A Dangerous Bus?

Most people say buses are dangerous and hence people won’t take them. However, there is a contrary view to it. Some economists are of the opinion that a more dangerous bus would mean more passengers. Do they board for the thrill of it?

Let’s ask Alex Tabarrok shall we?

 

Let’s Make Buses More Dangerous so People Will Ride Them

Jeff Kaufman writes:

Buses are much safer than cars, by about a factor of 67, but they’re not very popular. If you look at situations where people who can afford private transit take mass transit instead, speed is the main factor (ex: airplanes, subways).

So we should look at ways to make buses faster so more people will ride them, even if this means making them somewhat more dangerous.

Here are some ideas, roughly in order from “we should definitely do this” to “this is crazy, but it would probably still reduce deaths overall when you take into account that more people would ride the bus”:

  • Don’t require buses to stop and open their doors at railroad crossings.
  • Allow the driver to start while someone is still at the front paying.
  • Allow buses to drive 25mph on the shoulder of the highway in traffic jams where the main lanes are averaging below 10mph.
  • Higher speed limits for buses. Lets say 15mph over.
  • Leave (city) bus doors open, allow people to get on and off any time at their own risk.

Excellent recognition of tradeoffs. Pharmaceuticals should also be more dangerous.

Hat tip: Slate Star CodexCross-posted from Marginal Revolution.

Alex Tabarrok


Alex Tabarrok

Alex Tabarrok is a professor of economics at George Mason University. He blogs at Marginal Revolution with Tyler Cowen. 

This article was originally published on FEE.org. Read the original article.

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Amphibious Bus, Water Bus, Boat Bus?

Meet the Boat-Bus! Yes. Or atleast that’s what they’re calling it.

Two separate Boat-Buses made their appearance in the last two months, one in Punjab and one in Lucknow. Both are the exact opposites of each other.

Presenting The Harike, Punjab’s Boat-Bus for tourists in the Harike wetlands.

The Harike Water Bus. Image via Twitter.
The Harike Water Bus. Image via Twitter.

At first glance, anyone who sees this picture will say: “Wait, what? That looks like a Banana on Wheels!”.

Personally, I’m confused whether it is a boat with wheels or a mini-van shaped like a boat. Functionally, it is both. There is a ramp that leads it into the water from where it functions as a boat. Something like a Hovercraft, one might say.

While Aesthetics seem to have taken a backseat here, it is functional enough. One just hopes that it does not capsize in the water.

Now, presenting Lucknow’s Water-Bus.

Lucknow Water Bus. Image via Facebook.
Lucknow Water Bus. Image via Facebook.

It’s a boat. Yes. A covered boat. Lucknow, by virtue of being on the banks of the Gomti river has managed to get a functional water transport system due to start commercial operations by this month.

What confuses me is where there is so much water in Gomti river and why is there so much water pouring down from the bridge? Are they filling the river? I know this is possible in Ahmedabad because the Sabarmati is designed like a giant drain, but does Uttar Pradesh have the wherewithall for such a thing?

It would be nice to someday see the Yamuna, Ganga, and Kaveri be cleaned up. Cities like Delhi, Kanpur, Varanasi, Erode and Thiruchchirapalli (Trichy) too can then set up their own water transport systems.

As I had outlined in a previous post, on the basis of Pune and Ahmedabad, any Indian city that lies on the banks of a major river can get itself a good water transport system. Further, cities on the coast, mainly Mumbai, Chennai, Visakhapatnam (Vizag), Panaji, Mormugao, and Mangalore should get hovercrafts. Water transport is slowly getting more prominence in the country. Mumbai is getting a terminal for water-based Ro-Ro transport. Rolling Highways are one thing, but Floating Highways? Why not. If we can have a Konkan Railway, why not a Konkan Waterway.

It’s high time, we start innovating and looking at newer modes of transport. The Hyperloop concept is still eons away. Till then, let us focus on more terrestrial transport, which doesn’t necessarily have to be on land. As they say, Water is the Basis of Life.

The Boat-Bus can form a crucial part of a Floating Highway network. Click To Tweet

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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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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.

Why aren't those in power giving us better transport? Click To Tweet

This article was later republished on Swarajya.

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How serious are we about Security?

How serious are we about security while traveling?

