Imagine walking into a room, and the first thing that hits you is an argument between two people. One of the parties is a privileged person judging the other without any basis whatsoever, while the other is a commonly misunderstood person that the privileged party loves to hate.
What is the likely tone that each party is likely to adopt? Methinks the privileged party is likely to raise their voice and use a judgmental tone while the commonly misunderstood party looks on, thinking this is a case of the same old story with a different cast.
This analogy is designed to tell you about the story of public transportation in India, where the privileged judgmental party is the Indian government, and the commonly misunderstood party are the informal public transportation modes in the populous country.
Is it unfair to use the word judgmental to describe the Indian government in this context?
This is my basis.
Digging through a study report dubbed Informal public transport modes in India: A case study of five city regions authored by Megha Kumar, Seema Singh, Akshima T.Ghate, Sarbojit Pal, and Sangeetha Ann Wilson, a couple of things stand out.
- Privately operated public transport modes like rickshaws, minibusses, and Tata Magics are not appreciated for their massive role in enabling mobility in India.
- The government perceives these modes of transport as unsafe, high polluting, and a cause of traffic congestion without pointing to any form of research to justify this perception. The government has also not gone out of its way to determine why citizens rely on them so much.
The paper adds that even in cities where public transport is available, services are inadequate and unreliable, prompting citizens to depend on personal mobility and informal public transport options.
Another report fills in the gaps and explains why many commuters in India, which is home to 1.3 billion people, depend on informal means of transport to move around.
The Crisis of Public Transport in India: Overwhelming Needs But Limited Resources, authored by John Pucher and Nisha Korattyswaroopam, notes that the rapid growth of India’s urban population has piled so much pressure on all transport systems.
The paper describes the situation as the classic case of a limited supply of transport infrastructure services overwhelmed by massive demand.
Huge Deficits and Safety Concerns
Audit firm KPMG in a study dubbed Reimagining Public Transport in India observes that although India has made massive strides in the last decade by investing heavily in metro rails, highway infrastructure and embracing modern transport technology solutions like ride-hailing apps, serious deficits remain in the country’s public transport system.
The KPMG paper further points out that the government’s heavy investment in roads has not matched the quality of public transport, which reverts users to personal means.
The result: fatalities, air pollution, and congestion.
Public Transport Subsidies
A book published by The World Bank authored and edited by Maureen Cropper and Soma Bhattacharya dubbed: Public Transport Subsidies and Affordability in Mumbai, India gives a great insight into how public transport subsidies affect different classes of citizens in the city.
It is important to note that both rail and bus transport is subsidized in Mumbai.
BEST, the company that operates public buses in Mumbai, is also an electric utility and subsidizes fares from its electricity revenues.
Despite Mumbai public transport being subsidized, public transport still consumes a considerable chunk of poor people’s income (16% or 5000 rupees).
Public Transport in India
Having understood the context, let us look at the different modes of public transport in India.
Rickshaws are a popular means of transport in urban and rural areas in India.
They are three-wheeled motorized contraptions with sides and a roof made of tin or canvas.
They are commonly referred to as scooters, autos, and riks. They are also known as tuk-tuks in Southeast Asia.
A rickshaw usually has room for two passengers, although, in India and other developing countries, three passengers are shoehorned to maximize profits.
Traveling via rickshaws is preferred by low-income citizens primarily because they are cheaper— usually half the price of taxis.
Rickshaws have meters, although some unscrupulous drivers claim that the meters are not functional to exploit commuters.
In major Indian cities like Delhi and Mumbai, there are environmentally friendly e-rickshaws nicknamed totos.
While the Indian government views the rickshaw as the enemy, a research report published by EMBARQ and the World Resources Institute titled Sustainable Urban Transport in India: Role of the Auto-rickshaw Sector authored by Akshay Mani, Madhav Pai, and Rishi Aggarwal holds that Big Data can be used to streamline this sector to the benefit of all parties.
Buses are the most preferred and convenient mode of mobility in Indian urban cities.
Approximately 1.6 million buses have been registered in India, while the public sector operates 170,000 buses which ferry approximately 70 million people each day.
However, as captured during the course of this article, bus transport service providers have not been able to meet the high levels of demand in urban areas and, to some extent, the country at large.
By the time Intelligent Transport’s study was published, only 30,000 buses were operating in city areas, of which 3500 were being operated under a public-private partnership agreement.
Fast track to now, all bus operators are in the red, have been bleeding financially, and do not have the liquidity needed to buy new vehicles and technology consistently.
Conversely, the average age of the fleet ranges from 2 years to 11.8 years for state bus transport operations.
A report dubbed A Comparative Evaluation of Public Road Transportation Systems in India Using Multicriteria Decision-Making Techniques authored by Anand Kumar, Gurmeet Singh, and Omkarprasad S Vaidya finds that India is light years behind on bus penetration.
