A Memoir Straight From The Heart

It gives me immense pleasure to pen this Guest Post for my dear friend Srikanth whose penchant and fascination for buses is not hidden from us as is evident from every nook and corner of this blog and hence I decided to pen this memoir of my early experiences in buses and how they have aided me in shaping my confidence.

Flashback 1987,  Place – Trichy, TamilNadu

I guess the world was a little more nicer way back then, when I boarded the local bus from my school to home, a distance of 6 kms, as a 5 year old. I don’t recall the route number now but I distinctly remember the affectionate face of the elderly conductor who always called out to be 2 stops before my stop was about to come as the buses were always fully packed and I had to stand all the way, so I may miss my stop. Also, he always tendered me the exact change. He indirectly boosted by self esteem that as a first grader I can come home alone when my mom can’t leave alone my new born brother and come to pick me.

For the next decade, buses became an integral part of my life as I commenced my journey as a hosteller in Birla’s Pilani owing to my dad’s repetitive transfers mostly around small towns of Uttar Pradesh during this period some of which lacked good schools. I recall making mostly 3 bus changes to reach Pilani from where I lived,  a journey of about 14 hrs – at Rohtak, Jaipur and Loharu. I was mostly alone and handled most kinds of people enroute. Nevertheless, these long journeys brought me closer to life. I observed people around me many of whom even candidly shared their stories once the conversations were struck. I really wanted to do something for many of them who shared and I always penned down their true tales and authentic feelings that came straight from the heart.

This is where my writing journey began and got its dimensions and vision as during those long journeys I contemplated the aim of my life. I framed my ideologies during this period too for witnessing a bus full of people set on fire right in front of me during the Hindu Muslim Babri Masjid Riots evoked a million emotions in me. I decided I will make my contribution in improving our society in whichever small way I can. I started being vocal and expressing myself aloud in trying to be a face of change and for the same purpose later I started my blog which brings forth real tales of people like you and me to evoke and inspire the right thoughts in the masses.

Fast Forward – Today

Today though I very rarely commute in buses  like Srikanth I too love every ounce of them. They are the best representatives of the majority of our society.

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Mumbai autowala gives an actress a fake note, We’re left wondering

Recently, it emerged that an Autowala in Mumbai gave an actress Megha Chakraborty a Fake 100 rupee note.

The Fake 100 Coupon Note, signed by Santa Claus of the Children's Bank of India.
The Fake 100 Coupon Note, signed by Santa Claus of the Children’s Bank of India.

ScoopWhoop did a fantastic analysis of the note:

  • It claims to be issued by the Children Bank of India
  • It claims its value is One Hundred Coupon
  • The guarantee on it says ‘I promise to play with the coupon hundred’.
  • It is signed by Santa Claus.

Now, while we leave the analysis of the note to the experts at BuzzFeed and ScoopWhoop, we are left wondering about something else.

It is 2016. Cashless payment is here. UPI is here. Jio is here. RFID Cards are here. Uber and Ola are also here. PayTM and MobiKwik are here. Why pay with Cash?

The excuse that some people may not have a bank account, or a phone is no longer a valid argument, atleast not in India’s largest city.

There are two ways of achieving cashless payments:

The Physical Method

This is simple. An RFID card. BEST has a prepaid smart card in place for buses. Mumbaikars would know by now that there are FOUR prepaid cards available in the city: One for BEST, one for the Suburban Railway, one for the Metro and one for the Monorail. While the erstwhile Go Mumbai Smart Card that was scrapped in 2011 was valid on both BEST and the Suburban Rail, the RTA has mooted a common mobility card for all forms of transit. If this comes into play, this can be extended to auto-rickshaws too. Mumbai’s much, much younger sibling Ahmedabad has already raced ahead by enabling autos to be part of the Smart Card system. Of course, this will work only in a few cities. The Greater Mumbai Region, Pune, Ahmedabad, Surat, and to a certain extent Bengaluru, are among the few cities where one can find autowalas return even the last rupee change to the passenger. Delhi’s autos, with its fancy GPS enabled fare-meters NEVER ply by meter, so the chances of them accepting a prepaid card is close to zero. Gurgaon, and other areas, well, don’t even have a fare-meter in the vehicle, so tough luck.

