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HT Unclog Mumbai: A ticket to swipe right through

It’s an efficient idea — a single ticket for every public transport system Mumbai offers. Its time has come. All that remains is the implementation

unclog mumbai Updated: Nov 22, 2016 12:56 IST
Manasi Phadke
Imagine if one ticket could let you skip the queues and hop from bus to metro to train. It’s an efficient idea. All that remains is the implementation.
Imagine if one ticket could let you skip the queues and hop from bus to metro to train. It’s an efficient idea. All that remains is the implementation.

Pramod Kamble takes a bus from his house to the Vikhroli station every day. Before the seven-minute journey ends, he has to squeeze his way through the crowd, making sure not to step on someone’s toe, to the conductor in front to buy his ticket. At the railway station, if his season pass has expired, it’s another queue.

Imagine if one ticket could let you skip the queues and hop from bus to metro to train. It’s an efficient idea. And, it’s not new to Mumbai. More than a decade ago, the state knew the solution for the kind of trouble thousands like Kamble face every day — an integrated travel card.

So what’s the hold up? The usual suspects: red-tape and lack of political will.

WHY WE NEED A PLAN

With the work on the state government’s ambitious 173.9-km Metro railway network underway that proposing to criss-cross the length and breadth of the city, and the planned revamp of our local trains and public buses, Mumbai needs a single ticketing system now more than ever.

As he has done for all of his endeavors, chief minister Devendra Fadnavis has set an ambitious goal of putting in place a single-ticketing system in in six months, but with the clause that a few initial hiccups are likely. The CM has said a chief secretary-led committee, or the Unified Mumbai Metropolitan Transport Authority (UMMTA), is working on a plan to bring the suburban railways, Metro, monorail and all public bus transport systems in the Mumbai Metropolitan Region on the same platform.

But the authorities involved in hammering out the plan say a roadmap is likely to be in place in six months, but it will be at least two years before you can seamlessly travel from one mode of transport to the next with a single ticket.

THE SCRAMBLE FOR A PLAN

UMMTA, a nodal body that has operators of all modes of transport as representatives, is overseeing the implementation of this plan.

Under this body, the Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority (MMRDA) is negotiating a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with Transport for London, a wing of the Greater London Authority, credited with the launch of that city’s single-ticketing system Oyster card.

“As each operator has an individual fare system, we will first have to see how these can be brought on one platform. An integrated ticketing system is also either zonal or circular, which means we will have to design zones for ticketing. A major part of the study is the customer proposition, rationalising fare policy, the road map for operators and so on,” said an MMRDA official working on the project.

Once Transport for London gives a basic architecture of how the plan could to be executed, the next phase will involve the details — what devices to use, and the systems to be put in place, the official said.

“It is only after all this can we issue a tender for actual work to begin.”

The project has been proposed under the third phase of the World Bank-funded Mumbai Urban Transport Project, but the state government has decided the MMRDA will initiate the project with its own funds, without a formal loan sanction from the World Bank, to speed it up.

So far, the biggest hurdle according to sources was convincing all operators. “This time, fortunately, all stakeholders are on board and we will have a system where it will be possible to add and integrate more operators,” said UPS Madan, MMRDA commissioner.

Other Indian cities such as Kochi and Hyderabad are also preparing a concept plan for an integrated ticketing system.

FALSE STARTS

One of the first attempts at an integrated ticketing system was the ‘Go Mumbai’ smartcard, introduced in 2006-07.

First launched for Brihanmumbai Electric Supply & Transport (BEST) buses, it was later extended to the Central and Western railways. Bus conductors were given handheld devices to validate cards, and fixed Go Mumbai devices were set up at railway stations. And, there were plans to extend the card’s use for toll collection, autorickshaws and taxis.

The experiment failed miserably. Some blame it on the company involved, saying it did not supply adequate validating machines and that the machines developed glitches. Commuters did not find the system useful either — even though some 75 lakh people use trains and another 35 lakh, the BEST buses, less than 20,000 used the Go Mumbai card. Within five years of introducing it, both BEST and railways phased it out.

