The Propaganda of Transport

Propaganda is a very misused, overused and abused word today. Politicians use it all the time to attack each other. In such cases, we should take a closer look at the word Propaganda itself.

Merriam-Webster defines Propaganda as ideas or statements that are often false or exaggerated and that are spread in order to help a cause, a political leader, a government, etc.

Of course, we can take the liberty of interpreting Propaganda as a more open nature of promoting oneself or ones interests to an audience.

The most well known example of Propaganda is the 1940 film The Eternal Jew, directed by Fritz Hippler and produced by the Minister of Propaganda Joseph Goebbels under the Deutsche Film Gesellschaft banner. The film was nowhere near subtle, and portrayed Jews as Uncivilised, Parasitic and worse. However, times have changed and propaganda in its current form is very subtle, often using bias to have its way.

In the recent times, propaganda has managed to make its way into the Transport sector too. When we say Propaganda in the Transport sector, we do not refer to naming stations, airports, roads and bridges after people. Mumbai has one major railway station and its airport named after Chhatrapati Shivaji. Bangalore has its central bus station and airport named after Kempegowda. This is a global phenomenon. New York’s major airport is named after former President John F Kennedy while it’s secondary airport is named after the 99th Mayor Fiorello La Gaurdia.

The propaganda we look at is subtle, and in some cases, not so subtle.

A Nationalistic Bus?

A BMTC Atal Sarige on route AS-6.
A BMTC Atal Sarige on route AS-6. Image copyright Binai K Sankar.

At first glance, the Atal Sarige operated by the Bangalore Metropolitan Transport Corporation [BMTC] looks like its livery is is draping the bus with the National Flag. But. It’s wrong. If you take a second look, you’d notice that the colour scheme is White, Green and Saffron/Orange. The party colours of the Bharatiya Janata Party [BJP]. Further, the name itself is a giveaway. Named after former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee of the BJP, the bus was meant to serve the poorest of the poor.

Note: If you’re Mumbai, the highest fare is on a bus with its route number starting with AS, and if you’re in Bangalore, it’d be the opposite.

And now, for a little Aesthetics.

A TSRTC Metro Luxury Volvo at Lingampally.
A TSRTC Metro Luxury Volvo at Lingampally. Image copyright LoveOfZ, CC-BY-SA 4.0 International, Wikimedia Commons.

Pink is known to be a very soothing colour. It is often used to calm inmates in prison.

However, the Telangana State Road Transport Corporation [TSRTC] bus above did not turn pink to soothe its commuters. Telangana State was formed in 2014, and the party that won a majority in its Assembly Elections was the Telangana Rashtra Samithi [TRS], whose party colour is Pink. Thus, everyone who sees the bus will remember the colour pink and every time there is a campaign by the TRS, people will be calm, because, Hey, Pink is a soothing colour.

Switching Colours

And now, for the most interesting, and perhaps most noteworthy form of Bus-based propaganda.

Welcome to Tamil Nadu, where all the various divisions of the Tamil Nadu State Transport Corporation [TNSTC], the Metropolitan Transport Corporation [MTC] of Chennai and the State Express Transport Corporation [SETC] are like Chamelons. Remember the phrase “गिरगिट की तरह रंग बदलना” (Girgit Ke Tarah Rang Badalna)? That’s what TNSTC/SETC/MTC buses do. Change colours; Every time the government changes. It’s like an unwritten part of the party manifesto.

Here’s a picture of an MTC bus taken in April 2011 below. It’s blue in colour. Blue is also a soothing colour, although I fail to understand why anyone would want to say ‘Feeling Blue’ to refer to Sadness.

A blue coloured MTC Semi Low Floor bus on route number 21G.
A blue coloured MTC Semi Low Floor bus on route number 21G. Image copyright Vinoth Thambidurai/CC-BY-SA 3.0 Unported/Wikimedia Commons.

This picture was taken in April 2011, a month before the All India Anna Dravida Munnethra Kazhagam [AIADMK] government won the elections. Colour combinations were aplenty across Tamil Nadu. Some buses bore different shades of blue and yellow, some were white with Red, Yellow and Orange stripes across them, there were many.

Now, they are all uniform. While, I did mention Fragmentation in an earlier post, it would be great if each city had its own identity in terms of colours. Here, Tamil Nadu is one single entity in terms of coloured buses.

All long distance buses, including all SETC buses are now Green in Colour. They’re light green in colour with dark green stripes, or dark green in colour with light green stripes, depending on how you may want to look at them. Local buses, including all MTC buses all sport the same Brown-Beige combination which makes it look like the bus wasn’t washed at all. Perhaps a plan to not wash the buses regularly.

Below, is one such repainted bus, taken in 2013, belonging to TNSTC Coimbatore.

A TNSTC CBE bus at Vadavalli in Coimbatore.
A TNSTC CBE bus at Vadavalli in Coimbatore. Image copyright Faheem9333/CC-BY-SA 3.0 Unported/Wikimedia Commons.

See, what did I tell you? Where did this come from? Some people tell me that the colour has to do with what happened before this repainting. Barely three-four months before the buses got this brown colour, they had a different colour.

An MTC bus in the intermediate colour scheme.
An MTC bus in the intermediate colour scheme. Image: The Hindu

Notice the colours? Notice the photo of Jayalalithaa on the windscreen? I know it’s a bit difficult to see it, but can you see it. In the picture, Jaya is seen wearing a saree that is the same colour as the Maroon on the bus. Her complexion matches the beige on the bus. Tada! When the paint jobs were done, all buses sported a huge photo of the Chief Minister on the front windshield on the left hand side.

