Better bus routes can be planned based on data in them

Metropolitan Transport Corporation (MTC) has been using electronic ticketing machines (ETMs) for the past four years. Now, with the State government announcing that the facility would be extended to other transport undertakings and about 5,000 new GPS-enabled ETMs would be procured, the time is ripe for a status check on how well the devices have been utilised.

While the ETM is just a hand-held device used by MTC conductors to issue passenger tickets, whether they are used to their full potential or not has larger implications.

For example, if the passenger boarding/alighting data from the 2,200 ETMs that are currently used by MTC conductors over two shifts in about 1,000 buses is regularly analysed, the city can have better bus routes that are based on requirement.

Instead, what is happening is the service frequency on a little over one-third of the 680 bus routes in the city remains the same throughout the day. “There is no difference between rush hour and off-peak traffic hours,” says Daniel Robinson of Chennai City Connect, an NGO working on developing a passenger information system using the ticketing data.

He says that the MTC thinks that since there is overloading on most routes anyway, there is no need to optimise bus operation and rationalise routes. “It is true that fleet size is a major problem and on some routes, the city needs three times the existing number of buses to offer a reasonable level of passenger comfort. But Bangalore's experience with its scientifically planned Big 10 services that are dedicated long-distance routes shows that better route planning can increase passenger carrying capacity by 12 to 13 per cent,” Mr. Robinson adds.

Another way in which the ETM data could have been used is to publish a new route time table that can predict with a reasonable level of accuracy when a bus would reach a particular bus stop. “The acceptable level of deviation is 5 to 10 per cent from the estimated time, which comes to about 7.5 minutes,” says K. Gunasekaran, Assistant Professor, Division of Transportation Engineering, Anna University.

MTC does not even want to reveal the time chart that it currently uses because the deviations are in the order of 30 to 40 per cent, which translates to over 30 minutes. Mr. Gunasekaran says people should not be made to wait that long for a bus and public transport operators must be made to publish and stick to a time table. “If real-time ticketing data shows that a majority of buses (with a capacity of 73 passengers) are loaded to 60 per cent capacity, it means buses are operating on time and efficiently,” he adds.

But to get such ticketing data which can quantify reliability on a given day, it takes nearly four months to access the citywide data as the whole process of analysing is manual. Essentially, apart from reducing the load on MTC to print and distribute paper tickets, the ETMs have not been utilised for any other purpose and the passenger-friendly features remain largely untapped, say experts.

Bangalore, on the other hand, has dealt with passenger ticketing systems much more innovatively. Over 56 per cent of BMTC passengers use a bus pass. It has effectively reduced the need to issue a ticket inside a bus by introducing an array of attractive daily and monthly passes. MTC Managing Director S. Boopathy said that the Corporation is looking at procuring a new generation of programmable ETMs that need not be connected to a computer for analysing data.