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.
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.
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.