And now, finally …

Green Leafy Vegetables Buses

They say, greens are good for health. They say Green is a sign of Eco-Friendliness. But, the leaves here don’t exactly say that do they?

An MTC Small Bus [Mini Bus].
An MTC Small Bus [Mini Bus]. Image: The Hindu

 While MTC curiously chose to name these buses as ‘Small Bus’, not ‘Mini Bus’, they also decided to put a few leaves on it. No points for guessing why. The AIADMK’s Party symbol is: Yes, that’s right, Two Leaves! But, wait! You can see four leaves on that bus! Simple: 2+2=4. The more the merrier. Two more leaves is just going to reinforce things into the commuters head.

Now, notice something common among all these Transcos mentioned? They’re all State-level bodies, not Municipal ones. You’ll never see BEST, AMTS, or PMPML like this. Why? Decentralisation of transport management ensures that while Municipal Bodies have the wherewithal to run the Transco, they won’t have the time or resources to go behind such trivial stuff. They’ll have more important stuff such as banners, roads, naming of Chowks to work in their favour.

On an unrelated note: Searching for Purple Faeries on Google leads you to the Tag Purple Faeries. I call this, Purple Propaganda..

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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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Strike it Off!

Strikes. Strikes by Auto Rickshaw drivers. Strikes by Bus Transport employees.
Strikes. An old Blackmail method used by the Communists and Socialists [the Left] that unfortunately works even today.

There are two common reasons why Transport related employees strike:

  • Competition from the Private Sector or others.
  • Demand for Hike in Wages.

Competition from others

Frequently seen in cities like Mumbai, Bangalore and Delhi, both, employees of state run transcos, as well as auto/taxi drivers have often protested against others disturbing their Monopoly.

Recently, autos and taxis in Delhi went on a strike demanding that the government shut down app based aggregators such as Ola and Uber.

The irony of the situation is that such strikes force the public to turn to the aggregators, totally defeating the purpose of the strike. In cities like Mumbai and Pune, an auto or cab strike might affect businesses because both run by the meter. However, the use of non Kaali-Peeli cabs and auots is quite high in the city.  In Delhi, Bangalore, Chennai, these strikes would be problematic, because the autos in the city rarely go by meter. In the long run, an Uber or Ola would cost lesser than an auto anywhere in Delhi.

Demand for Hike in Wages

The other reason for a strike, a more legitimate one, is the demand for a hike in wages.

Recently, employees of BMTC, KSRTC, NW/NE-KRTC in Karnataka went on a 3-day strike demanding a 35% hike in wages. Though the strike lasted only three days, it was declared as indefinite, and would have gone on had the Government of Karnataka not convinced the striking staff to accept a 10.5% hike. This strike made life miserable for people in Bangalore. Autos began fleecing commuters, something that they are experts at. To compound the issue, the Karnataka Government’s draconian 1950-era rules for Cabs and Aggregators just made life miserable. With some universities choosing to remain open, life looked very dystopian.

In Ocober 2015, BEST employees threatened to strike because the higher-ups held back their Diwali bonus. Common sense prevailed and the strike was called off.

This kind of strike is a bit legitimate, since employees do deserve an occasional pay hike.

Now, what can be done?

What can be done about a strike?

A Strike or Bandh can cripple a city, or in this case, a state. It kills productivity, and destroys the economy. Of course, there are some people who claim that Strikes and Bandhs are Good for the Environment.

Here are some methods to help limit strikes and their impacts on the society and its economy.

  1. Decentralisation
    A decentralised transport system limits the impact of a strike. A strike by BEST employees won’t affect transport in Nagpur. However a strike by BMTC will affect Mysore since BMTC is essentially a subsidiary of KSRTC.
  2. Salaries must be on par with inflation and the private sector. Bus drivers and conductors aren’t the ones with the easiest job in the world. Pay them what they’re worth.
  3. Take strict action against those striking. Just because employees belong to a government body, that doesn’t let them strike as and when they feel like.

 

 

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#YogaDay special: Yoga and its contribution to Public Transport

Today is International Yoga Day, something that was recognised by the United Nations last year.

Not many people are aware of the immense contributions that Yoga has had on Public Transport.

We often hear negative news about Staff and Employees of Transcos allegedly harassing commuters. Sometimes, we also hear about bus drivers moving down people. While, I don’t want to get into the specifics of all of this, let us look into the root cause of all of this.

All of them have a common cause: Stress.
A bus driver and conductors job is most certainly not the easiest task in the world. It requires a lot of skill and patience. Drivers have to put up with traffic jams, negligent and rash drivers, bad roads, and also passengers who don’t board/disembark through proper doorways or at specific bus stops. This adds to a lot of stress.
A conductor has to deal with people not giving change, rude passengers, passengers boarding/disembarking via the wrong pathways or at bus stops, people not moving to emptier sections of the bus, etc. This, again adds to the stress.
Now, multiply these instance by multiple passengers, number of trips, depot officials asking for fuel reports and fare collections, and you have a perfect recipe for a Nervous Breakdown.

To reduce the load on the staff, several Transcos decided to take up Employee Care measures by introducing Yoga, and Meditions sessions.

MTC has mandatory yoga sessions for staff involved in accidents. They also have sessions to prevent a stress overload, as well as sessions on effective communication and life skills. Similarly, KaSRTC, too has sent its staff to Yoga and rehabilitation to help reduce alcoholism among its staff members.

Others, such as BEST, MSRTC, and BMTC too have had sessions on meditation, anger management, and relaxation to keep staff at ease during long working schedules in order to help reduce stress levels and increase productivity.

