Improving BEST: How better coordination helps increase usability and relevance –Part4
In the second article in this series, we looked at making BrihanMumbai Electric Supply & Transport (BEST), a part of Mumbai's urban transportation solution, rather than function as a stand-alone bus operator. Transportation is a problem of volume and flow, not merely volume of passengers. Any urban transportation solution requires coordinated planning across agencies. Thus, we need coordination between BEST, trains, metros, Airports, Long distance bus services, Municipal Corporations and Traffic Police, which is absent today. We also need inputs with respect to long-distance trains, and buses. This also involves the Municipal Corporation of Thane, Navi Mumbai, Kalyan-Dombivli and their transport arms. At a basic level, agencies can share passenger load and timetables. On the strategic level, it can encompass developing complementary infrastructure that eases passenger convenience.
 
Timetables and load factors
Coordination implies sharing timetables, passenger loads and timings. It allows for complementary capacity deployment. Thus, if lot of people on the Thane local get off the local trains at Ghatkopar, then BEST needs to provide commensurate capacity for last mile connections at Ghatkopar. BEST can also develop proper feeder capacity at various bus stations too so that outstation bus passengers will find it easy to use BEST services. Similarly, in collaboration with Airports, BEST can develop special services for Airport shuttle. These luxury services can include check-in facilities and other traveller-friendly services at cheaper costs than most taxis and with higher safety.
 
Coordination improves planning
Corporations can also design easier access for BEST buses to train stations. They can ease the congestion of at railway stations, which currently act as bottlenecks and impact bus timetables. At present, one of the important issues the access to commuters that is clogged by taxis and auto-rickshaws in most stations. Due to this, the aim of access points to allow crowds to diffuse out quickly gets defeated. The faster the crowd disperses the better infrastructure can serve others. For example, If Churchgate station had alternative exits on the Bombay Hospital side, where buses can pick up all passengers, it can ease congestion. More passengers will opt for BEST buses too.
 
 
Strategic Coordination will improve entire city experience
Corporations can take into account transportation requirements before approving residential and commercial projects. This is the primary reason why urban transportation solution and strategies across the world are not applicable in India. Thus, when new complexes are developed, they should have a convenient shaded access point where BEST buses can easily pick up the residents or workers in the building. If this coordination is ensured then you will encourage more people to use BEST.
 
Coordinating ticketing
Another area of strategic coordination is ticketing. Urban transportation is better served through single card payment system. The precedents are well established including Swiss Pass, London's Oyster cad, Singapore's EZ-Link, Japan's Pasmo and Hong Kong's Octopus. The card-system reduces time at ticketing centres and eases movement of people. India should take lessons from Japan's Pasmo and Hong Kong's Octopus, which both handle as much traffic as Mumbai experiences. Though, at present, Indian railway stations do not have enough space for access to card based turnstiles but some day that investment will have to be made. BEST will also need to make commensurate investment.
 
At present, if BEST is going to act as feeder service to local trains, we need to give the BEST traveller an advantage in ticketing. Thus, a passenger should be able to buy railways ticket from the BEST bus itself. Alternatively, the Railway Monthly pass can be a smart card that you can use as pre-paid card for BEST. BEST and railways can issue monthly passes together i.e. the monthly pass system can be merged into one. 
 
Coordinated fare systems
There has to be correlation between fares in BEST buses, taxis and auto rickshaws, trains and these fares have to be rooted in costs. In my opinion, fares are too low for taxis and auto rickshaws. One way to determine ratio of taxi-bus fares is by area of road occupied per 100 passengers. This will create incentives favouring mass-public transport vis-a-vis taxis. But fares cannot be increased without having alternative capacity of low cost transportation already operating. Such kind of decisions lead to chaos.
 
Coordination in the Future
At this stage, we need to remember that coordination is bigger issue in Mumbai. The coordination that will work will also involve Municipal Corporations from Thane, Navi Mumbai, Kalyan-Dombivali and Mira-Bhayandar and their respective transport departments. Needless to say, if we develop an e-card it should work on all transport systems. India may also consider and leapfrog the city level card system by creating one card for entire country, which can be used domestically in all public transportation. 
 
Summary
With better coordination, we can improve the fundamental building blocks of BEST rescue. Coordination by itself can create more convenience leading to better capacity utilisation for BEST thus aiding profitability. However, it is not entirely in control of BEST management. In the upcoming articles, we look at strategies that are under the control of BEST management. We start with route planning.
 
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(Rahul Prakash Deodhar is a lawyer, investor and author with experience spanning manufacturing, consulting, investment banking firms. He has advised a wide range of clients including Fortune 500 companies, public and private sector banks, hedge funds and private equity funds among others. He has developed econometric models for demand forecasting in real estate, metals, airlines, and shipping. He designed MIS and planning and budgeting systems, sales networks, and operations for large corporates. He has worked with Aditya Birla Group, CRISIL and Morgan Stanley. He is author of two books – Subverting Capitalism and Democracy and Understanding Firms. He can be reached at [email protected] or at his website www.rahuldeodhar.com.)
 
