now, as BEST uses both its Depots as well as Bus Stations to park buses at night. The maximum allowed time for parking is 12 hours. The rates, exclusive of service tax, are ₹200 for heavy vehicles, ₹150 for light vehicles, ₹75 for two-wheelers. This works out to an average of ₹17/hour, ₹13/hour and ₹7/hour respectively, which is quite cheap.

One hopes that BEST is soon able to monetise its largest assets, the land bank that it owns across the city in the form of 26 depots, and numerous bus stations. Earlier attempts at this included renting out unused land parcels at depots to developers. The two most prominent ones among them were the redevelopment of Seven Bungalows Bus Station where a shopping complex was built, similar to the Andheri Station (West) bus terminus, and the redevelopment of Kurla Depot after it was damaged in the 2005 floods to include a commercial complex.

Rates have not well known as of now, but will be updated, once they are up.

BEST has done a lot in the recent past to monetise its assets, from renting out buses to Diamond Traders in BKC, and Adlabs Imagica, to full body advertisements across all buses, to renting out spaces at depots. There is a Salon operating at Majas Depot.

This is a great move, and if BEST is motivated well enough, can help out in the long run in implementing the ‘Park-and-Ride’ concept in Mumbai city.

One does hope that BEST uses it’s Trimax Ticketing Machines to issue parking tickets.

Update

BEST has provided an official tariff on it’s website.

For Heavy Vehicles: ₹200/a day, or ₹5000/month for 12hrs.

For Light Vehicles: ₹150/day, or ₹4000/month for 12hrs.

For Two Wheelers: ₹75/day, or ₹2000/month for 12hrs.

Note: All rates are exclusive of Service Taxes.

 

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Conductor-less buses: A boon or a bane?

Back in July 2015, BEST had announced that it had plans to operate buses without conductors in South Bombay on an experimental basis. The first thing that came to my mind was the BMTC Pushpak fleet. Thankfully, BEST was not emulating BMTC, but emulating its younger Maharashtrian sibling MSRTC, which has so far been super successful in the field of operating buses without conductors.

So what exactly is the difference? To the layman, a bus without a conductor, is a bus without a conductor. There is a major difference between the two, one that spells the difference between efficiency and incompetence. Let us examine the difference between the two and examine the flaws of each:

 

The BMTC Model

The most prominent of the BMTC no-conductor buses is the Pushpak. Originally a brown-coloured, single-door bus, with a variant of it, called the Pushpak+ with a green livery and an additional centre-door seen these days, they are seen on a lot of routes across Bangalore. A lot of them are also leased out by BMTC to IT giants and others. Another peculiar feature of these buses is that they do not feature the regular 2+2 pattern of seating normally followed in city buses, but have 3 seats per row, on the right hand side, behind the driver. The driver of this bus collects the fare, hands over change (if any), issues the ticket, and if he doesn’t have change, he writes it on the back of the ticket. Thankfully, unlike their BEST counterparts [no pun intended], BMTC conductors just tear the ticket halfway and hand them over. But imagine, doing this for each passenger! As if this was not bad enough, due to the seating pattern in the bus, the walkway width is reduced, and only one passenger can walk across. With only one door, you can imagine what could possibly happen when you reach a bus stop. People have to board, people have to disembark, people have to buy tickets, or passes, show their passes. The driver is overburdened with all this, and has an additional headache- He still has to drive the bus! The time taken at each bus stop becomes a huge figure, resulting in longer commute time and lesser fuel efficiency. Add Bangalore’s narrow roads, badly located bus stops, bumper-to-bumper traffic to this and wallah, you have the perfect recipe for a Traffic Jam! The only possible positive outcome of this mess is that BMTC doesn’t have a conductor on this bus, which would probably save them some cash.

A similar model existed back in 2008-9, where green-coloured buses labelled “Pass Bus” would ply. These buses were also single-door, devoid of a conductor, but had one interesting feature- No tickets (or passes) were sold. Only pass holders, be it daily, weekly, monthly, students, senior citizens were allowed. BMTC later on started selling daily passes on these buses, adding to the drivers burden. They were later given a rear door, a conductor and painted in the blue-off white colour scheme and became regular buses. BMTC probably realised that there was no point in running services that didn’t generate any revenue while on a trip.