Yoga is something we should be proud of. It is pretty much a Soft Power that originated in India. It was earlier laughed off by critics, but today is accepted as an international practice.

Hats off to the government for promoting Yoga as a stress-buster and natural relaxant. If people practiced Yoga on a regular basis, it would help everyone. A stress-free and relaxed person has the ability to keep calm in tense situations, and altercations may be avoided. If everyone is in such a state, imagine the transport scenario will also be one which people would look forward to.

#YogaDay Special: How Yoga is beneficial to Public Transport. Click To Tweet

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A sneak peak at BMTC’s and MCTD’s ITS

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

Bangalore

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mysore

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

Among MITRA’s aims are:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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[Photos] Depots of Luxury

Some bus depots are lucky. They house various kinds of buses, old, new, fancy, premium, luxury, you name it.

In this post, I’m going to talk about luxury buses [Branded as such] of two specific depots: The Parel Depot which comes under the Mumbai division of MSRTC and Depot No. 4 of KSRTC’s Bangalore division. And no, Depot #4 here is not the same depot where Bus no 8954 was stationed.

MSRTC

Featuring the standard bus that almost all STUs in India have, the Volvo B7R, MSRTC successfully runs these buses on the Dadar-Pune, Thane-Swargate, Pune-Nashik, Mumbai-Aurangabad and Pune-Aurangabad routes, mostly as a non-stop service without a conductor. Branded as the Shivneri- a 17th century fort located in Junnar, Pune, where Chhatrapati Shivaji was born, it briefly made an appearance on the Kandivali-BKC route as the Shivneri Corporate. They were given a minor overhaul in 2015 with LED displays displaying the route up front.

MSRTC's Shivneri Volvo.
MSRTC’s Shivneri Volvo. Image copyright Srikanth Ramakrishnan, CC-BY-SA 4.0 International, available on the Wikimedia Commons.

In 2015 MSRTC started running trials of Scania’s Metrolink series. At that point, KSRTC had already completed trials of the twin-rear-axled Scania MetroLink and was in talks to procure them. MSRTC finally inducted several single-rear-axled buses into its fleet under the Shivneri brand. They are mostly seen on the Dadar East to Pune Station route.

MSRTC Scania Shivneri
MSRTC’s Shivneri Scania. Image copyright Srikanth Ramakrishnan, CC-BY-SA 4.0 International, available on the Wikimedia Commons.

Now, when an STU has a Volvo B7R, natural progression is when it acquires a Volvo B9R. And thus, MSRTC brought out the Ashwamedh, named after the Ashvamedha horse sacrifice ritual of the Vedic times. If, it was indeed an Ashwamedh sacrifice, MSRTC would probably conquering territories under Ashwamedh routes from competition, be it private or another STU. The Ashwamedh has the same fare structure as the Shivneri and is offically still called Shivneri on the ticketing system.

MSRTC's Ashwamedh Volvo.
MSRTC’s Ashwamedh Volvo. Image copyright Srikanth Ramakrishnan, CC-BY-SA 4.0 International, available on the Wikimedia Commons.

Evidently someone at the MSRTC design department was a fan of Francis Ford Coppola’s The Godfather and decided to stick a picture of a Horse’s Head on the side of the bus. This person was also a Nationalist and put the Tiranga on the side, thus making this an ideal bus on the Delhi-Lahore route, to capture and recapture territory.

Now, as competition to the most outrageous livery, MSRTC decided it go a step further. It had a single rear axle Scania, might as well go for a twin rear axle one as well right? And thus, the Scania Ashwamedh was born.

MSRTC's Ashwamedh Scania.
MSRTC’s Ashwamedh Scania. Image copyright Srikanth Ramakrishnan, CC-BY-SA 4.0 International, available on the Wikimedia Commons.

This was not only competition to the previous Ashwamedh, but also, to KSRTC’s buses. The Scania Ashwamedh was originally meant for the Mumbai Central – Swargate – Hyderabad route, but was ultimately extended to the Dadar-Pune Station and Dadar – Swargate routes.

KSRTC

KSRTC has been the pioneer of intercity Volvo buses for a long time. It operates long distance routes from Mangalore, Mysore and Bangalore to Chennai, Trivandrum, Shirdi, Hyderabad, Mumbai, and Pune.

The original Airavat, as KSRTC named their Volvo B7Rs, retains the same livery even today. Here is a picture of the Airvat, clicked in 2007.

KSRTC's Airavat Volvo.
KSRTC’s Airavat Volvo. Image copyright Girish, CC-BY-2.0 SA Generic, available on the Wikimedia Commons.

The Airavat refers to the Airavata, the mythical white elephant that carries the Hindu god Indra. The bus itself is white in colour, and well, one could very well argue that it looks like an elephant.

Natural progression resulted in KSRTC getting the Volvo B9R, named the Airavat Club Class, this was possibly what made MSRTC get the livery on their Ashwamedh Scanias.

KSRTC's Airavat Club Class Volvo.
KSRTC’s Airavat Club Class Volvo. Image copyright Srikanth Ramakrishnan, CC-BY-SA 4.0 International, available on the Wikimedia Commons.

This was followed by the Airavat Bliss and the Airavat Superia. Both featured an in-house pantry, with the Superia featured a Chemical Toilet.

Pictures of these two will make it here later. KSRTC has two low resolution pictures on its website.

Now, being the pioneer in luxury services, you can’t expect KSRTC to be behind the rest can you? No, thus, KSRTC became the first transco to get Scania MetroLink buses with a twin rear axle.

