USSD Bus Travel: Is it worth a try?

Last week, I wrote an article on Swarajya about a little known Banking System that exists in India: USSD Banking, aka the National Unified USSD Platform (NUUP) that allows anyone with a basic GSM phone to perform financial transactions. You can read the article here: No Smartphone? You Can Still Transfer Money Using A Basic Mobile Phone

A user dialing *99# to access NUUP.
A user dialing *99# to access NUUP. Image: Srikanth Ramakrishnan/Swarajya

Now, to buses. Can we try and replicate the USSD Banking model for bus travel? Why not? We have two major applications for it.

  1. Ticketing.
  2. Tracking.

For all practical purposes, we will try and take BEST and BMTC as an example here. We will also assume a simple USSD number to dial: *456#

Ticketing

Since both BEST and BMTC have an Electronic Ticketing System in place, this can be relatively easy. It is easier for BEST, since BEST has all its bus stops numbered as well. Example: If I am at Nehru Planetarium/NSCI/Lotus bus stop at Worli, with a Bus Stop code 07187. I dial *456#, it asks me to enter the stop code, then I type 07187, it then asks me if I want to 1.Buy a ticket or 2. Know the arrival of buses, I choose 1. It then lists out the buses arriving in the next 30 minutes. I choose AS-4. It then lists out the stops from NSCI to Backbay Depot, I choose Backbay Depot, it asks for confirmation, I say yes. It deducts ₹75 from my wallet and sends me an SMS with the ticket details. It gives a 4-digit reference number which I show the conductor when I board the bus. He enters that onto his machine and that’s all.

Tracking

This is even more simpler than booking a ticket. The process is pretty much the same. Dial *456#, enter stop code 07187, choose 2 and it shows the list of buses. I choose AS-4. It shows the last stop the bus has crossed and the ETA, like : AS-4, Acharya Atre Chowk, ETA 4 min. This is similar to BEST’s existing SMS based system, but provides more real time data.

Shortcodes

A shortcode can be created enabling faster access to frequenters.

Eg: *456*1*07187# to open the list of buses to book a ticket. Or *456*2*07187# to open the list of buses to track then.

Pricing

Now comes the tricky part. Rates for the NUUP are charged, with a maximum cap set by TRAI at ₹1.5 per transaction. As far as tracking is concerned, the existing SMS system (although not functional right now) costs ₹3 per message. A ₹1 charge per transaction/lookup might be good for tracking. The issue comes for payments. Charging a rupee extra per ticket doesn’t sound like a good move. However, since BEST already charges ₹30 for the ePurse Card, and ₹10 per month for bus passes as administrative charges, it might not be a problem if it is charged as a rent from the user’s account.

What do you say? USSD Banking is here. USSD Bus Travel? Why not

 

 

 

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DTC and Ethics: No connection there

The Delhi Transport Corporation (DTC) is not really the most ethical transco in India. Believe me. It is nowhere close to being one. Why do I say this? There are plenty of reasons. I have listed its inefficiencies earlier in Delhi and it’s Bus Melee.

 Daily Passes

As I mentioned last year (The Underrated Daily Pass), DTC’s ‘Green Card’ doesn’t have any of the security features of say a BEST Magic Pass or a BMTC Pass. The only personal detail stored on the pass is the user’s name and sometimes their age as well. On one trip last year, when I was getting off near a Metro station, the conductor asked for the pass to be returned to him. When asked why, he responded with a “You’re anyway taking a Metro, why do you need a pass after that” kind of statement. I was intially puzzled, but then it struck me. He was obviously asking for the pass back so that he could he sell it to someone else, which was confirmed when a co-passenger explained that it was normal in Delhi. While it is known that BMTC conductors in Bangalore do collect money lower than the actual fare, pocket the cash and not give the passenger a ticket (I had parodied this on The Unreal Times, click here to read), this is one step more unethical.