 

The MSRTC Model

This model started off a decade ago with the Shivneri series. Originally only on the Dadar East – Pune Railway Station route, it has since been extended 113 other routes as well as the Hirkani/Asiad and Parivartan buses. In this model, MSRTC has bus booths at several places, like Khodadad Circle in Dadar, where the Bus Terminus is the lane under the flyover, between its pillars, or Maitri Park in Chembur, Wakad in Pimpri-Chinchwad, or Nigdi on the Old Mumbai-Pune Highway. A conductor sits at these booths, with a Trimax electronic ticket machine. When the bus arrives, he or she punches in the bus number onto the ETM, which automatically brings up the departure time onto the ETM, as well as seats left. To prevent error, they also check the trip sheet with the driver, and after selling tickets, log it onto the sheet so that the next conductor, if there is any other stop en route, can cross-check with it. This model existed even in the time of the Punched Paper ticket. The buses here are the same as the buses with conductors in them. For instance, the Swargate – Borivali Shivneri has a conductor due to number of stops it has on the Western Express Highway. MSRTC benefits here mainly because of the fact that buses run faster due to fewer stops, and it has to employ fewer conductors. Of course, conductors themselves are not too enthused by the move. In the long run, this impacts the organisational health of ST in a positive way, which is good for both commuters and staff.

 

Now, coming to BEST

BEST intends to run these buses on four routes:

  • Special 1 – CST <-> NCPA
  • Special 2 – CST <-> World Trade Centre
  • Special 8 – Churchgate <-> Churchgate via World Trade Centre
  • Special 9 – Churchgate <-> Churchgate via Nariman Point

These buses will operate on the MSRTC model, with conductors at the bus stops, especially given that these are short routes. Now, my main concern here is that if there are 10 stops, will BEST have a conductor at each of the ten stops? Also, more importantly, will it provide seating and shelter arrangements to the conductors? You can’t expect them to stand for hours with the heat, pollution and traffic. One may argue that here, the BMTC model would be better as conductors wouldn’t be waiting on busy roads, but do remember, making the driver do all the work isn’t such a good idea altogether.

Now, the funny part is that BEST says that it has sent a proposal to the Government of Maharashtra to allow buses without conductors as this is prohibited under the Motor Vehicles Act, 1988. Now, the MVA is a pan-India law, and thus, if it is illegal in Maharashtra, for a Stage Carrier/Stage Coach to operate without a driver, then has BMTC been violating the law jeopardising the lives of commuters all this time? However, the interesting point is that as per the Motor Vehicles Act of 1988, there two clauses which are interesting:

The first, which allows the driver to temporarily take charge as conductor:

the conditions subject to which drivers of stage carriages performing the functions of a conductor and persons temporarily employed to act as conductors may be exempted from the provisions of sub-section (1) of section 29;

and the second, which implies that a conductor is not needed:

Duty of the driver to take certain precautions at unguarded railway level crossing. Every driver of a motor vehicle at the approach of any unguarded railway level crossing shall cause the vehicle to stop and the driver of the vehicle shall cause the conductor or cleaner or attendant or any other person in the vehicle to walk up to the level crossing and ensure that no train or trolley is approaching from either side and then pilot the motor vehicle across such level crossing, and where no conductor or cleaner or attendant or any other person is available in the vehicle, the driver of the vehicle shall get down from the vehicle himself to ensure that no train or trolley is approaching from either side before the railway track is crossed.

 

Confusing, isn’t it? If indeed, buses without conductors weren’t permitted, then BEST should be sending a proposal to the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways [Morth], Government of India and this ideally shouldn’t be a problem, since the Minister is Nitin Gadkari. At the same time, this would also imply that BMTC is violating the law by plying buses without a conductor, even if Karnataka has a law since Central Law usually overrides State Law if they are in conflict. I’m hoping for a lawyer to clarify on this below.