KSRTC's Airavat Diamond Class Scania.
KSRTC’s Airavat Diamond Class Scania. Image copyright Srikanth Ramakrishnan, CC-BY-SA 4.0 International, available on the Wikimedia Commons.

Nicknamed as the Airavat Diamond Class, it is currently KSRTC’s most premium service. Ticket prices are more or less on par with the Airavat Club Class.

The tagline on the side of both the Club Class and the Diamond Class says Sleep Like a Baby, and has a picture of a baby on a pram. Of course, it also features a teddy bear and a rubber ducky, so one is left scratching their heads wondering if it has a bath tub on the inside.

All said and done, I am a supporter of Capitalism and believe in Privatisation of certain services and Private Participation in essential services. However, I for one am not too enthused with Premium buses owned by Private Transport Companies for one simple reason: Bad maintenance. Private Transcos never maintain their buses well. One can observe Neeta Travels with either the Engine compartment open or missing its cover. Very few exceptions exist, such as Conti Travels or ABTX Travels, both based out of Coimbatore.

Have a look at some of the premium buses offered by MSRTC and KSRTC. Click To Tweet

Note: Shivneri Bus without AC =Hirkani. Airavat Bus without AC =Rajhamsa.

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The Escape Velocity of JnNURM buses

The Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission [JnNURM] is probably one of the most well known Government schemes that happened from 2005 to 2014. Anyone living in a big city would know what JnNURM is purely because of the ugly JnNURM logo being plastered everywhere, from buses to flyovers and ultimately to ultrasonic flow-meters used to measure water flow in underground supply systems.

Logo of the Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission [JnNURM].
Logo of the Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission [JnNURM]. Image in Public Domain.

Now flyovers, bridges, skywalks, underpasses, et al, are out of the purview of this article. The discussion is about buses. In 2013, it was announced that the Central government was willing to fund the allotment of an additional 10,000 buses and development of ancillary infrastructure such as Depots, Workshops and Control Rooms.

In a letter addressed to the Chief Secretaries, Principal Secretaries of all States and UTs, Municipal Commissioners and Heads of State Transport Undertakings, the Ministry of Urban Development, Government of India, laid down some important guidelines.

Among the various points mentioned in the above document; Point 3 talks about Definitions. It defines State as a State or Union Territory, a city as a City, Agglomeration, or Metropolitan area defined by the State, and Special Purpose Vehicle [SPV] as meant to run bus services within a city. It also states that existing corporations such as BEST, DTC, BMTC et al, also come under the definition of an SPV. A crucial thing to note here is Point 3.4 which talks about Para-Statals like KSRTC and APSRTC, which can operate buses under JnNURM, but would require an SPV at city level, OR could set up an SPV for a cluster of cities under Point 3.5.

Now, not all transcos followed the JnNURM guidelines. State level transcos as well as their city level counterparts did what was ideally not permitted.

Now let us list out all the violations that were possible; and then examine them case-by-case. This article only deals with the operating body, and jurisdictions. Another article will come soon on violations of bus specifications.

  • Not setting up an SPV to handle JnNURM buses.
  • Using JnNURM buses outside the city or area where they were to be used.
  • Using JnNURM buses for purposes other than Public-Transport.

Now that the violations have been listed, let us examine, on a case by case basis, what each transco did.

Metropolitan Transport Corporation/Tamil Nadu State Transport Corporation

An MTC Volvo on Route 588B from Broadway to Mamallapuram.
An MTC Volvo on Route 588B from Broadway to Mamallapuram. Image copyright Vinoth Thambidurai, CC-BY-SA 3.0 Unported, available on the Wikimedia Commons.

One of the earliest pioneers in the JnNURM violations, the MTC recieved a set of Volvo B7RLEs which it operated inside city limits, on routes such as CMBT-Red Hills or CMBT-Chengalpattu. It also ran on routes such as 588B from Broadway to Mamallapuram, which is acceptable as it is a city route. The issue cropped up when MTC transferred some of its Volvo buses to TNSTC Villupuram, and began using them on various intercity routes such as Chennai-Puducherry, Chennai-Hosur, and Chennai-Trichy. Perhaps its MTC which is innocent and TNSTC which is the culprit.

TNSTC Coimbatore and TNSTC Madurai received non-AC Semi-Low-floor [SLF] buses for intra-city use. These buses were not used on routes outside of their respective cities but there was no SPV created for them. Of course, one may argue that TNSTC Coimbatore’s JnNURM buses were used exclusively in Coimbatore and not in Erode or Ooty and thus TNSTC CBE is not the para-statal here but merely a city-specific transport corporation.

Puducherry Road Transport Corporation

On the lines of the TNSTC-MTC mischief-making duo, the PRTC got itself a set of SLFs under JnNURM. PRTC hardly used any of them in its capital city. Instead, it chose to ply them between Pondicherry and Karaikal. One may argue that there is nothing wrong in this as they are two parts of Pondi only. They then ran them on East Coast Road [ECR] along with the TNSTC VPM Volvos. This, made them serial offenders, just like the others.

Kerala State Road Transport Corporation

A Volvo B7RLE bus owned by the Kerala State Road Transport Corporation at Angamally Bus Station, heading for Aroor.
A Volvo B7RLE bus owned by the Kerala State Road Transport Corporation at Angamally Bus Station, heading for Aroor. Image copyright RanjithSiji, CC-BY-SA 3.0 Unported, available on the Wikimedia Commons.