LED Displays

The exterior display of a bus, is generally used to the the Bus Route number and route. Be it the Rolling Cloth display used by BEST, or the metal plate used by PMPML/BMTC, it is always used for the route. DTC, however uses it for other purposes too. In Novermber 2015, I spotted some of them saying ‘Car Free Day 22 October’. Not counting the fact that the bus was advertising for an event that was already over, the advert was displayed on the external LED Rolling Display. While many may agree that a Car Free Day might be good (I may or may not, it depends), using a Bus’ external display is wrong. If the government wants to promote a scheme or a programme, it can, like any other advertiser, pay the Transco and put up banners, or adverts on the grab handles or behind the seats. The external LED, is a BIG no no! Of course, there are many who will point this out with MSRTCs older Shivneri/Ashwamedh fleet (prior to them getting LED displays). The older fleet had a board with the route on it, above the driver. It usually had an advert for either Manish Potdar or Chandukaka Saraf. They however, were smaller and below the routes.

Demonetisation

And now for the big one.

With Arvind Kejriwal going hammer and tongs against the current Demonetisation drive by the Central Government, calling it India’s largest scam, a new twist has emerged. Before I get into the actuals; let me remind you: DTC’s non AC fare is ₹5, 10, 15, and AC fare is ₹10, 15, 20, 25. This fare is from the DTC website, last updated August 2016. A regular monthly pass costs ₹800 and 1000 for the two categories. The most expensive pass is the Airport Express Coach (NCT+NCR) which costs ₹1800.

The Aam Aadmi Party has been accused of using the Delhi Transport Corporation (DTC) to exchange illegal ₹500 and ₹1000 notes for valid notes.

In a letter to Lieutenant-Governor Najeeb Jung, Delhi BJP leader. He alleged that the DTC deposited ₹3 crore in old ₹500 and ₹1000 notes.  Jansatta, a Hindi Daily claimed this was the method used by the AAP to covert money it had received as donations.

The letter claimed that with fares ranging from ₹5 to ₹25 and most commuters giving change, it would be difficult for the Corporation to deposit revenue in the higher denomination notes.

The letter said, “It has been found that the most part of the revenue submitted by DTC is in banned currency notes. This raises suspicion of wrongdoing and the money may be connected with the donations collected by ruling party (AAP).”

He asked the Lieutenant Governor to ask the DTC management to come clean on the issue to prevent maligning of its reputation.

 

If this is true, it is a true black spot for Indian Transit.

God save the DTC. May common sense prevail.

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BEST: Old Notes Can Be Used For Bus Passes

BEST today has announced that the old ₹500, and ₹1000 notes can be used till 24-11-16 to buy Bus Passes/Renew Bus Passes.

The higher value notes, that had been pulled out of circulation for most purposes on 08-11-16, were to be valid in Government Hospitals, as well as to buy air tickets, railway tickets and bus tickets at airports, railway stations and bus terminals of State Transport Undertakings respectively.

BEST announced this by sending a text message to existing passholders and prepaid card holders.

SMS from BEST notifying that Old Currency of ₹500 and ₹1000 can be used for bus passes.
SMS from BEST notifying that Old Currency of ₹500 and ₹1000 can be used for bus passes.

While the demonetisation of notes presents us with a great opportunity to go cashless, it will take time to start.

For a list of Point of Sale (PoS) Counters from where you can Buy/Recharge/Renew Bus Passes and ePurse Prepaid cards, please refer to Page 11 of this document.

Note: You will be required to provide your Name, Address, Phone Number along with the Serial Number of the notes.

Read: Going Cashless In Transit: Blurring The Line Between Digital And Physical Approach by Srikanth Ramakrishnan on Swarajya

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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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The Extra Tax on AC Buses needs to go

Recently, the Government of India decided, in order to expand its Tax Base, to implement an additional Sales Tax on Air Conditioned Stage Coaches. According to notification, a service tax of 15% is applicable on 40% of all revenues collected from AC bus services. This works out to roughly a 6% increase in ticket fares.

