BEST: Free Bus Passes for Visually and Physically Impaired

BEST has announced that it will issue bus passes to Visually Impaired and Physically Impaired passengers with more than 40% motor disability or handicap.

According to a Press Note dated 19th October 2016, the scheme would be operational from 20-10-16.

The Press Note [in Marathi] mentions the following:

From October 20, 2016, a scheme for free of cost travel for the visually impaired and people with 40% or locomotor disability has been introduced in all buses of the BEST program, excluding the air-conditioned bus service. Highlights of this scheme:

Mumbai – Effective from Thursday, 20/10/2016, a program is being activated for handicapped persons (visually impaired and >40% handicapped) to avail of free transport in buses (except air-conditioned buses) operated by the BEST Undertaking.

Salient features of the program:

  1. The free travel benefit can be availed of by blind (visually impaired) and handicapped (more than 40% physical handicap) persons. This program will be applicable in the Mumbai Metropolitan region and adjoining cities where the BEST Undertaking bus service is operational.
  2. For those availing of the benefit, it will be mandatory to possess a RFID smart card/ ID Card issued by the BEST Undertaking.
  3. The blind (visually impaired) and handicapped (more than 40% physical handicap) persons wishing to avail of the benefit are required to go to Transport Departmental Office in any depot of the BEST Undertaking near their residence (or any other depot otherwise convenient to them), collect the free printed form issued by the undertaking and submit it, filled up along with a photocopy of the handicap certificate to the concerned Administrative Officer or Depot Officer during the office timings (9:00 AM to 4:30 PM, except for Sundays and public holidays).
  4. After the Administrative Officer scrutinises the form and the attached documents, the applicants will be sent to a nearby bus pass distribution centre for registration and photographing. The applicants will have to pay a fee of 40 rupees (only in the beginning) for the RFID card / ID card. The bus pass will and RFID card will be made available within 4 to 7 working days of registration at the bus pass distribution centre.
  5. Once this program for free transport for blind (visually impaired) and handicapped (more than 40% physical handicap) persons is activated, the existing travel fare benefit programs for visually impaired and handicapped persons will be cancelled.

All blind (visually impaired) and handicapped (more than 40% physical handicap) persons are requested to avail maximum benefit of this program of free transport in the in buses (except air-conditioned buses) operated by BEST Undertaking.

Prior to this BEST used to charge a flat fare of ₹2 for totally blind passengers on non-AC buses, irrespective of the distance traveled. This used to be ₹1 earlier.

The only drawback to this entire scheme is that the disabled person has to go to a Pass Issue Counter at a Depot, buy the ₹40 RFID card and submit all the documents. While paying a one-time fee for the card might be justified for BEST to cover costs of procurement and running the system, going to the Depot for a disabled person maybe extremely cumbersome

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. Image: BEST
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. Image: BEST

Accessibility in the Commuting and Transport sector is virtually negligible in India. This is a good step towards changing that. While one may argue that Subsidies are not good, this shouldn’t be treated as a subsidy but rather a necessity.

Thanks to Rohini  and Sameer for help with translations.

Thanks to Zophop for notifying users.

BEST offers free travel to Visually-Impaired commuters. Click To Tweet

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Subsidies in Transport: Good or Bad

Subsidies in Transport are visible everywhere. Tamil Nadu has kept its bus fares at rock bottom rates, gives free bus passes to school students, Delhi has dirt cheap rates with the maximum fares being ₹15 and ₹25 in a non-AC and an AC bus. So, what else?

As stated earlier, extreme amount of subsidies bleeds the Transco of its revenue, and create a heavy indifference among the commuters to quality of services. Given that a vast majority of India’s transport services are entirely General Class services, revenues are inherently low. Similarly, in the case of Roads, a lot of people argue that Tolls are a “scam”, especially when they pay road taxes. Again, this is a false notion, one that can be explained if we cared to look at the Basic Difference between Toll and Road Tax: Toll is a User Fee. Road Tax is a Tax. I repeat, Toll is a Fee, and not a Tax. A tax is levied on a category of people on the basis of the income or what they own, in this case a vehicle. A toll, or a fee, is levied only on those who use the certain service or product, in this case the road. Many users accept this, but go on to further state that they are unjustly charged for using the entire section of a road rather than just the portion they used. Again, this is a flawed point of thought. In India, it would be a superhuman effort to set up Toll Plazas at every junction, man them [an automated one wouldn’t work, people will definitely find a way to avoid paying it then] and operate it. Of course, the Coimbatore bypass has 6 Toll Plazas on it, but 6 of them on a 28km two lane road, we all know the jam that occurs most of the time.