It observes the bus penetration in India is (1.4 buses per 1000 persons) is very low compared to other countries like Mexico (2.8 buses per 1000 persons), South Africa (6.5 buses per 1000 persons), and Thailand (8.6 buses per 1000 persons).
If bus transport is so important to Indian commuters, what is being done to maximize current resources?
A working paper dubbed Big Data and Urban Transportation in India: A Bengaluru Bus Corporation Case Study authored by Vanya Rakesh, Richard Heeks, Sumandro Chattapadhyay, and Cristopher Foster helps us answer this question.
The study sought to interrogate how Big Data could help Bengaluru, the capital of Karnataka state in India, home to ten million people, solve its perennial urban transport problems.
At the heart of the key question is how the Bengaluru Metropolitan Transport Corporation (BMTC) could better manage its more than 6,000 buses and 35,000 employees, considering the company’s buses complete more than 5 million passenger journeys over more than 8,000 bus stops and 2,000 routes.
The company also collects over US$500,000 in revenue while the buses clock more than 1.2 million kilometres.
The paper underscores that proper data collection technology has enabled the capture of large tracts of daily data in digital format for the first time.
Taxi transport is standard in Indian urban areas for short-distance travel.
Traditional taxis are either hailed on the street or booked via phone.
All traditional taxis are required to have a fare meter installed, which protects commuters from overpricing.
While they are a bit expensive compared to other modes of transport, they are preferred because of security and convenience.
The entry of digital apps was a game-changer in the Indian taxi business economy, as captured by a report dubbed Consumer Behaviour on Online Ride-Hailing Apps in India compiled by Grishma Thappa.
The paper states that since the entry of digital taxi apps in 2009, India’s taxi industry has evolved from being disorganized to a modern, convenient and digital way to move around.
Thappa’s study also found that digital apps offer better value than most traditional taxi services. It also notes that the apps protect consumers in a way traditional taxi services never did.
India’s most popular digital taxi apps include Ola Cabs, Uber, Meru Cabs, Carzonrent, Savaari Car Rentals, Fasttrack Taxi App, Mega Cabs, Tab Cab, NTL Taxi, and My Taxi India.
One of the biggest challenges taxi companies in India have faced over the years is ride cancellations, but with the evolution of technology comes a solution.
This is captured in a report titled Big Data Analytics on Cab Company’s Customer Dataset Using Hive and Tableau.
This study done by Dipesh Bhawnani, Ashish Sanwlani, Haresh Ahuja, and Dimple Bohra sought to analyze a cab company’s customer dataset to help the company profile its regular customers so that it can understand its customers and provide them with offers that suit their needs.
Rail transport is the most common mode of long-distance transportation in India.
Indian Railways, a state-owned company, runs rail operations throughout the Asian nation.
India’s rail network is one of the largest and busiest in the world. It transports an average of 5 billion passengers and 350 million tonnes of freight every year.
About 16,000 kilometres of India’s 63,028 route length is electrified, while the country’s ticketing network is largely computerized save for some remote places.
Tickets are either booked online or via mobile phone calls.
As part of Indian Railways’ inclusion strategy, the firm discounts tickets for senior citizens above sixty years old, the disabled, and students.
Tickets are also discounted for high-ranking government officials.
The company also sells season tickets, allowing the buyers unlimited travel on specific sections for a defined period.
The company also has a plan for foreign tourists via the Indirail pass, which allows them unlimited travel across India for a specific period.
There are 13 cities in India served by metros (rapid transit systems). They include;
Bengaluru (Namma), Gurugram (Rapid Metro), Kochi, Hyderabad, Noida, Ahmedabad, Kolkata, Mumbai, Lucknow, Chennai, Jaipur, and Delhi.
These metro systems in different Indian cities are not run by Indian Railways except the Kolkata Metro, which has its dedicated division within Indian Railways.
In Focus — Delhi Metro
The Delhi Metro is the most extensive rapid transit system in India by distance. It is currently working a distance of 231 kilometres and has 160 stations.
It was opened in 2002 to much fanfare because of the nature at which it would transform the lives of the city’s constituents.
It cut down travel time from Delhi to the North-Western town of Dwarka to 24 minutes.
The Deccan Herald in December 2020 reported Indian Railways was planning to start using Artificial Intelligence and Data Analytics to run train operations, maintain its systems, take stock of its railway assets and run freight operations
The rail operator is planning to incorporate a predictive asset maintenance system that will consistently monitor the condition of equipment and issue alerts in the event of an anomaly, which will help the firm take up immediate maintenance.
Give and Take
To solve any conflict, all parties must be willing to give and take for the dispute to be resolved.
Without that, the conversation will go round and round without any sign of coming to a meaningful end.
At this juncture, can we flashback to the heated argument between the Indian government and the rickshaw drivers.
If there’s a way for the government to regulate this sector without alienating the very people who depend on it, it is prudent to explore that option.
Since Big Data offers a viable solution, everyone can leave the negotiating table happy.