So now, the pros and cons:

Pros:

  • Money saved by employing fewer conductors.
  • Time Saved because you have to have fewer stops.

Cons:

  • You need to reduce the number of stops.
  • You need to make special arrangements for the conductor while waiting for the bus to arrive.

This model will definitely work with BEST because there is no reservation or booking of seats involved and because, well, the Trimax ETMs.

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NMMT Limited: Will it succeed?

NMMT Limited; after my previous post on BEST, seems to be an interesting development. Note I am only calling it NMMT Limited; the word Limited is just a figment of my imagination.

 

Back in 2014, NMMT had a meeting with several IT service providers, including Trimax, ARS, and Atos to set up an Intelligent Transport System [ITS], which would have brought NMMT more or less along the lines of BEST. However, nothing of the sort has taken place so far. I still see NMMT issuing punched tickets, they have no Bus tracking mechanisms like BEST, and their buses are mostly rickety. However, a recent article in ToI stated that NMMT was in talks with App Developers to create an app to book an AC Bus ticket. A rather interesting development indeed.

In November 2014, ten months ago, NMMT was issuing punched tickets on its Volvo bus on Route AC-105. I was given 3 tickets of ₹20, one of ₹10 and one of ₹5 for a ticket worth ₹75. This was two months after I had got my BEST smart card. The situation was the same in April 2015.

A 5 rupee punched ticket issued by the Navi Mumbai Municipal Transport
A 5 rupee punched ticket issued by the Navi Mumbai Municipal Transport. Image copyright Srikanth Ramakrishnan, CC-BY-SA 4.0 International. Image available on the Wikimedia Commons.

Now, with punched tickets, and no Electronic Ticket Machines in sight, this could only mean that NMMT is manually handling accounts as well. With such a system in place, how do they expect to go straight to App based bookings? How will the conductor add it to his or her tally? Or will they treat the passengers similar to the way they treat a passholder for a limited route or distance? There are a lot of questions involved in this, so let us have a look at the possible problems that might occur.

 

Let us take an NMMT route with significant competition along it and examine what might happen:

Route: Borivili Station [East] – Thane Station [East] via Ghodbunder

There are four buses that run primarily on this route:

  • BEST 700Ltd: This is a non-AC service, with limited stops. [50 stops]
  • BEST AS700: This is an Air-Conditioned service with fewer services than 700Ltd. [44 stops]
  • TMT AC65: This an AC service with fewer stops than AS700. [18 stops]
  • NMMT AC121: This is an AC service with the same number of stops as AS700. [44 stops]

Now, given the competition along this corridor, we can say that just like the Bangalore-Chennai or Mumbai-Pune corridor, if one misses one bus, rest assured they will have another one, assuming they are not a Pass holder or a BEST prepaid card holder. For most people living in Borivili, being passholders, AS700 would be the ideal choice. For those living in Thane, AC65 would be the ideal choice. NMMT ideally would be catering to commuters between Borivili and Airoli, or Thane and Airoli.

Now, NMMT is planning an app for its commuters to buy tickets. The purpose of the app can vary. It may be to allow cashless travel, or paperless travel like the Indian Railways UTS app for the Suburban Railway lines across Mumbai and Chennai. However, if this was the case, then why is NMMT still issuing punched tickets? Another purpose of the App can be to reserve a seat, similar to CityFlo or rBus. However, my question is, if NMMT is still on punched tickets, this will lead to a big mess. For example: What if all the seats in the bus are full, and a commuter waiting for the bus has reserved a seat using the app, and walks into the bus to see there are no seats free? The app-user cannot be denied a seat since they paid for it, and the conductor cannot ask a seated passenger to get up. Similarly, if the app is indeed for paperless ticketing like the Railway app, how does it help in curbing frauds? The UTS app currently works in two ways:

  1. One is the GPS method, which works on select routes, mostly the Western and Central lines wherein you have to be either inside the station premises or within a certain radius of the station in order for the app to work. The ticket doesn’t need to be printed and showing the app screen is enough if a TTE comes along.
  2. The second method is the Printed Ticket method. This works on non GPS enabled routes, where after a ticket is bought, it needs to be printed. A reference number is given, which can then be entered into an Automatic Ticket Vending Machine [ATVM] at the Origin Station. The ticket cannot be printed anywhere else to prevent frauds.