The Digital Method

Again, Mumbaikars would know this well. The UTS app by the Centre for Railway Information Systems [CRIS] allows commuters to buy tickets and Season Passes using an Android phone and a mobile wallet. Of course, it has its own share of problems. This is also the model followed by Uber and Ola for non-cash rides. All one requires for this is a prepaid wallet and a phone. While Ola chose to partner with ZipCash, Uber chose to partner with PayTM. In some cities, autowalas have PayTM QR codes affixed to their vehicles, all the passenger needs to do is open the app, scan the code and transfer the amount. Walah!

The Bottom Line

We are not a poor nation. We are not a third-world nation. When we have advanced so much to the extent of having prepaid cards for bus tickets, and also buying suburban rail tickets on the phone, why can’t we slowly do away with cash based transit systems?

 

 

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Uber is focusing on a lot more apart from Transport

Uber has off late being doing a lot more apart from Transport. Isn’t that a good thing? It improves the scope and impact on Transport. People seem to view transport as just moving from one place to another, but the larger point is, it includes a lot more. For many of us, a daily commute is a new learning experience. Ola did the same with Ola Cafe, but they didn’t gauge the market correctly, thus leading to a premature death, similar to Flipkart’s Flyte Music Store shutting down in 2013, when Apple iTunes entered the Indian market. Both Flyte and Ola Cafe shut down when the competition was relatively low.

Why don’t people understand the need for diversity within the transport ecosystem? Is it that hard to understand? Is the traditional get into a train and let the conductor tear a ticket the only way to travel? Is driving your own car the only way to travel? Technological disruption cannot be ignored. It is the same disruption that allows for multiple possibilities in any sector, be it transport or food.

Below is an article from the Daily Caller on this matter.

What are your thoughts? Do leave them in the comments below.

Uber’s New Ventures Have Little To Do With Their Transportation

Uber is full steam ahead on their mission to permeate every aspect of the service industry by integrating far more than ride-sharing. The introduction of “Uber + Travel” and “UberLIFE” showcases that the ride-hailing company isn’t satisfied with its current global stature. The new features will be available in China over the coming months, and will…

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BEST to partner with Zophop for real-time updates

BEST has an update for their long lost initiative of informing commuters when a bus will arrive, to attract more commuters to use buses. BEST will now show real-time locations of AC buses using a third party android application called Zophop. It is interesting that BEST is partnering with third party private firms to inform the commuters than maintaining the tech in house which can result in heavy IT expenditure. Even though we have our very own GPS satellites in space, tracking a bus still seems like a challenge.

Intelligent Transportation Systems (ITS) is the new hot discussion among many cash deprived transit agencies, every agency wants to use them to improve operations and attract commuters. BMTC has recently launched their own ITS system with a whopping cost of 89 crores to track buses. But none of these systems can help the agency if they are not implemented in the right way. Every agency is experimenting with the setup with no major success stories in sight.

In the past BEST has sold the rights of advertising to a third party firm Verve Soft Pvt Ltd. which has placed GPS units, TVs in the buses. This firm has launched a website and app called BEST Passenger Information System (http://bestpis.in/) with little or no useful information. This lack of useful information resulted in many third party applications to track locals and bus timings in Mumbai like m-indicator, smartshehar, ridlr, Zophop and citizen led initiatives like ChaloBEST.

BEST partnering with one such firm is an interesting development, yet is it only sharing the data with zophop or will it also share it with others? Several people have approached BEST for data and have been shunned away in the past. From an anecdote, IIT Bombay was paying a hefty amount to buy GPS data of BEST for their research work on a real-time multimodal trip planner. As a public agency BEST cannot favour one private player and the partnership terms need to be transparent, so that any other private firm like Google Maps can also access this real-time data to show updates for commuters.