While BEST has reduced its fares, leading us to believe that the new fare structure incorporates this 6% increase, others have hiked fares. TSRTC Hyderabad and BMTC have increased the cost of a Daily Pass from ₹150 and ₹140 to ₹160 and ₹150 respectively, BEST has reduced it from ₹200 to ₹150. MSRTC charges a rupee extra for its Shivneri/Ashwamedh services, though this has been there from somewhere in April, thus making it probably unrelated.

While I am for government measures to increase the tax base, this is most certainly not the right way. Let the government start taxing rich farmers instead. The reasons I’m opposed to this tax are:

BEST – We all know the story behind BEST and its Purple Faeries. Barring a few buses from the Oshiwara Depot, these buses are pathetically underpowered, have terribly low-powered airconditioning. They struggle to climb simple slopes. Their Volvo fleet is in good shape however. However, in light of the recent fare reduction, I guess we can give BEST a breather in this section.

BMTC – The first to implement the new Tax, the BMTC had a very interesting thing to do. They used to issue the regular ticket with the ETMS, but charge the Tax with the old Punched tickets. Thus, I used to get a ₹20 printed ticket and a ₹1 punched ticket. BMTC finally managed to incorporate this tax on the ETMs, but now I have pay ₹22 because the Tax amount is rounded off to the next rupee irrespective of how much it is. However, this move is unwarranted because BMTC buses are bad. The older FA series of Volvo buses are rickety, pollute a lot and water leaks in thru the emergency exits. The Corona fleet have buses where the airconditioning just does not work. The newer 57F series Volvos rarely come to the Public because they spend most of their time on Corporate trips for the ORRCA or Manyata Embassy Tech Park.

MTC – Possibly among the worst Volvo fleet, MTC has 100 odd buses which are in horrendous conditions. Buses creak, and reapairs carried out are not what one you’d expect in a Volvo. Damages sections of the exterior and interior are usually patched up with Substandard Aluminium that is used in the regular buses instead of Volvo’s standard Steel or Glass. If this is the condition of the exterior, you can imagine how the Engine or AC might be. However, knowing TN, they might have not implemented this tax as it goes against the populist nature of the state.

DTC – The worst AC bus fleet that I have seen, DTCs Ashok Leyland buses and Tata Marcopolo buses at times do what no other Transco’s buses do. The BEST Cerita AC struggles while climbing a slope. The BMTC Corona AC struggles when the bus is in heavy traffic. The DTC AshLey and Marco AC struggles when the bus is on regular traffic, and even on minor downward slopes! With the maximum fare on an AC bus set to ₹25, this tax is most certainly a welcome move. Delhi is used to subsidies and cheap stuff and it is high time that AC bus fares were increased in the capital.

TSRTC – TSRTC has also increased its fares, but I am confused on which side to take. TSRTC has among the best Volvo fleets in the country, atleast in Hyderabad. The buses are maintained well, operate on good routes and frequencies, and are in general above expectations. However, the fares are already on the higher side, and thus the extra bit is a little unwarranted.

On the whole, I think this Additional Tax needs to be rolled back. It’s a bad idea to tax the Middle Class more. The upper class doesn’t take the bus, the lower class doesn’t take an AC bus. As always, increasing the Tax Base comes and burns the Middle Class pocket.

Dear @ArunJaitley, the extra tax on AC Stage Carriages needs to go ASAP! Click To Tweet

What is your take on this?

 

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BEST Announces Revised Fare Structure

Two months after BEST announced its intentions to rationalise fares, BEST has kept its promise and revised them.

BEST has already started the new AC routes [AS310, AS415, AS71, AS72]  proposed, and as of 1st July 2016, the new fares are in operation..

The new BEST committee headed by the BJP has done well in giving BEST the necessary shot in the arm.

The new rates are close to half of the earlier ones.