Another arty and masterful violator, KeSRTC received Volvo B7RLEs for use in Kochi and Thiruvananthapuram. What did they do with these? Run them on intercity routes, of course. No SPV was created. The Central Government stepped in and objected to this violation, going so far as taking KeSRTC to court.

However, being crafty, the KeSRTC found a work-around for this. The court order affected only buses belonging to the Kochi division, prompting KeSRTC to transfer most of these buses to the Thrivananthapuram division. The reason? These buses were super-profitable and KeSRTC otherwise had only one Volvo service between Trivandrum and Bangalore, which was running at a loss due to KaSRTCs super-efficiency.

In November 2014, KeSRTC finally created an SPV called the Kerala Urban Road Transport Corporation [KURTC] exclusively for JnNURM buses, thus making it an SPV for a cluster of cities.

Karnataka State Road Transport Corporation

A low-floor Tata Marcopolo Bus belonging to the Karnataka State Road Transport Corporation -Mysore City Transport Department.
A low-floor Tata Marcopolo Bus belonging to the Karnataka State Road Transport Corporation -Mysore City Transport Department. Image copyright Srikanth Ramakrishnan, CC-BY-SA 3.0, Unported, available on the Wikimedia Commons.

Among the most ethical State Transport Undertakings in India, KaSRTC has actually followed most of the rules in the book. However, it did  miss out on a few:

KaSRTC has lived up by trying to follow norms as much as possible. One just hopes that Mysore and Mangalore get their own transport corporations soon.

Andhra Pradesh State Road Transport Corporation/Telangana State Road Transport Corporation

A Volvo B7RLE operating under the brand name of Metro Luxury by the Andhra Pradesh State Road Transport Corporation in Visakhapatnam.
A Volvo B7RLE operating under the brand name of Metro Luxury by the Andhra Pradesh State Road Transport Corporation in Visakhapatnam. Image copyright LOVEofZ, CC-BY-SA 4.0 International, available on the Wikimedia Commons.

The APSRTC, during the United Andhra days operated JnNURM buses in Hyderabad, and Visakhapatnam. It continues to operate the latter, while its younger sibling the TSRTC has taken over the erstwhile capital. There is no SPV to handle city operations. One hopes that the upcoming capital of Amaravati will have its own Transco, with funding under AMRUT.

Along with this, several of the Volvo “Metro Luxury” buses have found their way to intercity routes, both in AP and Telangana.

Note: Thanks to GSR Chaitanya for pointing out that APSRTC/TSRTC did indeed have an SPV. An article on this was posted a year earlier on Love of Z, a blog dedicated to APSRTC/TSRTC buses. You can read the article here.

Buses in Hyderabad, on paper operate under the aegis of the Hyderabad Zonal Urban Road Transport Corporation.

Haryana Roadways

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

Another serial offender, Haryana Roadways has both non-AC buses like the above, as well as Volvo B7RLEs, both of which, were allotted to the Faridabad division. Once again, there is no SPV here, and these buses always operate on the Gurgaon-Faridabad-Ballabgarh route. Buses that operate within Gurgaon, however, are non JnNURM buses.

Bangalore Metropolitan Transport Corporation

A Bharat Stage IV Volvo operated by the Bangalore Metropolitan Transport Corporation.
A Bharat Stage IV Volvo operated by the Bangalore Metropolitan Transport Corporation. Image copyright Hayathkhan.h, CC-BY-SA 3.0 Unported, available on the Wikimedia Commons.

The BMTC, one of the largest beneficiaries under JnNURM, is a mere crook among the no-goodniks of the Transport world. It’s only violation of the JnNURM guidelines? Renting out buses. A large chunk of BMTCs revenue comes from leasing out its Volvo fleet to the IT sector for dedicated pickup and drop trips. The BMTC quickly rectified this however by purchasing brand new Volvo buses and deputing the JnNURM ones for Public Transport. A good move to conform to norms, but the downside? The IT sector gets the really good buses, the rest of us, nothing.

Brihanmumbai Electricity Supply and Transport

A JnNURM double-door second generation Cerita owned by BEST, leased out to Air India for picking up passengers from the aircraft and to the terminal.
A JnNURM double-door second generation Cerita owned by BEST, leased out to Air India for ferrying passengers between the aircraft and the terminal. Image copyright Prateek Karandikar, CC-BY-SA 4.0 International, available on the Wikimedia Commons.

Another small-time crook in the world of the Mafioso, BESTs only mistake in violating JnNURM guidelines was leasing out its Second-Generation Cerita [yep, them Purple Faeries] to Air India to ferry passengers between the aircraft and the terminal. The cash-strapped body, with annual losses of ~₹700crore needed to monetise its fleet, and did so by leasing them out. However, word has it that the after the Air India agreement ended, BEST has been leasing out its older, First-Generation, Single-Door Cerita buses which were not acquired under JnNURM. In order to further monetise them, BEST put out full body adverts on them, thus turning them into giant, moving billboards.

Now that we’re done with the villainous lot, let’s head to the heroes of the hour!

Jaipur City Transport Services Limited

This SPV was set up by the Rajasthan State Road Transport Corporation in 2008 to handle city buses in Jaipur. It operates JnNURM buses, other buses as well as the Jaipur BRTS.

Atal Indore City Transport Services Ltd

A bus operated by Atal Indore City Transport Services Ltd in Indore.
A bus operated by Atal Indore City Transport Services Ltd in Indore. Image copyright Prateek Karandikar, CC-BY-SA 4.0 International, available on the Wikimedia Commons.