For BEST to share this real-time data with others, it should be noted that the data rights need to be with BEST. From what is known BEST has already sold these rights to Verve Soft Pvt Ltd. and may not have any rights over it as BEST has not spent any money on GPS units and might be receiving money through advertising revenues. Several transit agencies abroad have been sharing their real-time data to commuters by making it open to anyone including researchers and individual developers. Even though BMTC has announced an intention for such an open data policy to share data with third parties, it hasn’t been executed yet. Third party partnerships and open data policies will likely be adopted by many transport agencies in the near future in India. BEST is already experimenting with such practices, but it needs to be more transparent in doing so as a public agency.

Disclosure: The author was an employee/Director at Zophop briefly in 2014 and helped source transport data while at the firm.

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Corrupt Babus from the Stone Age are Impeding Better Transport

Many ‘futurists’ and a significant number of urban local government officials and policymakers I’ve met and/or interacted with hold the following view – ‘Internet, faster communication and changing social attitudes will soon make large urban agglomerations i.e cities in the form of cities irrelevant. We will be participants in an era of small, compact cities with innovators, job creators and seekers moving to such cities from megacities to make their fortunes’.

This view is often represented as a fact in many conferences, seminars and ‘talks’ by organized by the intelligentsia which in turn has transformed the view into conventional wisdom. They are wrong. The internet or any other faster means of communication (except  teleporting perhaps’ will never be able to match  This view combined with the very Indian tendency to ‘equalize’ development of different regions has led to some perverse policy prescriptions but that is a matter for another day. In this post, I will discuss a little on why the ‘compact future city’ view is incorrect and touch upon what we need to improve transportation outcomes..

In his book- The Rise and Fall of Nations, Ruchir Sharma writes:

‘In recent years it became fashionable to argue that location no longer matters, because the internet makes it possible to provide services from anywhere. But physical goods still make up the bulk of global trade flows, and location still matters for companies that want to be close to their customers and suppliers.’

Some of you may argue that physical goods will not constitute a majority of trade flows in the near future where trade will mostly constitute IT based service sector transactions; and that’s when we will see intelligent people leaving cities along with their businesses for small towns. You would then be wrong. Again. Later in the book, Ruchir Sharma writes this:

‘Today the internet is making geography irrelevant neither for manufacturing industries nor for service industries. People still meet face to face in order to manage and build service companies that provide everything from internet search engines to cargo logistics, and new companies in these industries typically set up in the same town to tap the same expert talent pool. The result is the rise of cities with a cluster of companies and talent in a specific service niche.’
‘In South Korea, Busan continues to thrive as the nation’s leading port and as a regional hub for logistics service companies. In the Philippines, Manila has been rising for some time as as a major global provider of back office services, and now that business is spilling over to its satellite cities, including Quezon and Caloocan. Dubai continues to build on its dual role as a major port moving oil and other goods and as a service hub for the Middle East.’

To the above list, I would add- Bangalore continues to thrive as India’s leading education hub and as a hub for R&D, IT-BPO companies; Mumbai continues to thrive as the city whose professionals arrange financing for mega projects across India and Kolkata for producing intellectuals who fill our history textbooks with crap.

In short, cities will NOT become small. Businesses and intelligent people will NOT move to compact cities. Most of India’s megacities will keep getting bigger. (I’m not saying that there is no future for second cities and therefore we should ignore them. They are a very integral part of the modern economy and need to be accorded that status. That discussion is for another post). Our planners and urban administrators need to imbibe this very basic fact when they are managing our cities. In my opinion, amongst these planners and urban administrators, the ones that need to learn this lesson the most are – public transport officials.

A few months ago, St Srikanth of Depot (Srikanth) and I had a chance to interact with officials of BMRCL (Bangalore Metro Rail Corporation Limited) and BMTC (Bangalore Metropolitan Transport Corporation). Almost every second conversation we had with a management level employee revealed their deep discomfort about private operated public transport facilities. Before these conversations, I admit to having hoped that public transport officials would recognize that government ownership of public transport infrastructure and the legal monopoly over these operations would increasingly lead to very bad transportation outcomes. Those hopes were dashed after the above mentioned conversation. I realized that these buggers are going to sit on their arses, wait for their retirement and meanwhile prevent and/or harass tech enabled transportation systems like Uber, Ola and ZipGo and oppose private entry into the business in the traditional forms.