Here are the rates:

BEST Fare structure July 2016
BEST Fare structure July 2016

The usual conditions, such as 15 paise nutrition surcharge, concessional fares for children below 12, flat fare of ₹2 for visually-impaired passengers, additional charge of ₹1/₹5 for non-AC/AC buses beyond MCGM limits and luggage rates are applicable.

Passes and Happy Hours

For passes, monthly and quarterly rates have been reduced. For Daily Passes, the rates for the non-AC passes are the same. The AC Magic Day Pass now costs ₹150, as was the case before the April 2015 fare revision.

A separate fare structure exists for Children, which costs roughly half the regular adult fare.

The concept of Happy Hours has been introduced, between 1100hrs and 1700hrs [11am to 5pm]. During Happy Hours, all passes are sold at the rate of Child Passes.

For the full fare revision; please click here.

A friend reported that post the fare revision, a ₹105 trip from the JVLR/Jay Coach Junction to Airoli in an AS524 now costs ₹65.

This would mean that a trip from Thane Station [East] to Borivali Station [East] on AS700 would cost around ₹75-80 instead of ₹120, bringing it on par with TMT AC65 and NMMT AC131.

Similarly, Agarkar Chowk to Mulund Check Naka Bus Station on As422 should cost ₹60 instead of ₹100.

All this brings BEST on par with NMMT and TMT in terms of fares. Interestingly, while NMMT/TMT have hiked their fares in view of the recent introduction of a 6% Luxury Tax by the Government of India, similar to BMTC and TSRTC, BEST has reduced the fares. One would have to assume that the new reduced fares are inclusive of this surcharge.

Now, with the new fare structure in place, BEST needs to work on a few things, mostly dealing with its AC fleet. They are:

  • Fix the Cerita fleet. Get them in working order as long as they are around. Some of them have been converted into non-AC buses to replace the Starbus fleet that has been taken off the roads.
  • Get those 46 Volvos from Asian Concierge. Crucial for BEST to remain in the competition.
  • Reintroduce routes such as AS422, AS4, AS1 on Sundays.
  • Reintroduce discontinued routes such as AS505 to take on NMMT’s AC105.

BEST is certainly moving in the right direction. With a few more steps, it can soon recover its losses and be a role model for other Transcos.

 

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A Prepaid Card system for Manual Fare Collection

Presenting: #1 on the list of things that shouldn’t be implemented in the transport world, as well as a Logistical Nightmare: A Prepaid Card system for Manual Fare Collection.

A template for a punched bus ticket.
A template for a punched bus ticket.

Now, the concept of a prepaid card works well with an Automatic Fare Collection system in place, but would it work with a manual one?
Of course it would, why not? However, there are some things that need to be factored in this case.

Presenting, with images [designed by yours truly], a Prepaid Card for Manual Fare Collection Systems, or, a Prepaid Card for Punched Tickets, or a Prepaid Punched Card. Geeks like me will naturally be excited by this idea, as much as we are with out collection of Vintage IBM Punched Cards.

The concept is simple. Like in the case of the BEST Prepaid Card, the Commuter needs to have an ID card. Since we are looking at a non-computerised system, the ID Card can be similar to PMPML’s ID cards, which are nothing but cardboard ID cards with a photo stuck onto it, stamped, a Hologram sticker, and the Users Name, Age, and Address. There is no record kept of the card anywhere. The date of issue is stamped on top, and so is the Serial Number. The same can apply here, except, perhaps a copy of the User information can be kept as backup.

Now, before we go into the actual system, one thing needs to be done: All fares must be rationalised into multiples of 5, like what PMPML did. Once this is done, the rest is a piece of cake.

Now for the Punched Card:

  • Have a card [not a sheet] with a fixed denomination. Ideally ₹200 or ₹500 would be good. A template for a ₹500 is provided below.
  • Since all fares, passes, et al are in denominations of ₹5,  when a passenger buys a ticket, the conductor issues the ticket and punches out the number of ₹5s that have been sold on the card. If a passenger buys a ten rupee ticket, and a 5 rupee ticket, the conductor issues the tickets normally, and punches out 3 5s from the card.
A Prepaid Punched Card for Manual Fare Collection systems
A Prepaid Punched Card for Manual Fare Collection systems

Now, hold on. There is problem here:

In a manual fare collection system, how is the total fare collection calculated?