Everyone has been through a security check at airports, often having to go thru multiple levels of checking, scanning, and frisking. But what about others?

X-ray Luggage screening device at Suvarnabhumi International Airport, Bangkok
X-ray Luggage screening device at Suvarnabhumi International Airport, Bangkok. Image copyright Mattes in the Public Domain, available on the Wikimedia Commons.

It is rare to see functional Security systems in Railway stations across the country. Mumbai’s Suburban Rail witnessed a series of horrific bombings a decade ago while BEST buses have been the target of bomb blasts twice: 2002 and 2003, both outside Ghatkopar Station.

So what do we do?

Stringent security checks aren’t always feasible. You can do it for an airline because of the lesser crowd. But can you imagine doing that for every passenger at Mumbai Central or New Delhi station? It’s humanely impossible, mainly because of the volume of people.

Metro systems do have a decent security check in place. Delhi Metro uses the Central Industrial Security Force that the Airports across the country use. The Airport Express also has CISF guards, but they are stricter, and the security checks are more in line with the airport security checks. Mumbai’s security is handled by the Maharashtra State Security Corporation do a good job too. Bangalore, Chennai and Gurgaon employ Private Security agencies who, depending on the situation, may or may not be great.

But this will be a herculean task across bus stops right? Maybe, but there can be a workaround for this.

A simple workaround would be installing CCTV cameras in public spaces, starting with Bus Stations, Railway Stations, Malls, Shopping Areas, etc. where the public throngs in huge numbers. This can then be gradually rolled out to other sections of the city.

An addition to this would be using an Infrared camera along with the CCTV camera. An infrared camera is able to capture images in low light which a normal camera would not be able to see. Along with this, a thermal image scanner can also be employed. A thermal scanner will show the monitoring guards, different heat levels of anything within range. Combined with the CCTV and Infrared, it might help pinpoint explosive devices or weapons. Of course, installing lakhs of them across each bus stop would be a pain. The plus side is that this set-up can then be used for tracking buses, as well as curbing violations of traffic rules.

What do you say?

I am taking my alexa rank to the next level with Blogchatter. Current rank: 715202 globally and 59792 in India.

How seriously do we take our security while traveling? #TransitStories Click To Tweet

 

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Idea: Zeppelins in the Sky

Recently, I wrote an article for Swarajya about Nitin Gadkari’s plans to develop Highway Strips or Road Highways for defence and civilian purposes in India. You can read the article here.

A reader posted a comment, suggesting the use of Zeppelins as a mode of transport.

The LZ 129 Hindeburg on its flirst flight in 1936.
The LZ 129 Hindenburg on its first flight in 1936. Image in the Public Domain.

Now, Zeppelins [often incorrectly referred to as Blimps] have always fascinated me. A Blimp is a Non-Rigid Airship, while a Zeppelin is a Rigid Airship. Developed in the late 19th Century by the Count Ferdinand von Zeppelin, it was patented in Germany in 1895 and the United States in 1899. They made their first commercial appearance in 1910, operated by  Deutsche Luftschiffahrts-AG (DELAG). They were extensively inducted into the German military as well. They were phased out in 1937 after the Hinderburg Disaster at New Jersey. [Clip Below, else click here to view]

Post 1990,  Zeppelin Luftschifftechnik, a daughter enterprise of the Zeppelin conglomerate that built the original German Zeppelins, has been developing Zeppelin “New Technology” (NT) airships, which are semi-rigid vessels.

Now, the important thing to remember that Zeppelins were phased out, their hangers demolished and the all supporting infrastructure disbanded. They were completely phased out in favour of Fixed-wing aircraft, which is where the problem is.

Fixed-Wing aircraft, which we fly in, the aeroplanes, have a major disadvantage; fuel consumption.

As per SuchindranathAiyer’s comment: In winged aircraft, 75% of fuel is spent on “lift” which is saved by using Zepellins. Again, Zepellin have last mile advantage as they can come to Mooring Towers in the city center. They require amazingly less support infrastructure unlike Railways and Airlines. All this would reflect in low travel costs.

This takes us back to my first article on Swarajya where I spoke on the need to invest in Railways as opposed to Aviation because of the slow depletion of fossil fuels.

However, since Zeppelins consume lesser fuel, they can operate at cheaper rates, thus making them more viable as long term alternatives to both winged aviation as well as rail.