Toll Roads and other BOT transport projects, such as BOT Railway lines, like the Mumbai Metro One, Rapid Metro Gurgaon, Hyderabad Metro, et al, have specific intervals at which they are allowed to hike fees and fares, which makes it easier to operate and break even. In case of Transcos, most of them are either under pressure from the state or municipal body to keep their fares low [Prime Examples being DTC, MTC, TNSTC]. A few exceptions exist in the form of BEST, BMTC, TSRTC, which by virtue of the autonomy enjoyed by them revise [hike or slash] their fares at a reasonable interval. One method of determining rates is market oriented rates, which is what Uber and Ola normally does. When demand goes up, fares go up so that those who are willing to pay extra for it. However, this isn’t a feasible solution in all cases. In such situations, BEST’s Happy Hours concept works well. Similarly, KSRTC and the Indian Railways have successfully emulated the aviation industry with dynamic pricing in the form of Premium Tatkal tickets. Every transport corporation has schemes to attract customers. Similar to Toll Plazas offering a return ticket and seasonal pass, buses offer Passes and other forms of subsidies to frequent customers like the market.

Now, to take this further, below is an article from the Foundation for Economic Education which talks about the ill effects of subsidies.

 

The Distorting Effects of Transportation Subsidies

This article won the 2011 Beth A. Hoffman Memorial Prize for Economic Writing.

Although critics on the left are very astute in describing the evils of present-day society, they usually fail to understand either the root of those problems (government intervention) or their solution (the operation of a freed market). In Progressive commentary on energy, pollution, and so on—otherwise often quite insightful—calls for government intervention are quite common. George Monbiot, for instance, has written that “[t]he only rational response to both the impending end of the Oil Age and the menace of global warming is to redesign our cities, our farming and our lives. But this cannot happen without massive political pressure.”

But this is precisely backward. Existing problems of excess energy consumption, pollution, big-box stores, the car culture, and suburban sprawl result from the “massive political pressure” that has already been applied, over the past several decades, to “redesign our cities, our farming, and our lives.” The root of all the problems Monbiot finds so objectionable is State intervention in the marketplace.

In particular, subsidies to transportation have probably done more than any other factor (with the possible exception of intellectual property law) to determine the present shape of the American corporate economy. Currently predominating firm sizes and market areas are the result of government subsidies to transportation.

Adam Smith argued over 200 years ago that the fairest way of funding transportation infrastructure was user fees rather than general revenues: “When the carriages which pass over a highway or a bridge, and the lighters which sail upon a navigable canal, pay toll in proportion to their weight or their tonnage, they pay for the maintenance of those public works exactly in proportion to the wear and tear which they occasion of them.”

This is not, however, how things were actually done. Powerful business interests have used their political influence since the beginning of American history to secure government funding for “internal improvements.” The real turning point was the government’s role in creating the railroad system from the mid-nineteenth century on. The national railroad system as we know it was almost entirely a creature of the State.

The federal railroad land grants included not only the rights-of-way for the actual railroads, but extended 15-mile tracts on both sides. As the lines were completed, this adjoining land became prime real estate and skyrocketed in value. As new communities sprang up along the routes, every house and business in town was built on land acquired from the railroads. The tracts also frequently included valuable timberland. The railroads, according to Matthew Josephson (The Robber Barons), were “land companies” whose directors “did a rushing land business in farm lands and town sites at rising prices.” For example, under the terms of the Pacific Railroad bill, the Union Pacific (which built from the Mississippi westward) was granted 12 million acres of land and $27 million worth of 30-year government bonds. The Central Pacific (built from the West Coast eastward) received nine million acres and $24 million worth of bonds. The total land grants to the railroads amounted to about six times the area of France.