The entire route is divided into different stages with each stage having a few bus stops. Tickets are issued between two or more stages. At the end of each stage, the conductor writes down the serial number of the ticket on top of the bundle for each denomination onto a log sheet provided. This is often time consuming and this was the reason why ETMs were introduced in the first place. The number of tickets sold per denomination is calculated, multiplied by the denomination, and totalled at the end of the trip. This is then compared with the cash collected. What could be the problem here?

Now, for the aforementioned problem. There will be a major discrepancy in the cash collected vs tickets sold.

How do you solve this?

Simple: Follow the BMTC method of Daily Passes!

In 2010, BMTC had introduced the Concept of Loyalty Cards; an ID card valid for one year, priced at ₹25 instead of the ₹100 ID card which Monthly Pass holders had for a three year period. Then, they charged ₹5 extra for people who wanted non-AC Daily Passes but did not have either the ID Card or the Loyalty Card. The net result? BMTC conductors had to carry two different sets of passes, one for the ID holders and one for others. They sold passes and ensured that ID holders filled in their details.

The Transco just has to give out a second set of tickets for Prepaid Card Holders. Colour code them if needed, or keep an identifying pattern on them. Issue them to Prepaid card holders only. This will supremely increase the work-load of conductors, but then, that is precisely why this article starts with the equivalent of a “Do not attempt this at home.” kind of warning.

Impact of this ridiculous idea:

  • Conductors will work more.
  • The Organisation will have to print more tickets.
  • Passengers may increase.

So there you have it folks, as stated earlier, Do Not Attempt This At Home. This needs to be junked and never implemented, but who knows? Somewhere, someone might just be doing this!

Note: It is unsure at this stage if JAT used this or not.

Prepaid Cards and Punched Tickets: An idea. Click To Tweet

This blog post is inspired by the blogging marathon hosted on IndiBlogger for the launch of the #Fantastico Zica from Tata Motors. You can apply for a test drive of the hatchback Zica today.

 

 

 

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The BEST Parking Lot

So a few days after BEST announced its new bus to Imagica, it now has new plans to monetize its assets: BEST will now offer parking space for private vehicles at its Depots and Bus Stations.

BEST's Vikhroli Bus Depot
BEST’s Vikhroli Bus Depot. Image copyright Srikanth Ramakrishnan, CC-BY-SA 4.0 International, available on the Wikimedia Commons.

This is great news. During the day time, BEST depots are mostly idle with buses on the roads.

Three spaces, the Santacruz Depot, the NSCI Worli Terminus and the Bandra Reclamation Bus Station.

A very wise move. During the day, most buses of the Santacruz Depot are out on the roads, thus leaving it relatively empty and thus, BEST has done the right thing by monetising it. Similarly, Bandra Reclamation has four buses that enter the bus station: 1, 86, 212, 215, all of which terminate there. The area occupied by the Bus Station is vast though. Meanwhile at the NSCI terminal, only buses such as AS-2, AS-592, A74Express, A75Express, A7Express terminate or start here, that too at specific times in the morning and evening, thus keeping the area empty for most of the day.

Overnight parking is not an option as of now, as BEST uses both its Depots as well as Bus Stations to park buses at night. The maximum allowed time for parking is 12 hours. The rates, exclusive of service tax, are ₹200 for heavy vehicles, ₹150 for light vehicles, ₹75 for two-wheelers. This works out to an average of ₹17/hour, ₹13/hour and ₹7/hour respectively, which is quite cheap.

One hopes that BEST is soon able to monetise its largest assets, the land bank that it owns across the city in the form of 26 depots, and numerous bus stations. Earlier attempts at this included renting out unused land parcels at depots to developers. The two most prominent ones among them were the redevelopment of Seven Bungalows Bus Station where a shopping complex was built, similar to the Andheri Station (West) bus terminus, and the redevelopment of Kurla Depot after it was damaged in the 2005 floods to include a commercial complex.