The mooring towers can be built in a conveniently accessible location, such as around Kashmere Gate in Delhi, the Sion Causeway in Mumbai, Shanthinagar in Bengaluru, Koyambedu in Chennai. The Terminal building can be built on the lines of a Metro station. The hangars can be built elsewhere where the airships can go after the trip is completed. Hangars can also be built one atop another and land usage can be minimised.

Zeppelins were phased out in 1937. Blimps are still in use, but rarely for long distance transport. While Zeppelins used Hydrogen as the gas to hold them afloat, modern Blimps use Helium to do the same.

It is 2016, technology has evolved massively, research has massively increased in the field of elements and gases as well as in safer docking techniques. Disasters like the Hindenburg crash can be averted with proper use of technology. With research being done for Solar-powered aircraft, Zeppelins too can be made Solar-powered.

The Zeppelin can be good for Short-to-Medium distance transport, such as:

  • Mumbai-Valsad-Surat [upto Ahmedabad will anyway be connected by the Bullet Train]
  • Mumbai-Pune-Satara-Kolhapur
  • Panaji-Belgaum-Hubli
  • Bengaluru-Mysore-Madikeri
  • Palakkad-Coimbatore-Salem
  • Chennai-Mamallapuram-Puducherry
  • Chennai-Tirupathi
  • Hyderabad-Vijaywada-Amaravati

These routes can have intermediate stops such as multiple pick up points. For example, Mumbai [which currently has 5 Outstation Railway Termini, and 5 State Transport Bus Terminals] can have multiple mooring towers such as Sion, Borivali, Chembur, Mulund, as well as Vashi and CBD Belapur in Navi Mumbai.

The unfortunate incident involving the Hindeburg [resulting in 36 deaths] brought development in airships to a grinding halt. If disasters such as Air India Express Flight 812 [which overshot the runway at Mangalore in 2010, killing 158 people] had happened back then, would it have brought development of winged-aircraft to a halt as well?

Of course, if the sector is opened up to the Private Sector, expect several carriers to light up their buses with LEDs and call themselves LED Zeppelin. On a related note, Led Zeppelin’s self titled debut album had a picture of the Hindenburg Disaster as the album cover.

After all this, you can probably sing “Hawa Mein Udti Jaaye, Oh mera LED wala Zeppelin Helium ka”.

Zeppelins in the Sky, Definitely Worth a Try!

On a related note, in 2016, the Agra-based Aerial Delivery Research and Development Establishment (ADRDE), a division of the Defence Research Development Organisation [DRDO], developed Nakshatra, an unmanned Helium-filled airship for surveillance. This comes four years after a similar system called Akashdeep.

Zeppelins in the Sky, Definitely Worth a Try! Click To Tweet

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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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Public Transport and Capitalism: The Perfect Pairing

It is often said that a Developed Nation is one, not where the poor can drive their own cars, but the rich take Public Transport.

Public Transport, for a long time has been associated with Socialism. However, that isn’t always the case. Efficient Public Transport, along with its parent field of Transport tilts heavily towards Capitalist tendencies.

Let us examine the connection between the two and try and make some sense of the two.

Premise

Let us create a premise in order to go forward with this piece.

I’m defining capitalism as an environment, where anyone, be it an individual or a group of individuals, put in the capital, aka the investment, and earn their returns on it, in the process, employing others to operate the investment. A simple example of Capitalism would be if me and my friend invested in setting up a simple shop selling provisions to the people in a locality. We invest, operate the shop, maybe on our own, or if it is a larger one, employing a few other people, and earn back our investment over a period of time. Now, in the transport scenario, the simplest example of Capitalism would be:

A two-laned road exists from point A to point B. Traffic on this stretch is slowly increasing and the government decides that the road needs to be widened to four lanes, but doesn’t have the money to do so. It ropes in a private player who invests in the construction of the road, maintenance and operation of emergency services for a certain time period and collection of toll in the same time period. The concessionaire [I refrain from using the term Toll Operator or Contractor here] has to make up the cost of investment as well as make profits in order to pay its employees within this time period, known as the Concession Period, thus making it imperative for them to treat it as a business and not Social Service or Charity. Of course, if a company is unable to break even [forget earning profits], the quality of its services are bound to tank, right?