Before continuing that rant, I will emphasise the need for an efficient public transportation system in every city. As mentioned before, every city is essentially a concentrated labor market. Businesses – low tech, high tech, service sector, manufacturing like to set themselves up in cities as these cities offer them access to a large pool of labor in short distance. This in combination with the fact that most of their suppliers and customers too do the same lead to something known as agglomeration benefits. All the above depends upon the efficiency of the transportation system and the density of urban living. The higher the efficiency of transportation networks and the density of urban living, the greater the agglomeration benefits and therefore higher incomes.

Let me illustrate this with an example from our National Capital Region. Say Srikanth decides to shift from Bengaluru [He is desperate to] to the wretched hellhole that is NCR and rents a place in Dharuhera (About 45kms from Gurugram). He is forced to rent here because he has a taste for luxury and but his bank account isn’t all that good enough to enable him to live in Gurugram. It takes about an hour to travel between Gurugram and Dharuhera as he travels through public transport, Uber and Ola aren’t available in Dharuhera and the nearest metro is HUDA city center which is about 40kms away.  What are the chances of him accepting a job paying ₹60k per month near Rajiv Chowk i.e. Connaught Place, New Delhi over a job paying ₹55k in Gurugram ? (It takes about 2.5 hrs to travel from Dharuhera to Connaught Place). Very low. He most probably will take the ₹55k job as it saves him 3 hours of travelling everyday. The company in Connaught Place will probably have to do with lower quality labor or increase the offer and thus incur higher labor cost.

Haryana Roadways is one of the worst state road transportation companies (SRTCs) with only about 100 buses in operation in Gurugram on about 15 routes. If one attempts to go via public transport from Dharuhera to Gurugram, he or she is forced to take the very rickety illegal buses as the Haryana Roadways buses on the route are very infrequent. The private ones that operate are harassed and sometimes seized if they use the Haryana Roadways logo to escape harassment. If private bus operators existed and the construction on the highway is completed, the route will take about half an hour. Srikanth might take up a job a little further away from Gurgaon say at Hauz Khas @ ₹58k.

Now, back to my rant on BMTC and BMRCL. The old geezers in BMTC and their parent PSU- KSRTC will NEVER give up their legal monopoly. The ones in BMRCL will take another 10 years to realize that Majestic and MG Road no longer are the locus of business activity in Bengaluru city and that the locus has shifted to suburbs like Whitefield and Sarjapur. If Karnataka and other states stop harassing tech based taxi and bus aggregators like Ola, Uber, ZipGo and ends the legal monopoly of SRTCs and their subsidiaries, the transportation outcomes in our cities will vastly improve and believe me and the years of Urban Economics research- the resultant increase in agglomeration benefits will make everyone richer off.

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This article was later republished 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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Free the Bus and Tax the Car: More harm done than good

I was asked to write this piece as a sequel to the post Public Transport and Capitalism.

Now, before I proceed with the article, a little disclaimer.

I am a staunch supporter of private investment. I support what I call Regulated Capitalism. I ride a cycle to work. I drive a car when I go long distance. I take a bus if I feel like it. If I’m too tired, I take an Ola or an Uber. I may sound blunt and harsh in this article, but sometimes, one needs to do that in order to put across a point.

Now, to get to the actual post.

In the light of the recent Tamil Nadu elections, I went thru two manifestos; that of the DMK and PMK.

If one takes a look at the 2014 Manifesto by the BJP in Maharashtra, you’d find no such thing; for two obvious reasons:
1. The BJP is unapologetically anti-populist.
2. Public Transport, barring ST is a Municipal matter in M’rashtra.

Now, after this, there has been some lengthy debate of sorts on various forums and social media about one single thing: Free bus travel, extra taxes on cars.

Now, this, is not a solution to the problem in anyway. If it all, it does anything, it will massively compound the situation into an unimaginable mess.