Set up to run bus services in Madhya Pradesh’s largest city, Indore, the AiCTSL, operates city buses, as well as the BRTS. It also operates a Radio Cab service in the city.

For a further reading on JnNURM funding of buses, please read this.

JnNURM has been scrapped in favour of the Atal Mission for Rejuvenation and Urban Transformation [AMRUT]. While nothing concrete has been set for buses, one hopes that AMRUT paves the way for more intelligent transit in the country.

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Stop and Go

So, how do Bus Conductors tell the bus driver to start the bus, and stop the bus at a bus stop?

There are various ways. In this article, I’m going to explore the different ways they are done, as well as delve a bit into the operations of buses of two non Indian cities, where a conductor doesn’t ask for a bus to be stopped, but the passenger does.

So let me start with our Desi transcos.

Starting, in no particular order:

BEST, NMMT, PMPML

The BEST Model also applies to NMMT, TMT, MBMT, PMPML, and partly to MSRTC.

A Bell-Pull inside a BEST bus.
A Bell-Pull inside a BEST bus. Image copyright Srikanth Ramakrishnan, CC-BY-SA 4.0 International, available on the Wikimedia Commons.

Here, there is a bell next to the driver, with a bell-pull that goes upto the back of the bus. The rope of the bell pull is looped through several hoops, enabling the conductor to pull it from wherever he is standing. He pulls the rope and the bell rings. A single ring signifies stop, and a double ring signifies go. In MSRTC buses, especially at night, a double ring while the bus is in motion is to inform the driver to switch off or switch on the lights. Since BEST AC buses have only a front door functional, the driver knows when to stop or move the bus, while in the case of NMMT and TMT, the rear doors rarely open.

MSRTC

This is very prevalent in the Hirakani [Asiad] buses. It is similar to the bell-pull, but with a twist. Instead of a bell, an electric bell is installed near the Driver. A wire casing runs along the roof of length the bus, with bell switches after every three seats. The conductor presses the switch once for stop, twice for go, and twice in motion for the lights.

BMTC and KSRTC

One of the most interesting methods, no bus of BMTC has ever had a bell pull for the last decade. The conductor here, tells the driver to stop or move. He or she yells, that’s right, yells! The phrases used are Hold for stop and Right for go. Of course, Hold often sounds like Hold It, or Whole Day, and Right sounds like a Britisher saying the word, with stress on the ‘r’ and the ‘ight’ sounding like ‘oit’. This happens in the Vajra as well. Few conductors carry a whistle with them, blow it once for stop and twice for go, but most of them prefer shouting it out.

MTC and TNSTC

Older MTC and TNSTC buses had a bell pull in them, with the same ringing order as BEST. However, newer buses, especially the semi-low floor buses that came with the advent of JnNURM buses didn’t have these. In these buses, the conductor officially carries a whistle, and blows it; once for stop and twice to go.

DTC

DTC is a unique case. The conductor doesn’t tell the driver to stop or go. The driver stops, and looks at the mirror and leaves. However, this does get a bit confusing, given that nobody in Delhi seems to follow the enter from the rear, exit from the front rule. I wonder how the driver manages.

 

And now, for something completely different …

MTA

Metropolitan Transit Authority [MTA] buses in New York have a system where the passenger tells the driver that he or she wants to disembark at the next stop, since there is no conductor. How I wish, the BMTC was a bit smarter in this regard.

If you are a fan of the 1990s Nickelodeon animated TV show Hey Arnold!, you would notice that in the very first episode, Downtown as Fruits, you’d notice that Gerald refrains from pulling the bell-pull to indicate the stop.

MTA buses used to have a bell-pull along the length of the bus, next to the window, which a passenger could pull to indicate that they wanted to disembark at the next stop. These were subsequently phased out in 1980, with a yellow touch-sensitive tape on the walls that passengers would use instead. Once considered a relic of the bygone era, they made a comeback in 2009. Many a passengers were surprised, especially the old-timers, who were overjoyed on seeing something from their generation return, followed by the youngsters, who had never seen them before.

TfL

Transport for London [TfL], which operates the red London bus, which is what BEST buses were originally modelled on, have a bell-switch on the support poles within a bus. Indian buses, most notably Tata Marcopolo buses also have these, but they are not in use.

Of course, knowing the British, it is not surprising when I heard of a driver who left a note saying BELLS NOT WORKING, If you want Bus to stop, Yell Ding Ding.

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The Underrated Daily Pass

Daily Passes are something that drives every Transco today. It is not only beneficial for the transport body, but also for the commuter. A Daily Pass allows a commuter to travel unlimited for the day it has been issued at a nominal cost. In the long run, it is very useful. Some cities, like Bombay, and Bangalore, have special Daily passes for regular buses and AC buses. Now, there is a lot more to Daily Passes than what is visible on the pass itself.

The biggest headache for a transco is the resale/reuse of passes. To prevent this, several of them implemented select measures. Now, let us have a look at some of these measures.

PMPML

A daily bus pass of the PMPML.
A daily bus pass of the PMPML. Image copyright Srikanth Ramakrishnan, CC-BY-SA 4.0 International, available on the Wikimedia Commons.

PMPML has had Daily passes right from the PMT-PCMT era. Even back then, it had mandated a PMT/PCMT issued Identity Card for the Daily Pass. With the subsequent merger of the PMT and PCMT into the PMPML, the PMPML started issuing the ID cards and Daily Passes. The old PMT era Daily Pass is today used as a PMPML Weekly Pass with the start and end dates punched out.