Equipment

The first major connection between Public Transport and Capitalism is equipment. By equipment, I’m opening a broad tent to fit in anything from Buses to Trucks to Earthmovers to Dumpers to Road Rollers to Concrete Mixers to Electric Cabling to Railway Tracks.

Let us take BEST as an example. Without capitalism, BEST wouldn’t be able to buy a Tata Starbus, or a Cerita or an Ashok Leyland, let alone a Volvo, because these vehicles wouldn’t exist. Can one imaging traveling from Andheri to Ghatkopar in an ICF Coach like the ones running on the Suburban Line? [I’m sure people from Calcutta are right now sulking.] Heck, even the printers used to print tickets by IR are TVS Dot Matrix printers, another private enterprise! Even the signals used by IR are made in Pune by a firm called PaisaFund, which operates out of Lakshmi Road. Imagine, if all buses were built by a state organisation. They’d be in bad condition, take ages to get delivered, and servicing them would mean that the bus would be off the road for god knows how many months.  Capitalism is what enables a Transport Corporation to purchase good quality equipment, at the best prices for that particular piece of equipment.

Operations

Another important point that links Capitalism and Public Transport is Operations. Operations involves private entities operating a service on behalf of the government. A simple example would be the earlier mentioned example on a Toll Road.

What all can be mentioned under Operations? A lot!

In the cities of Surat, Ahmedabad, and Nagpur, a Special Purpose Vehicle [SPV] was set up by the Municipal Corporation to operate city buses. These buses were owned and operated by Private Agencies under the Municipal name. Of course, buses under JnNURM were always owned and operated by the Government entity due to restrictions by the Central Government.

However, take a look at Delhi. Delhi is currently an interesting example of Private parties operating buses, both regulated and unregulated. Earlier, the killer Blueline buses were an example of how an inefficient government transport fleet wsa supplemented by private providers, although they were running amok killing people on the streets. The government changed the model to make it safer, ensure that operators have the basic minimum safety requirement buses and viola! You have the Cluster Buses. They don’t kill people like their older siblings, but they do their job of keeping Delhi running during troubled times such as the Odd-Even mela.

Privatised operations, too a certain extent also help in healthy competition that allows Transport bodies to understand their organisation and management skills. An example:
MSRTC has run their Shivneri and Ashwamedh on various long distance routes, including Mumbai-Bengaluru and Mumbai-Hyderabad. Both were subsequently scrapped. Why? ST couldn’t live up to the competition that private players and neighbouring STUs like KSRTC and TSRTC were offering. Hence, it decided to refocus its buses on the routes it does the best in: Mumbai-Pune with more diversified routes, such as to Hinjewadi and Mantralaya. Similarly, they had to pull out of their Shivneri Corporate service, because they couldn’t compete with BEST’s A77Express.

Recently, the government announced that it would amend the Motor Vehicles Act of 1988 to enable Private Players to get into Public Transport. This would make it better for corporations that are inefficient to curtail their loss making services and hand them over to a private player. It would also reduce inefficiency caused by labour unions.

Right to Choose

The most important aspect of Capitalism in Public Transport is that it gives me the right to choose. The right to choose whether I want to go to my destination by train or to drive there. If I want to go from Four Bungalows in Andheri to IIT Powai in Mumbai, I can choose to drive, take a 425, take an AS422, take a Metro to Saki Naka and a bus, or take an Auto, Taxi or an Ola/Uber. Why must I have only one way to travel?  If I have to travel from Kovaipudur to Gandhipuram in Coimbatore, I can take a bus, either via Ukkadam or via Perur. Till recently, there was no alternative. Autos are not metered and there are no proper cabs. Calling a Red Taxi or a Go Taxi would cost a lot and an auto, too much. Now, there options such as Makkal Auto and Ola/Uber which make travel affordable and comfortable.

These three are the most important connections that Capitalism has to Public Transport. Private Players, as long as they are answerable to a Government body, implement things faster, finish work faster, operate more efficiently, because efficiency is a direct indicator of income in the long run.

Public Transport and Capitalism: Made for Each Other Click To Tweet

Have anything to add, feel free to drop a line in the comments.

Note, a partial follow-up was written by me for Swarajya Magazine:

Karnataka: Govt Wants To Nationalise All Bus Routes. Here’s Why It Is A Bad Idea

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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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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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