Now:

The Problem

Inadequate public transport is the problem that plagues most Indian cities. This includes Bombay, Delhi, Madras, Calcutta. Other cities, such as Bangalore and Pune developed their notorious and infamous two-wheeler culture purely because of lack of good public transport. Even Bombay and its BEST buses are not extremely efficient in an absolute manner, but in a relative one: Relative to other cities, relative to its own siblings [NMMT/TMT], relative to the larger network that it is a part of [Suburban Rail+Metro+Monorail]. The fact that BEST buses run crowded during peak hours alone shows the immense scope for further rationalisation and efficiency.

Now, Public Transport is not a preferred mode of transport by everyone. Among the various reasons, are the following:

  • Lack of connectivity: By far, the most common reason. This can be seen particularly in the city of Bangalore. Most buses in the city go to either Kempegowda Bus Station or KR Market. Buses to various parts of the city originate in these two terminal points. Thus, for someone who lives in Arekere, to go to Electronics City, a journey by bus will involve three trips: Arekere to Jayadeva Hospital, then to Central Silk Board, then to Electronics city. Similarly, if I were to go from Four Bungalows to Mulund Check Naka in Mumbai, I’d have to take a bus to Andheri Station [West], and a changeover to a bus from Agarkar Chowk to Mulund.
  • Irregular or unfavourable timings: Another important factor is the unsuitable timings that a bus or train may have. For example, if someone living in Shanthinagar wanted to visit the Bannerghatta National Park, and decides to take a Volvo [V-365], they may have to wait for a while to get a bus, especially in the afternoon. Similarly, if I were to go to NSCI Worli from Santacruz East in the afternoon by an AC bus, A74Express, A75Express and AS2 run only in the morning and evening.
  • Crowds: Public transport often gets crowded and overcrowded. I myself at times can’t stand too long due to a foot injury. In such times, I prefer to take an Uber or Ola over a bus or a train. If everyone takes a bus or a train at the same time, we get the Peak Hour rush, which anyone living in any major city in India can attest too.

The Solution

  • Diversification of Public Transport: Public Transport shouldn’t be restricted to certain corridors. It must be divided into multiple corridors of different types, from buses, trains and what not. Mumbai is the best example of this. The Suburban Rail forms a major corridor. Metro and Mono act as secondary corridors as well as feeders to the Suburban Rail. Buses act as both tertiary corridors [Eg: 28, 56, AS1, AS4, etc.] and feeders [anything that heads to the station, or a major bus station or a metro station].
  • Park and Ride: Integrate public parking lots with Major transit corridors. Build bus stations and railway stations with parking lots. Encourage people to drive to the Station and then take a bus or a train. A separate post on this will come soon.
  • Co-existence: Allow both private and public transport to co-exist freely. They need each other in order to survive. However, focus on improving the quality of public transport so that it remains a viable alternative for buses. Listen to passenger feedback, enable faster financial management.

How not to mess up the system.

  • Free public transport: Public transport can be subsidised to a certain extent, but not too much. Examples of good subsidies are: Discounted fares for students, senior citizens, frequent travelers, bonus cashback to those who use prepaid/cashless methods of payment. When bus transport is made free, it ensures that even those who do not have any work traveling will travel for the heck of it. This causes overcrowding, bleeds the corporation of its revenue and results in bad services, which can and will only result in the number of private vehicles going up.
  • Overtaxing vehicles: Taxation of private vehicles is good as it again, provides revenue to the state, and ensures that older vehicles that can cause pollution are taken off the roads. If private vehicles are overtaxed to prevent people from using or owning them, it will compound the already messed up system. The rich, will get away because they can afford it. The poor, well, they get the free bus. The middle class will get affected as they always do by most Socialist policies, because the bus is too crowded and they cannot afford a car.

That’s all for now from me. This is a lengthy rant aimed at those who think that being socialist wrt transport is cool.

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Dial Your Officer

What do you do when you have to lodge a complaint on the bus services or you have to make requests for new bus routes ? What is the platform for communication between the service provider and the customer.
In this piece, I would like to talk to you about the successful hyper local approach of TSRTC (Telangana State Road Transport Corporation) in connecting with people who use their services.