But authorities are more confident this time around. “The technology we have now is very advanced compared to what BEST had when we first attempted integrated ticketing,” said Jagdish Patil, general manager of BEST. “In fact, the radio-frequency identification card that we have now can also accommodate one more mode of transport, but the state has decided the MMRDA will bring out an integrated solution for all modes.”

After Go Mumbai’s failure, MMRDA, in 2010-11 started planning an integrated ticketing system again, this time roping in KPMG as a consultant. But there was one major roadblock — the railways were not on board. “Central and Western railways had concerns about how the system would work as too many people travel by trains. Will it be a tap-in tap-out system; or a machine that validates the ticket and how would it handle the millions that use the service, the railways had asked. They also had apprehensions over how revenue would be accounted for,” an official associated with the project said, hastening to add that this time, the railways are on board.

So the MMRDA decided to go ahead and integrate just the proposed Metro, monorail and bus transportation systems across MMR, but this failed too, as the Union Ministry of Urban Development decided to launch a national mobility card in 2011.

“The plan for a national mobility card has not moved forward much, so we have now decided to go ahead with having an integrated ticketing system for Mumbai at least,” said Madan. We will configure our card in way that it can be synced with the Union government’s card, whenever that comes.”

THE GOOD AND THE BAD

Cities with the world’s best transport systems have for decades been functioning with a single-ticketing card. It will not only make commuting easy, an integrated, automated ticketing system will also help make operators more efficient as they will divert fewer resources to manage tickets, officials and experts said.

The benefits, however, go beyond the commuter and operator.

The system has shown to increase the number of people taking public transport, which also means a hike in revenue; it leads to a dip in administrative and transaction costs of individual operators too.

In London and Maryland, US, the boarding times of public transport improved, according to a report by the United Kingdom’s Public Transport Executive Group in 2011. The report studied examples from 17 cities across Europe, Australia and North America and found the single ticket system led to a 6%-20% rise in patronage, with particular modes showing increases of up to 40% too.

The cards also help make the city more tourist-friendly.

However, with the railways operating in Mumbai for over a century, and the BEST operating buses since 90 years, both having evolved and grown as individual systems, and modes such as Metro and monorail being introduced with modern ticketing mechanisms, their integration will be an uphill task.

The railways, BEST, other public bus transport agencies, the Versova-Andheri-Ghatkopar Metro, and the monorail all have diverse ticketing systems. Except for the existing Metro line and the Chembur-Wadala monorail, both operated by private entities, none of the other transportation modes have a fool-proof ticket validation system.

AV Shenoy, city-based transport expert, said, “The major challenge will be syncing the different systems. A single agency should be given the task. The agency should also ensure that the financial systems are linked together.”

In an integrated ticketing system, the accounting is done at the back end after which revenue is disbursed to individual operators.

Integrated ticketing systems mostly operate with either a closed-loop or an open-loop smart card. Public transportation systems over the world are gradually evolving to accept the open-loop card, which is integrated with the debit card and can be used for many purposes besides just ticketing. However, officials working on integrated ticketing for Mumbai say that given the commuter mix, it may be more practical to introduce a closed-loop system in the city.

Besides, GR Madan, a retired director of MMRDA, said maintenance of such a large system will also be a mammoth task.

“Not just installation of the hardware and integration of systems, proper operation and maintenance of systems is also equally important. The Go Mumbai card failed primarily for this very reason that half the machines became dysfunctional and commuters were not able to use the system easily,” he said.

Until then, it’s a long journey for commuters like Kamble, who now has his own system in place to beat the queues. “I have realised that if I queue up at the Vikhroli station ticket counter around 6pm, after work, I can get my pass done in 15 minutes,” said Kamble, an assistant professor at SIES College. “It will definitely help to have one card that I can swipe across platforms. It will saving us a lot of time.”