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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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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