APSRTC and TSRTC Logo
APSRTC and TSRTC Logo

Problematic History ?
TSRTC and APSRTC have always had a helpline number for people to contact and lodge their grievances. After the Online reservation portal for undivided corporation went live, The new toll free number started taking complaints only about the services which were listed for reservation. Meanwhile there were complaints from users about the depot managers and other officials being inaccessible. Heeding to the complaints, The corporation decided to make contact details (phone and email) of all of it’s major officials public. They are available on both TSRTC and APSRTC ‘s portals under the contact us drop down. This opened up opportunities for the tech savvy to write E-Mails to the officials with complaints but the real connect with passengers was still missing.

The Solution !
It was decided in October last year that officials will take calls one day every month at least in Hyderabad city and make effort to network between themselves to solve the issues raised by passengers. The first “Dial Your Officer” programme was conducted on the last Monday of October and has been continuing with out a break every month on the last Monday since then. All Telugu news papers in Hyderabad are informed about the upcoming edition of the call-in and all of them publish a small news item. The small yet significant snippets of news have the contact numbers of Depot, Regional and Divisional Managers along with the executive director. It is interesting to see how the news papers publish this news in the constituency papers of the district tabloid. The officials take calls from 5-6 pm in the evening. Not to say they do not take calls other wise, But this specific time is reserved for the passengers to lodge complaints and give suggestions.
(All telugu news paper have a tabloid dedicated for local reporting of a particular city/district. This tabloid also contains a few pages for each assembly constituency with hyper local reporting and these are changed as per the areas to which the news paper is circulated to.)
The Results
6 weeks in to the launch of this programme, we analyzed the decisions made since the start and found that this is a really novel way of engaging with people and getting to know what they actually need.

New Routes:
10 new routes were started which will connect the city in a completely different way as opposed to now and expand the network.
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ECIL-Ibrahimpatnam
ECIL is a residential-industrial suburb in the North East of Hyderabad and Ibrahimpatnam is a Nagarpanchayat bordering the outer ring road in South East known for its excessive number of engineering colleges. For both of these suburbs, LB Nagar,Uppal and Habsiguda are the nearest urban centers. There was no direct bus connecting both ends through these urban centers. Hence, the corporation after requests from people in both of these suburbs decided to start this new route connecting them with their nearest urban centers. This route has proven to be a success with more than 75% occupancy which exceeds the target occupancy at 72%.Similar to this, many requests were made by people from new and emerging residential colonies all over the suburbs. This spun the corporation in to activity and made them really think about the impending crisis post metro. The corporation started re-aligning its operations concentrating on the suburbs and connecting the core city in a much denser way. Nine other routes include direct services from Mehedipatnam and VBIT park to Medchal, Extension of services to new colonies on Bangalore highway beyond Aramgarh and more connections to the northern suburb, Suchitra to the city via Bowenpally.

Re-Starting Old Routes:
NGOs colony, which together with places beyond Dilsukhnagar on Vijayawada highway contributes to more than 40% of the total premium bus pass purchases in Hyderabad got treated with three of its older and much appreciated services getting reinstated. 300V,186 and 2/100V were restored over a period of six months.

Women’s special services:
There were a lot of complaints from the women staff of Telangana and Andhra Pradesh state Secretariats who have stayed loyal to the ladies special buses operated during rush hours about the reduced fleet strength. The number of ladies special buses have since been increased from 68 to 100 much to the joy of women employees but we still think there is more work to be done on this front.

Maintenance of buses:
Every one Including us have complained about the cleanliness and maintenance of buses, to which the corporation’s immediate response was to complete hiring new maintenance staff to clean the buses. The cleanliness of buses has definitely improved. But, we think there is still more work to be done on a long term basis to get the maintenance on track.I will digress here a bit to inform you how understaffed RTC’s mechanical staff are. There have been no new recruitments in what is called “shramik” cadre since four years and all the new placements are done through a flawed system of “outsourcing”. This apathy towards maintenance staff should end if you aspire to operate buses in good shape.
There were also a lot of complaints about the rude behavior of crew. This we think is majorly because of the working conditions.There were also complaints about how the crew itself is not informed about the various subsidized schemes the corporation offers. Hence, Training programmes to sensitize the crew have been organized at the corporation’s own staff training institute in Hakimpet.