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    Déjà Vu: Essar Yacht Seizure
    Sometime in 1990, a well-known Mumbai lawyer told me how his foreign clients had got a ship belonging to Essar Shipping arrested in Dubai. Having failed in their many attempts to recover their money from the Essar group, the lenders used the more efficient justice system in the UAE to embarrass Essar Shipping into repaying them. The report was published on the front page of The Economic Times where I worked then. An upset Ravi Ruia’s reaction was to wave a heavily underlined copy of the newspaper at me and question my understanding of business and journalism. He said that my very high-profile editor those days had apologised for the report. I remember saying that as far as I was concerned, Essar’s ship had, indeed, been arrested in Dubai for failure to pay. I saw no need to apologise. That was the beginning of Essar’s many payment defaults and restructuring of loans—but none of them prevented the group’s rapid expansion and massive borrowing from lenders in India and abroad. 
     
    So it was with a sense of déjà vu that one read the 5th October report of Bloomberg on how a hedge fund, David Kempner Capital Management, had ‘turned up the heat’ in its legal dispute with Essar by seizing its private jet, a Boeing 737-700, at Stansted Airport near London as part of debt recovery action that started in July 2017. It has set its eyes next on Ruia family’s luxury yacht. All this is based on a New York court order asking Essar Global Fund Ltd to pay $200 million to David Kempner Capital Management Fund  (with interest) emanating from a  $450-million guarantee it had extended to Essar Steel (Minnesota). Essar has been fighting Kemper’s recovery attempts in court. Meanwhile, Indian banks are also struggling to deal with the colossal bad loans of the group, but show little spunk in recovering money.
     
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    COMMENTS

    priyanka

    2 years ago

    They are having the worst track record for share holders also , ln India we need a Robinhood everywhere who will rob the super rich & benefit the poor .

    nadeem

    2 years ago

    We (Indians) never take any action against the rich n powerful!
    Whether Ruias, Mallyas or ......

    Currently, what has been done about the Panama disclosures??

    Ganesh Johnson

    2 years ago

    This Ravi Ruia & his brother Shashi Ruia are the biggest crooks in the Indian industry. In day-dreaming mode, I would love to seem the put away behind bars for a few years at least.

    Vasudevan

    2 years ago

    We need people like you with spine

    Arunkumar A Vijayan

    2 years ago

    Kudos to your firm stand to not apologise. We need more such people.

    Why do we continue to ignore local, cost-effective solutions for Bullet trains?
    In my previous note on bullet trains or high-speed rail (HSR), I explained how the economic rationale for HSR was weak at the present time. So what can railways do in the meantime? Is it possible to improve a network that is congested with creaking old infrastructure not designed for high speed? There are a number of low cost initiatives so far neglected that the railways can concentrate on. Here I present one such initiative.
     
    There was wide coverage in the 2015 rail budget of the planned introduction of trainsets. Trainsets are effectively powered coaches that operate together as a unit not much different from local trains in Mumbai. These "trainsets" were meant to decrease journey times on trunk routes.
     
    Why would trainsets decrease journey times? While not technically accurate, it is mostly because they have more power. More than helping achieve top speed, this extra power is most useful during acceleration. Currently a 1400t train powered by an electric WAP5 locomotive needs to travel 15kms just to accelerate to 130kmph from rest and to make matters worse the rate of acceleration decreases as speed increases. On the 1450kms Delhi-Kolkata route, there are more than 200 places where for a multitude of reasons (curves, points, track maintenance, and traffic) the trains need to reduce speed. This is once every 7kms on average. Given such short distances and the inability of trains to quickly accelerate, trains are rarely able to maintain their top speeds and spend a majority of time at lower speeds. How would the Mumbai locals perform if they could not accelerate quickly?
     
    It was found that even without increasing top speeds, additional acceleration would result in journey time savings on such routes of two hours. The solution was made more appealing because no major track infrastructure upgrade would be required. However, the international companies bidding for trainsets felt that the 15 trainsets required initially was too small a number to be made in India and the project stalled.
     
    If all that is required is more power, why not do the same differently. Instead of a 21 coach 10-12,000hp trainset, why not get 2 electric locos (WAP5 loco can deliver 6000hp peak power) in multiple unit(MU) configuration pulling a train with 21 coaches. Roughly the same results would be achieved but the cost will be Rs85 crore (2 locos+ 21 LHB coach train) against Rs180 crore (estimated) for a 21 coach trainset. And unlike the trainsets, which will take 4-5 years to begin manufacturing in India, the multiple loco trains could be running in months. That is "Achhe din" in a hurry!
     
    By presenting similar analysis, the author had repeatedly written to the rail ministry advocating multiple unit (MU) configuration and is happy that the railways have finally started a Delhi - Mumbai Rajdhani special using dual locos in a MU configuration. The journey time has been reduced from 16 hours to 14 hours approximately.
     
    Some corners have been cut. The route is Hazarat Nizamuddin - Bandra Terminus rather than New Delhi - Mumbai Central to remove the relatively slow end sections. The train has been shortened by a couple of coaches (shorter train means more acceleration) in order to meet 14 hour journey time target. However, even a normal length train should be good for time savings of one and a half hours. Unfortunately, the train schedule is strange. 
     