How does NMMT plan to do this? The first method would be problematic since not all buses are equipped with GPS, unlike their purple counterparts with the BEST. The second method would be cumbersome for the conductor to punch in a number into their machine, if they have one, to log it. Since, they use punched tickets, the conductor would have to note down the number on a sheet to submit to the depot manager.

All this leaves a lot to wonder. Is NMMT equipped to handle all this? Can they outdo BEST at BEST’s own game?

Only time will tell us.

 

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Electronic Ticketing Systems: Who got it right and how

Electronic Ticketing Systems are commonly used now-a-days. Here, we take a look at the various aspects of Electronic Ticket Systems, and how they fare compared to Manual Fare Collection systems.

Before we delve into the world of ETMs, let us begin with Manual Fare Collection in different parts of the country and how things were different then.

Manual fare collection systems have been prevalent in India for decades in different fashions.  Trancsos like BEST, NMMT, PMPML, MSRTC have had standard punched tickets, while their southern counterparts like BMTC, KSRTC, MTC, TNSTC have similar looking tickets, though they may not be punched.

A ticket box with tickets waiting to be punched in a BEST Bus in Mumbai, India.
A ticket box with tickets in in a BEST bus in Mumbai. Image copyright Srikanth Ramakrishnan, CC-BY-SA 4.0, available on the Wikimedia Commons.

 

What did Manual ticketing entail for the conductor as well as the commuter?

  • Different tickets with different denominations had to be printed, serial numbers had to be stamped and then delivered to the depots, from where they’d be handed over to the conductors. Now this would have hardly been an issue with Transcos like NMMT and TMT who have just 2 depots each, but it becomes a headache for larger ones like BEST or BMTC with 26 and 43 depots respectively. The problem is compounded when it comes to State level transcos as well.
  • What if the conductor runs out of a particular denomination?  If it is a larger denomination, I’m sure he’d be able to give it in smaller denominations like BMTC and TNSTC conductors have given me but what if it is the smallest denomination possible.
  • The conductor has to remember stages for the entire route. Long-distance routes, become a pain in the neck.
  • Trip-sheet maintenance was a herculean task for all conductors, they had to count the number of tickets sold, tally it with the money they got and get it approved by the Depot manager.
  • It becomes a headache for the Ticket Examiner as he has to decipher the stage and fare in a bus full of people.
  • If the passenger [like me] collects tickets and keeps a bunch of them in his or pocket, and the Examiner asks for your ticket, well, I was let off with a warning because I was 11.
  • The upside of these tickets were that they were equivalent to Collectors items. While American kids grew up with Trading Cards at the same time, we grew up trading our bus tickets. They were colourful, had different numbers, and different punchmarks on them. Unless it is a PMPML ticket.

Now, let us make the transition to Electronic tickets.

 A handheld ticket machine used in BEST buses in Mumbai
A handheld ticket machine used in BEST buses in Mumbai. Image copyright Srikanth Ramakrishnan,  CC-BY-SA 4.0 available on the Wikimedia Commons.

My first interaction with Electronic Ticket Machines [ETMs] was in 2008 when I had shifted to Bangalore. BMTC was using the MicroFX BTM series at that time. These devices were used on various routes, mostly on Suvarna and Vajra services. These machines however, disappeared somewhere around the onset of 2011. Around 2010, I saw some MTC and mofussil routes of TNSTC use these machines on certain routes, as well. KSRTC [Karnataka] had deployed these machines in 2004, and by 2008, the entire on-board ticketing was done using ETMs. MSRTC too, today has implemented ETMs across Maharashtra, for both, on-board ticketing, as well as the off-board ticketing on their Shivneri and Hirkani routes.