The PMPML Daily Pass, is a Pink or Off-white coloured ticket, with space for the date, month and last three digits of the ID card printed on it. This is valid on all buses including the Rainbow BRTS, Katraj-Swargate-Hadapsar BRT Volvo buses, but are not valid on the AC Pune Darshan and CityAir Airport connectivity buses. The pass is valid on the entire operational region of PMPML, outside the municipal limits of both Municipal Corporations. To prevent its resale, the ID card number is punched out. The pass cannot be used on the same date a year later because the ID card would no longer be valid by then.

MTC and TNSTC

An MTC Daily Pass in Chennai.
An MTC Daily Pass in Chennai. Image copyright Srikanth Ramakrishnan, CC-BY-SA 4.0 International, available on the Wikimedia Commons.

MTC and TNSTC have both had Daily passes in large cities including Chennai and Coimbatore for a long time. In Coimbatore, these passes require a local ID proof in order to be purchased and are valid only if the holder shows the ID card  as well. In Chennai, known as the Travel As You Please ticket, they require an MTC ID card for Weekly/Monthly passes which costs ₹5 [according to the website, while I paid ₹20 for it]. The pass costs ₹50 per day and is not valid for night services. There is no Daily/Weekly/Monthly Pass for Volvo buses, which is surprising.

BMTC and KSRTC

A BMTC Gold Day Pass.
A BMTC Gold Day Pass. Image copyright Srikanth Ramakrishnan, CC-BY-SA 4.0 International, available on the Wikimedia Commons.

BMTC is undoubtedly the leader when it comes to Daily Passes. It has a wide variety of Daily Passes, something like their wide variety of buses as well. They currently have three major daily passes for people who do not have any other pass. This includes a regular daily pass for non-AC services that comes in two forms: One for those who own a BMTC ID Card, and one that costs ₹5 more for those who don’t have a BMTC pass. Those who purchase the former have to write their ID number on the pass, and all passholders have to sign the pass. The Vajra Gold Day Pass costs twice, and is valid on all buses except the Daily Rounds, and Vayu Vajra buses. A pass that is priced between the two exists for AC-Suvarna/Tata Marcopolo AC buses. ID Cards are of two types: One is the Loyalty Card that costs ₹25 for a year and is valid ONLY with the non AC Daily Pass, while the ₹100 ID Card is mandatory for a Monthly Pass as well. Today, BMTC conductors only sell the Gold Day Pass if the commuter has a valid Government issued ID or BMTC ID. Due to high sale volumes, BMTC changes its pass everyday. Each day of the week has a different, colour-coded pass with the day of the week written in Kannada/English and the serial number of the pass starting with a different series for different days of the week. BMTC also has a Saral and Sarag pass that it issues with the BMRCL. Saral is a Gold Daily Pass that allows unlimited travel on the Namma Metro, while Sarag is the same for non-AC services. All Daily Passes are valid throughout the operational area of BMTC. In 2009, BMTC and KSRTC had jointly released a ₹70 rupee pass that was valid on all non-AC BMTC as well as non-AC KSRTC Karnataka Sarige busees in the nearby districts. The AC pass now costs ₹150 including a 6% Luxury Tax introduced by the Central Government.

KSRTC MCTD's Daily Bus Pass for Volvo buses.
KSRTC MCTD’s Daily Bus Pass for Volvo buses. Image copyright Srikanth Ramakrishnan, CC-BY-SA 4.0 International, available on the Wikimedia Commons.

KSRTC in the Mysore City Transport Department has a similar arrangement. It has two passes, one for AC buses that costs ₹96 [with the Service Tax] and one for non AC buses that costs ₹50. The pass is valid throughout the service region of the MCTD and is valid on all MCTD buses. Compared the Bangalore, both the pass rates as well as the fares are low.

TSRTC

TSRTC Travel As You Like [TAYL] Ticket.
TSRTC Travel As You Like [TAYL] Ticket. Image copyright Srikanth Ramakrishnan, CC-BY-SA 4.0 International, available on the Wikimedia Commons.

The Telangana State Road Transport Corporation has a Daily Pass System in Hyderabad, referred to as the Travel As You Like [TAYL] Ticket. It is printed using the ETM. It is of two variants, one priced at ₹70 for non-AC, regular, and Metro Express buses and the ₹150 pass which is valid on Sheetal and Metro Deluxe Volvo buses. The pass now costs ₹160 after a 6% Luxury Tax introduced by the Central Government. The conductor asks for the passengers age and mobile number, both of which are printed on the ticket. The passenger is required to write their name as well as sign the pass. The pass is valid in the Twin city regions of Hyderabad and Secunderabad.

In June 2016, TSRTC announced that Daily Passes would be valid 24 hours from the time of issue. Later on, they announced that the passes could be purchased upto 7 days in advance.

BEST

A BEST Magic AC Daily Pass issued on Sunday.
A BEST Magic AC Daily Pass issued on Sunday. Image copyright Srikanth Ramakrishnan, CC-BY-SA 4.0 International, available on the Wikimedia Commons.

The story with BEST is a different one altogether, atleast today. A few years ago, BEST had daily passes similar to the current PMPML passes except there was no ID card. There were two types of Daily Passes, the Regular and Limited Pass for ₹25, which as the name suggests was valid on regular and Limited Routes, and the Corridor Pass at ₹40 which was valid on Express and Corridor services. The pass was punched with the date and gender, and to prevent misuse, the conductor would scribble a description of purchaser on the back. However, later on BEST began insisting on ID proof and asked commuters to write the ID number on the back of the pass. All this changed when BEST went digital in 2011-2012.