Bus Bunching:
Bus Bunching has been a perennial problem in all major Indian cities operating large networks in mixed traffic. People complained about this and RTC got its act together to rationalize a few routes to avoid bus bunching to an extent it can control. We should all understand that it cannot accurately predict the traffic conditions but working towards increasing internal efficiency will help both the passengers and the corporation. For example, prior to route rationalization some 12 depots were operating on route no 218, which is the north west south east corridor of the city. This resulted in weird timings as opposed to a clean cyclic time table. Efforts were made to restrict these services to only eight depots and there is a clear improvement on ground with a clean cyclic time table. Route rationalization has been an ongoing effort since then all over the city and we hope to see more reliable services very soon.

All of the above mentioned issues were voiced by regular commuters easily only because of the easy access provided by TSRTC. Now, If you all have any issues regarding the operations, Never hesitate to voice them. TSRTC is always welcoming in taking your complaints. For example,Local travel groups have always been active in meeting the depot managers to get their issues sorted.Start engaging with your corporation now ! Go ahead and talk to them. Make this “Dial Your Officer” programme a start point.

“Dial Your Officer”
Last Monday of every month, 5pm-6pm.
Find the contacts : here

Dial Your Officer: An initiative by the TSRTC to listen to its Commuters Click To Tweet

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Travis takes the Bus

The Uber guy took a bus. Yes, that’s right.

Travis Kalanick, Founder and CEO of Uber, the ride-sharing app was in India recently, where he was present as an invitee to the Launch program of the Government of India’s Start-Up India program.

Post this event in Delhi, he made his way to Mumbai for an event at IIT-Bombay where he spoke about Entrepreneurship and Jugaad with Ronnie Screwvala, Founder and Former CEO of the UTV Group.

This is what Travis had to say, after he took a ride in a BEST bus.

Travis runs a company that is valued at $20billion. Never mind the fact that Uber has been banned in several countries, and several parts of India as well, for various reasons, from Regulatory issues, to Safety, to flouting Online Transaction Norms to apparent Monopolisation of the market.

All said and done, Uber has a significant presence in India. It has done better than its desi competition Ola Cabs, which has launched services such as Ola Cafe, Ola Market, etc to keep up with the competition. Uber has also eaten into a significant chunk of not only BESTs revenue, but the revenue of many Transcos across the globe.

When the CEO of a ridesharing company takes a bus, and talks of Jugaad, it means something. The impact of this, is reasonably significant.

I’m going to take this as a reminder that BMTC is getting a new Intelligent Transport System, which, from what is visible is a Trimax Project.

The new BMTC ITS will soon provide live data of buses on an app, similar to what BEST had proposed and what even NMMT had mentioned.

Travis came to India to talk at the launch Startup India. The need of the hour is for an Indian StartUp to set up a proper Research and Development firm in India with partnership or support of international players so that we can have a set of Intelligent Transit Systems in India which will br better suited for Indian projects, since each Transco [road, rail and water] in India has a different story.

We hope that Startup India results in something as bright as this post itself. Indian startups have the potential to do wonders in the field of transport. Trimax revolutionised the Ticketing scene across India, and went one step further in the field of Temple Management as well. The next few years are crucial as companies like Uber and Ola have been eating up into revenues of various Transcos and some of them, like BEST, PMPML, and BMTC are doing their bit to innovate to bring back the passengers and thus, give us more options on the road.

Remember, Travis took BEST, so let’s make BEST great again!

You can take an NMMT or a TMT, but if you’re within MCGM territory, go ahead, take a BEST. Bring out the BEST within you.

You could also book thru Hawala Travels.

When @travisK took a BEST bus! 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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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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