Now, let us look at some of the benefits the ETMs have given our transcos. I have taken this from a Case Study on KSRTC by the World Bank and a Case Study on MSRTC by CIO.IN.

  • The need to run a printing press to print tickets has gone. Along with it, the overheads of transport and running an entire accounts team to monitor the process is eliminated.
  • Conductors no longer need to maintain a trip-sheet. The data is already on the ETM, so they just have to synchronise it with the Depot, either at the end of the day, or wirelessly on the fly.
  • These systems allow the Corporation to monitor routes in real-time. This means that statistics and revenue details can be had for any route, at any given point in time, which helps in maintaining an efficient route network, eliminate overlapping routes, modify loss-making routes, and more.

Now, after all this, one would like to assume that whoever implemented ETMs would be better off than those who didn’t. Unfortunately, that isn’t the case. As is the case with most new ventures in India, a venture is only as good as its implementation.

Here are a few instances of problems:

  • The PMPML, ended up scrapping its entire ETM range because they were unable to back up any of the data from it. The ETMs were failing as often as their buses.
  • The BMTC scrapped its initial set of ETMs and then got a newer set later on.

However, only one organisation in India has taken full advantage of Electronic Ticketing Machines, and that is the BEST. The BEST, in 2011, decided to go the MRTC way by partnering with Trimax IT for its Electronic Ticketing System. As per the Trimax Case Study on BEST, the arrangement was made under a Build-Operate-Transfer (BOT) agreement where Trimax would supply the infrastructure needed and keep a percentage of the revenue generated.

So, what was the deal all about?

Well, here goes:

  • All Ticket boxes were replaced with ETMs.
  • All bus passes were replaced by RFID cards.
  • Trimax set up a Server, which runs on Open-Source Software.
  • Setting up an online payment system for Bus Passes.
  • The all important ePurse.
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
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. Copyright, BEST.

The most important parts of this development were:

  1. Connecting a Bus Pass to the ID card
  2. The ePurse Concept.

In the last few years, several Transcos have insisted on an ID card for issuing Daily Passes to prevent their resale. BMTC started charging extra for passes if the commuter did not have a BMTC ID. BEST went one level ahead by saying a Daily Pass could only be bought if the user had an RFID card. This eliminated the need for manual verification and validation of both the ID as well as the pass. Simply scan under the ETM and it tells the Conductor whether a Pass has been issued or not.

The ePurse, on the other hand, is basically a prepaid card. It allows the holder to purchase upto 6 tickets at one go, and allows for any amount of tickets to be purchased, so long as there is a minimum of ₹50 balance on the card. The ticket that is printed, comes with the balance printed on it.

BESTs ETMs are connected to the servers via GPRS, thus keeping them in-synch, eliminating the need for conductors to transfer data manually. This also helps in sending announcements and notifications to the conductor and driver. When fares are revised, the ETMs automatically pick it up.

In order to do this, BEST had to create an entire database with the names of each bus stop, with their coordinates, routes that halted there and assigned each of them a unique ID. This ID can be found on the physical bus stop. It can be used to find out the Estimated Time of Arrival of a bus by sending BEST<space><Bus Stop ID> to 56060. Each bus is connected with a GPS unit that transmits data to the server.

Now all this may sound rosy, but to be honest, may not not work outside of BEST. It may not work with NMMT, TMT, PMPML, or BMTC. The reasons are:

      • No fixed bus stops, especially in newer areas. Without fixed bus stops, it can’t be named and assigned an ID.

Specific BEST bus stops have specific buses stopping at them, some of the others don’t. Thus, there may be four Unipoles at a Bus stop, each with a different bus marked on it, each with a different ID.

Thus, I think it is clear that at the end of the day, BEST is indeed the BEST here. They have done a truly wonderful job with their system. MSRTC is close behind, with KSRTC just missing the real-time synchronisation. Other transcos, must try and catch up, or risk losing revenue due to leaks.

 

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