Once BEST went digital, they made it mandatory for commuters to have an RFID card for ALL passes. A horizontal ID card was issued for monthly and quarterly passes while a vertical one was issued for prepaid cards. Both can be used for Daily Passes. Till February 2015, BEST charged ₹50 for a non-AC Daily Pass and ₹150 for an AC pass. These passes are also referred to a Magic Daily Pass [AC and non-AC]. After February, BEST increased the rates to ₹70 and ₹200 respectively. All Daily Passes are valid throughout the operational area of BEST including Navi Mumbai, Thane, and Mira-Bhayander.

However, in September 2015, the BEST decided to introduce a new change in the non AC Magic Pass. As per the new system, the BEST now has three kinds of non-AC passes:

  • The regular ₹70 Magic non-AC pass that is valid throughout BESTs operational limits including Navi Mumbai, Mira Bhayander and Thane.
  • The ₹50 Suburban pass that is valid in the Suburban limits, and upto Mahim/Sion/Rani Laxmi Chowk in the South and Dahisar/Mulund Check Naka in the North.
  • The ₹40 City pass that is valid in the Island city region, again upto Mahim/Sion/Rani Laxmi Chowk.

No daily pass on Sundays or Public Holidays requires an ID card. Anyone can buy a pass. Since it isn’t tied to an ID card any longer, it needs to be carefully preserved throughout the day, and the conductor must enter the right gender. Of course, if you give your ID card, it logs it onto your ID card, and automatically detects your gender and the conductor can still validate the card with the ETM.

The Magic AC pass remains the same, however, on Sundays, half the AC buses are cancelled, thus making the Magic AC pass pointless. I personally feel BEST should either charge less for the AC pass on Sundays or go the BMTC way and charge extra for non ID passes on all days. Any pass can be purchased on any bus because they are all digitally printed.

MSRTC

MSRTC has a 4 day, 7 day, Monthly, quarterly and annual pass called the Travel Wherever you Like Pass. They have been in operation since 1988. The current form of the pass is similar to BEST’s Daily Pass system. Users are required to have a Smart Card for it.

For pricing, two seasons have been created:

  • Congested Season: 15 October to 14 June.
  • Non Congested Season: 15 June to 14 October.

Pass rates vary per season. The cost of the passes is mentioned on the MSRTC website.

DTC

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

This is probably the first time I’m mentioning DTC on BESTpedia, but being one of the transcos catering to a large city in India, I guess this needs to be mentioned.

The DTC refers to its Daily Pass as a Green Card. The DTC Green Card is neither green, nor is it a card. There are two variants. ₹40 for non-AC and ₹50 for AC. Yes, you read that right. The Delhi AC Daily Pass is cheaper than Bangalore, Pune or Mumbai’s non-AC pass of ₹70! But then, it is hardly surprising, given that Delhi has been spoilt by subsidies solely by being the Capital of India. The Green Card is available with the conductor of the bus and a non-AC bus conductor sells both types. It looks like a regular ticket, and the conductor writes the commuters name and age on it, while marking the date and month. That’s it. No other measure to prevent resale. The downside to this is:

  • Very few AC buses compared to regular ones.
  • Due to it being so cheap, AC buses are as crowded as their non-AC counterparts.
  • Neither pass is valid on the Orange-coloured Cluster services, which form roughly 1/3rd of the buses.
  • This pass is ONLY valid within Delhi borders, and not in the rest of the NCR.

CTU

Daily Bus Pass issued by the Chandigarh Transport Undertaking for the Tricity Region.
Daily Bus Pass issued by the Chandigarh Transport Undertaking for the Tricity Region. Image copyright Srikanth Ramakrishnan, CC-BY-SA 4.0 International, available on the Wikimedia Commons.

Another first on BESTpedia, this is the first time I’m mentioning the Chandigarh Transport Undertaking. The CTU, under the UT administration operates buses throughout the Tricity region comprising of Chandigarh, Panchkula and Mohali.

The CTU has two kinds of Daily Passes: A green coloured one for non-AC services that costs ₹30 and a pink coloured one for AC services, priced at ₹40.

Both passes are valid throughout the Municipal Limits of the Tricity Region comprising of Chandigarh, Mohali, Panchkula, Zirakpur, Saketari, Manasdevi, and Mullanpur. For routes that go beyond the Municipal borders, such as to Landran, the pass is valid only till Sohana, where the Municipal Corporation’s jurisdiction ends.

Similar to the DTC Green Card, only the Passenger’s name is written on the ticket. The date is both written, as well as punched by the conductor. Passes are available aboard a bus, or at the ISBTs.

 

So at the end of the day, we can conclude that BMTC is the undisputed leader of Daily Passes. BEST, lags a bit behind, but is great with technology. PMPML, is with BEST. DTC, on the other hand is a totally different ball game. While people may not realise it, Daily Passes are very crucial, for both the commuter as well as the transco. It is useful for tourists and business people.

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Electronic Ticketing Systems: Who got it right and how

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

Now, let us make the transition to Electronic tickets.

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

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

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

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

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

Here are a few instances of problems:

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

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

So, what was the deal all about?

Well, here goes:

  • All Ticket boxes were replaced with ETMs.
  • All bus passes were replaced by RFID cards.
  • Trimax set up a Server, which runs on Open-Source Software.
  • Setting up an online payment system for Bus Passes.
  • The all important ePurse.
The template of a BEST RFID bus pass. It has the Users photo in the box, and their name and ID number on the right
The template of a BEST RFID bus pass. It has the Users photo in the box, and their name and ID number on the right. Copyright, BEST.

The most important parts of this development were:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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