Theodore Judah, chief engineer for what became the Central Pacific, assured potential investors “that it could be done—if government aid were obtained. For the cost would be terrible.” Collis Huntington, the leading promoter for the project, engaged in a sordid combination of strategically placed bribes and appeals to communities’ fears of being bypassed in order to extort grants of “rights of way, terminal and harbor sites, and . . . stock or bond subscriptions ranging from $150,000 to $1,000,000” from a long string of local governments that included San Francisco, Stockton, and Sacramento.

Government also revised tort and contract law to ease the carriers’ way—for example, by exempting common carriers from liability for many kinds of physical damage caused by their operation.

Had railroad ventures been forced to bear their own initial capital outlays—securing rights of way, preparing roadbeds, and laying track, without land grants and government purchases of their bonds—the railroads would likely have developed instead along the initial lines on which Lewis Mumford speculated in The City in History: many local rail networks linking communities into local industrial economies. The regional and national interlinkages of local networks, when they did occur, would have been far fewer and far smaller in capacity. The comparative costs of local and national distribution, accordingly, would have been quite different. In a nation of hundreds of local industrial economies, with long-distance rail transport much more costly than at present, the natural pattern of industrialization would have been to integrate small-scale power machinery into flexible manufacturing for local markets.

Alfred Chandler, in The Visible Hand, argued that the creation of the national railroad system made possible, first, national wholesale and retail markets, and then large manufacturing firms serving the national market. The existence of unified national markets served by large-scale manufacturers depended on a reliable, high-volume distribution system operating on a national level. The railroad and telegraph, “so essential to high-volume production and distribution,” were in Chandler’s view what made possible this steady flow of goods through the distribution pipeline: “The revolution in the processes of distribution and production rested in large part on the new transportation and communications infrastructure. Modern mass production and mass distribution depend on the speed, volume, and regularity in the movement of goods and messages made possible by the coming of the railroad, telegraph and steamship.”

The Tipping Point

The creation of a single national market, unified by a high-volume distribution system, was probably the tipping point between two possible industrial systems. As Mumford argued in Technics and Civilization, the main economic reason for large-scale production in the factory system was the need to economize on power from prime movers. Factories were filled with long rows of machines, all connected by belts to drive shafts from a single steam engine. The invention of the electric motor changed all this: A prime mover, appropriately scaled, could be built into each individual machine. As a result, it was possible to scale machinery to the flow of production and situate it close to the point of consumption.

With the introduction of electrical power, as described by Charles Sabel and Michael Piore in The Second Industrial Divide, there were two alternative possibilities for organizing production around the new electrical machinery: decentralized production for local markets, integrating general-purpose machinery into craft production and governed on a demand-pull basis with short production runs and frequent shifts between product lines; or centralized production using expensive, product-specific machinery in large batches on a supply-push basis. The first alternative was the one most naturally suited to the new possibilities offered by electrical power. But in fact what was chosen was the second alternative. The role of the State in creating a single national market, with artificially low distribution costs, was almost certainly what tipped the balance between them.

The railroads, themselves largely creatures of the State, in turn actively promoted the concentration of industry through their rate policies. Sabel and Piore argue that “the railroads’ policy of favoring their largest customers, through rebates” was a central factor in the rise of the large corporation. Once in place, the railroads—being a high fixed-cost industry—had “a tremendous incentive to use their capacity in a continuous, stable way. This incentive meant, in turn, that they had an interest in stabilizing the output of their principal customers—an interest that extended to protecting their customers from competitors who were served by other railroads. It is therefore not surprising that the railroads promoted merger schemes that had this effect, nor that they favored the resulting corporations or trusts with rebates.”

Reprising the Role

As new forms of transportation emerged, the government reprised its role, subsidizing both the national highway and civil aviation systems.

From its beginning the American automotive industry formed a “complex” with the petroleum industry and government highway projects. The “most powerful pressure group in Washington” (as a PBS documentary called it) began in June 1932, when GM president Alfred P. Sloan created the National Highway Users Conference, inviting oil and rubber firms to help GM bankroll a propaganda and lobbying effort that continues to this day.

Whatever the political motivation behind it, the economic effect of the interstate system should hardly be controversial. Virtually 100 percent of roadbed damage to highways is caused by heavy trucks. After repeated liberalization of maximum weight restrictions, far beyond the heaviest conceivable weight the interstate roadbeds were originally designed to support, fuel taxes fail miserably at capturing from big-rig operators the cost of pavement damage caused by higher axle loads. And truckers have been successful at scrapping weight-distance user charges in all but a few western states, where the push for repeal continues. So only about half the revenue of the highway trust fund comes from fees or fuel taxes on the trucking industry, and the rest is externalized on private automobiles.