Rates have not well known as of now, but will be updated, once they are up.

BEST has done a lot in the recent past to monetise its assets, from renting out buses to Diamond Traders in BKC, and Adlabs Imagica, to full body advertisements across all buses, to renting out spaces at depots. There is a Salon operating at Majas Depot.

This is a great move, and if BEST is motivated well enough, can help out in the long run in implementing the ‘Park-and-Ride’ concept in Mumbai city.

One does hope that BEST uses it’s Trimax Ticketing Machines to issue parking tickets.

Update

BEST has provided an official tariff on it’s website.

For Heavy Vehicles: ₹200/a day, or ₹5000/month for 12hrs.

For Light Vehicles: ₹150/day, or ₹4000/month for 12hrs.

For Two Wheelers: ₹75/day, or ₹2000/month for 12hrs.

Note: All rates are exclusive of Service Taxes.

 

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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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Conductor-less buses: A boon or a bane?

Back in July 2015, BEST had announced that it had plans to operate buses without conductors in South Bombay on an experimental basis. The first thing that came to my mind was the BMTC Pushpak fleet. Thankfully, BEST was not emulating BMTC, but emulating its younger Maharashtrian sibling MSRTC, which has so far been super successful in the field of operating buses without conductors.

So what exactly is the difference? To the layman, a bus without a conductor, is a bus without a conductor. There is a major difference between the two, one that spells the difference between efficiency and incompetence. Let us examine the difference between the two and examine the flaws of each:

 

The BMTC Model

The most prominent of the BMTC no-conductor buses is the Pushpak. Originally a brown-coloured, single-door bus, with a variant of it, called the Pushpak+ with a green livery and an additional centre-door seen these days, they are seen on a lot of routes across Bangalore. A lot of them are also leased out by BMTC to IT giants and others. Another peculiar feature of these buses is that they do not feature the regular 2+2 pattern of seating normally followed in city buses, but have 3 seats per row, on the right hand side, behind the driver. The driver of this bus collects the fare, hands over change (if any), issues the ticket, and if he doesn’t have change, he writes it on the back of the ticket. Thankfully, unlike their BEST counterparts [no pun intended], BMTC conductors just tear the ticket halfway and hand them over. But imagine, doing this for each passenger! As if this was not bad enough, due to the seating pattern in the bus, the walkway width is reduced, and only one passenger can walk across. With only one door, you can imagine what could possibly happen when you reach a bus stop. People have to board, people have to disembark, people have to buy tickets, or passes, show their passes. The driver is overburdened with all this, and has an additional headache- He still has to drive the bus! The time taken at each bus stop becomes a huge figure, resulting in longer commute time and lesser fuel efficiency. Add Bangalore’s narrow roads, badly located bus stops, bumper-to-bumper traffic to this and wallah, you have the perfect recipe for a Traffic Jam! The only possible positive outcome of this mess is that BMTC doesn’t have a conductor on this bus, which would probably save them some cash.

A similar model existed back in 2008-9, where green-coloured buses labelled “Pass Bus” would ply. These buses were also single-door, devoid of a conductor, but had one interesting feature- No tickets (or passes) were sold. Only pass holders, be it daily, weekly, monthly, students, senior citizens were allowed. BMTC later on started selling daily passes on these buses, adding to the drivers burden. They were later given a rear door, a conductor and painted in the blue-off white colour scheme and became regular buses. BMTC probably realised that there was no point in running services that didn’t generate any revenue while on a trip.