    The traditionally slowest section on the route, Kota - Vadodara is scheduled to be covered fastest - in just four hours at an average speed of more than 130kmph! Needless to say, trains get an hour late on this section every day and can only partially make up time in the Vadodara - Mumbai section. The New Delhi - Kota section on the other hand is too conservative. There has been an occasion where the train has arrived in Kota 23 minutes early and spent this time waiting in Kota to conform to the schedule while finally reaching Mumbai 23 minutes late!
     
    This start should not fizzle out. If handled properly, this could be the beginning of a major speed up for Indian rail. At an additional cost of just Rs13 crore (cost of a single additional loco), the journey time has been reduced by nearly two hours! Adding more power this way on a train, will increase average speeds by 10 to 20%. Slower sections and routes will see larger benefits - exactly where railways need most improvement.
     
    An additional 125-150 locos bought at a cost of less than Rs2,000 crore will reduce journey times on all Rajdhanis, Shatabdis, Durontos and other premium trains across the country. 
     
    Calculations show that by increasing average fares on long distance trains by Rs150 (Rajdhani and others) and short distance trains by Rs75 (like Shatabdi), the return on investment will be of the order of 17% even after accounting for the marginal rise in energy costs. Given these are premium, fully air conditioned trains with fares to match, this increase of fare is nominal.
     
    The premium trains get priority over other trains even today, so making them more fast will not lead to any major scheduling conflicts. And with both the Western and Eastern Dedicated Freight Corridors (DFC) getting ready in the next two-three years, there will be even more opportunities to optimise speeds on these busy routes at least.
     
    One overlooked fact is that this could have been done at any time - from yesterday to even decades back. While some testing, trials and certification may have been needed, fundamentally there were no technological constraints.
     
    The railways seem to be spellbound by bullet trains, trainsets, Talgo and all the "foreign" stuff not realising the potential of its own home grown solutions. They have found Rs22,000 crore (Indian component of Mumbai-Ahmedabad HSR) to spend on a single route over the next five years but projects requiring much smaller amounts with nationwide impact do not get as much attention. Overcrowding in general compartment, increased safety, significantly higher average speeds and a raft of other improvements are all achievable at low costs but are waiting for the right sponsor.
     
    Technology has its role and the railways should continue further studies on all modern technologies with a view to incorporate them in Indian Railways. Talgo coaches are not only lighter but also have a unique tilting mechanism that allow negotiation of curves at higher speeds. If they are cost effective to manufacture, the railways should look at bringing the technology to India. High-speed rail developments need to be monitored closely with a view to implementing them when passenger numbers and economics permit. But the railways should not just look outside India for world class technology. They would do well to take a leaf out of ISRO - India's nodal space organisation. In a very high tech industry, by judiciously mixing both domestic and foreign technology, ISRO is getting world class results at Indian prices. That model is what Indian Rail needs to aim for.
     
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    (Nemi Jain studied Engineering at IIT Bombay. He has spent a major part of his career working in banks)
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    COMMENTS

    Veeresh Malik

    2 years ago

    My take is that on overnight routes like Delhi - Mumbai, Delhi - Patna, Delhi - Kolkata, Chennai - Bengaluru - Hyderabad triangle and similar, it is frequency of trains rather than speed of trains. Getting into Bandra at 0615 or 0815 makes hardly any difference; on the other hand, to spend the best part of the sleeping part of the night being subjected to 140-150 kmph is not the way to get a good sleep.

    So, for me, the "slower" normal Rajdhanis make a lot of sense.

    PRAKASH D N

    2 years ago

    Nemi Jain has hit the bullet wit his practical solutions. Problem with the bureaucracy and political class is , "ismein mujhe kya milega". Unless PM or Railway Minister accepts and pursues these suggestions, nothing much will change.

    mario braganza

    2 years ago

    As Nemi has rightly stated we need a 'sponsor' with the nation's interest at heart rather than just words! It's amazing why we cannot try home grown solutions ... perhaps our fixation for everything foreign trumps domestic ingenuity. Taking the army's help to build foot over bridges in Mumbai may be the start of a New India thinking!

    c babu challa

    2 years ago

    The study is really interesting and the railway ministry should take it up earnestly for better solutions which also gives economic solutions for railways. The main reason for all such failures is not that we do have technology. We have no real intent. If the intent is there, we can achieve many things without any outside help. In fact, if the intent is good and the government has clean heart in doing, many of our friends overseas would be happy to help overcome our problems without any big spending. The fact that railways have increased the charges for cancellation from Rs60 to Rs.160 for confirmed tickets, when the trains are going full, shows that the intent is not no where near to the welfare of the people or the nation. Also, any business man can give the economic feasibility of the bullet train and the cost of foreign loan. Still if the government is going ahead with the project, shows the great intent of the rulers. 90% of the people paying for the comfort of 10% of the people is the essence of bullet train.

    Mukund Rajamannar

    2 years ago

    We seem to be ignoring the fact that a new corridor for bullet trains will have a trickle down effect on supporting economy and generating opportunities for jobs and new industries.

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