This doesn’t even count the 20 percent of highway funding that’s still subsidized by general revenues, or the role of eminent domain in lowering the transaction costs involved in building new highways or expanding existing ones.

As for the civil aviation system, from the beginning it was a creature of the State. Its original physical infrastructure was built entirely with federal grants and tax-free municipal bonds. Professor Stephen Paul Dempsey of the University of Denver in 1992 estimated the replacement value of this infrastructure at $1 trillion. The federal government didn’t even start collecting user fees from airline passengers and freight shippers until 1971. Even with such user fees paid into the Airport and Airways Trust Fund, the system still required taxpayer subsidies of $3 billion to maintain the Federal Aviation Administration’s network of control towers, air traffic control centers, and tens of thousands of air traffic controllers.

Eminent domain also remains central to the building of new airports and expansion of existing airports, as it does with highways.

Subsidies to airport and air traffic control infrastructure are only part of the picture. Equally important was the direct role of the State in creating the heavy aircraft industry, whose jumbo jets revolutionized civil aviation after World War II. In Harry Truman and the War Scare of 1948, Frank Kofsky described the aircraft industry as spiraling into red ink after the end of the war and on the verge of bankruptcy when it was rescued by the Cold War (and more specifically Truman’s heavy bomber program). David Noble, in America by Design, made a convincing case that civilian jumbo jets were only profitable thanks to the government’s heavy bomber contracts; the production runs for the civilian market alone were too small to pay for the complex and expensive machinery. The 747 is essentially a spinoff of military production. The civil aviation system is, many times over, a creature of the State.

The State and the Corporation

It’s hard to avoid the conclusion that the dominant business model in the American economy, and the size of the prevailing corporate business unit, are direct results of such policies. A subsidy to any factor of production amounts to a subsidy of those firms whose business models rely most heavily on that factor, at the expense of those who depend on it the least. Subsidies to transportation, by keeping the cost of distribution artificially low, tend to lengthen supply and distribution chains. They make large corporations operating over wide market areas artificially competitive against smaller firms producing for local markets—not to mention big-box retailers with their warehouses-on-wheels distribution model.

Some consequentialists treat this as a justification for transportation subsidies: Subsidies are good because they make possible mass-production industry and large-scale distribution, which are (it is claimed) inherently more efficient (because of those magically unlimited “economies of scale,” of course).

Tibor Machan argued just the opposite in the February 1999 Freeman:

Some people will say that stringent protection of rights [against eminent domain] would lead to small airports, at best, and many constraints on construction. Of course—but what’s so wrong with that?

Perhaps the worst thing about modern industrial life has been the power of political authorities to grant special privileges to some enterprises to violate the rights of third parties whose permission would be too expensive to obtain. The need to obtain that permission would indeed seriously impede what most environmentalists see as rampant—indeed reckless—industrialization.

The system of private property rights . . . is the greatest moderator of human aspirations. . . . In short, people may reach goals they aren’t able to reach with their own resources only by convincing others, through arguments and fair exchanges, to cooperate.

In any case, the “efficiencies” resulting from subsidized centralization are entirely spurious. If the efficiencies of large-scale production were sufficient to compensate for increased distribution costs, it would not be necessary to shift a major portion of the latter to taxpayers to make the former profitable. If an economic activity is only profitable when a portion of the cost side of the ledger is concealed, and will not be undertaken when all costs are fully internalized by an economic actor, then it’s not really efficient. And when total distribution costs (including those currently shifted to the taxpayer) exceed mass-production industry’s ostensible savings in unit cost of production, the “efficiencies” of large-scale production are illusory.

Kevin A. Carson


Kevin A. Carson

Kevin Carson is a senior fellow of the Center for a Stateless Society and holds the Center’s Karl Hess Chair in Social Theory. He is a mutualist and individualist anarchist whose written work includes Studies in Mutualist Political Economy, Organization Theory: A Libertarian Perspective, and The Homebrew Industrial Revolution: A Low-Overhead Manifesto, all of which are freely available online. Carson has also written for such print publications as The Freeman.

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

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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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