 

The MSRTC Model

This model started off a decade ago with the Shivneri series. Originally only on the Dadar East – Pune Railway Station route, it has since been extended 113 other routes as well as the Hirkani/Asiad and Parivartan buses. In this model, MSRTC has bus booths at several places, like Khodadad Circle in Dadar, where the Bus Terminus is the lane under the flyover, between its pillars, or Maitri Park in Chembur, Wakad in Pimpri-Chinchwad, or Nigdi on the Old Mumbai-Pune Highway. A conductor sits at these booths, with a Trimax electronic ticket machine. When the bus arrives, he or she punches in the bus number onto the ETM, which automatically brings up the departure time onto the ETM, as well as seats left. To prevent error, they also check the trip sheet with the driver, and after selling tickets, log it onto the sheet so that the next conductor, if there is any other stop en route, can cross-check with it. This model existed even in the time of the Punched Paper ticket. The buses here are the same as the buses with conductors in them. For instance, the Swargate – Borivali Shivneri has a conductor due to number of stops it has on the Western Express Highway. MSRTC benefits here mainly because of the fact that buses run faster due to fewer stops, and it has to employ fewer conductors. Of course, conductors themselves are not too enthused by the move. In the long run, this impacts the organisational health of ST in a positive way, which is good for both commuters and staff.

 

Now, coming to BEST

BEST intends to run these buses on four routes:

  • Special 1 – CST <-> NCPA
  • Special 2 – CST <-> World Trade Centre
  • Special 8 – Churchgate <-> Churchgate via World Trade Centre
  • Special 9 – Churchgate <-> Churchgate via Nariman Point

These buses will operate on the MSRTC model, with conductors at the bus stops, especially given that these are short routes. Now, my main concern here is that if there are 10 stops, will BEST have a conductor at each of the ten stops? Also, more importantly, will it provide seating and shelter arrangements to the conductors? You can’t expect them to stand for hours with the heat, pollution and traffic. One may argue that here, the BMTC model would be better as conductors wouldn’t be waiting on busy roads, but do remember, making the driver do all the work isn’t such a good idea altogether.

Now, the funny part is that BEST says that it has sent a proposal to the Government of Maharashtra to allow buses without conductors as this is prohibited under the Motor Vehicles Act, 1988. Now, the MVA is a pan-India law, and thus, if it is illegal in Maharashtra, for a Stage Carrier/Stage Coach to operate without a driver, then has BMTC been violating the law jeopardising the lives of commuters all this time? However, the interesting point is that as per the Motor Vehicles Act of 1988, there two clauses which are interesting:

The first, which allows the driver to temporarily take charge as conductor:

the conditions subject to which drivers of stage carriages performing the functions of a conductor and persons temporarily employed to act as conductors may be exempted from the provisions of sub-section (1) of section 29;

and the second, which implies that a conductor is not needed:

Duty of the driver to take certain precautions at unguarded railway level crossing. Every driver of a motor vehicle at the approach of any unguarded railway level crossing shall cause the vehicle to stop and the driver of the vehicle shall cause the conductor or cleaner or attendant or any other person in the vehicle to walk up to the level crossing and ensure that no train or trolley is approaching from either side and then pilot the motor vehicle across such level crossing, and where no conductor or cleaner or attendant or any other person is available in the vehicle, the driver of the vehicle shall get down from the vehicle himself to ensure that no train or trolley is approaching from either side before the railway track is crossed.

 

Confusing, isn’t it? If indeed, buses without conductors weren’t permitted, then BEST should be sending a proposal to the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways [Morth], Government of India and this ideally shouldn’t be a problem, since the Minister is Nitin Gadkari. At the same time, this would also imply that BMTC is violating the law by plying buses without a conductor, even if Karnataka has a law since Central Law usually overrides State Law if they are in conflict. I’m hoping for a lawyer to clarify on this below.

So now, the pros and cons:

Pros:

  • Money saved by employing fewer conductors.
  • Time Saved because you have to have fewer stops.

Cons:

  • You need to reduce the number of stops.
  • You need to make special arrangements for the conductor while waiting for the bus to arrive.

This model will definitely work with BEST because there is no reservation or booking of seats involved and because, well, the Trimax ETMs.

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