Sunday, March 16, 2014

Learning and Leisure Trip on Mumbai Monorail

It was a Sunday morning and probably a very long weekend for those who might have taken Friday off to enjoy the festival of colours, Holi, on Monday in the country. I was commuting in the suburban train on my way to meet a host of transport enthusiasts to experience the Mumbai Monorail. Being fortunate to have got onto a train (route) that would take me directly to the railway station nearest to the Monorail allowed me a carefree over hear of conversation on fictional writing, cooking and 20 something problems being discussed by a couple sitting in front of me.

The organiser of the Mumbai Monorail Meetup, Vivek, recommended that I experience the inconvenient walk from the train to the monorail station. This is how it summed up –

Step 1 – A 15 minute (leisure) walk from Chembur railway station to Chembur Monorail station. For those citizens who have it in them to admire tress on both sides of the sky walk and then yet be in support of the 10 minute walk after getting lucky to have found a guard (who isn’t asleep) to instruct whether to navigate towards the left or right at the end of the skywalk in order to arrive at the monorail must not already form an opinion about the Mumbai Monorail.

Step 2 – Overcome two points of uncertainty with reference to direction toward the Monorail.

Step 3 – You can either queue to collect a blue coloured chip which is for short term use or form a line to purchase a smart card which is valid for six months from the last recharge.



Step 4 – While standing in line, you might want to have a look at the Monorail map which also acts as a commute fare indicator and save time of people in line behind you. As part of the Meetup we had decided to cover the entire stretch of Phase 1 for which one pays Rs. 11.


Having arrived for the Meetup before time I landed waiting for other members to arrive and fourty minutes had already passed. Little did I know that cameras had me under their watch and I had managed to make security guards very uncomfortable. On being approached by guards, I learnt that the blue coloured chip had a validity of only one hour. Having waited 40 minutes and with a 30 minute Monorail ride to follow I would have been awarded a fine. This is when I cleared out of the station to re-purchase my fare, except this time I purchased the smart card.


During the 40 minute wait I spotted the Monorail skirt, which reminded me (in the environment I was standing in) of the 1996 Duke Nukem 3D computer game.

Step 5 – Those who have travelled the Delhi Metro might not need a visual for this step. The commuter has to simply place the chip or smart card over an area which would allow him through a security box of approximately three and a half feet.

Step 6 – Security check. At the malls in Mumbai security guards use the full body scanner to no effect. At the Mumbai Monorail security guards only hold the scanner in their hand but do not use it.

Step 7 – By the time all of us met, of which Vivek had invited his friend, Shashank, who works for Scomi, the Malaysian company that had manufactured the Mumbai Monorail, had already answered over a dozen fundamental questions. The seven of us walked a final flight of stairs that took us to the Monorail level.

Step 8 – There were security guards to monitor commuters so that no one creates havoc or mess just before mounting the Monorail.


The pink coloured Monorail consisted of four coaches, completing the entire car. The route was designed to allow a pair of monorails to operate either way of the route. While in the Monorail, and standing at the head coach of the Monorail, we received a detailed explanation of the functionality of the vehicle. Some interesting points included –

1.      The Monorail is controlled by a joystick. If the driver lets go of the joystick the vehicle begins working towards a halt.



2.      The entire system is monitored by the control room which is based at the final station of Phase 1. The Mumbai Monorail is designed at Grade 2 advanced level where motion of the vehicle and doors are controlled by the driver of the Monorail. The most advanced level is a Grade 4 system which includes regenerative braking technology and a driverless vehicle.

3.      Currently, Mumbai Monorail is yet gathering public response and operates only till 3 p.m daily, during which it has limited its maximum running speed to 65 km/hr while it is designed to travel up to a speed of 80 km/hr, operates at 90% optimum carrying capacity of the Monorail, has a headway (interval time between two Monorails) of 15 minutes, has released only 4 cars to operate on the 9 kilo meter route and employs over 250 individuals.

4.      There is a 90 degree turn en route to the Wadala Depot Station (the seventh and final station). Visually this looks very appealing. I wish I had a clicked a photo at that time. Supporting the vehicle is a total of 64 wheels tucked away under the body of the Monorail.
There are a set of 8 wheels (2 foundation, 6 supporting) under each seating area. There are 8 seating areas, 2 in each coach (primarily reserved for the elderly). The 6 supporting wheels run parallel to the track as if cleaning the track on the sides while rotating during motion.


Maintenance shed in blue

5.      The beam (tracks) on which the Monorail operates have adjustable fork like structures which enables the Monorail to shift tracks. It is interesting to observe the movement of the fork like structure.
When we boarded the Monorail at Chembur station we boarded from the right side of the Monorail. After leaving Chembur station the fork like structure shifted the Monorail to the left side beam, hence on reaching Wadala Depot Station we got out from the left side exit doors.
For commuters waiting to board the Monrail at Wadala Depot station, the Monorail had to surpass the station by a half kilo meter, fork to the right, come back to the station and then collect commuters.


By the time we had completed our one way trip, Sachin, the founder of Mumbai based m-indicator smart phone application had already got a solid idea towards including the Monorail route to the application, which already serves commuters using suburban train and public bus routes. The group began realising the big picture –


1.      Currently majority of Monorail users are leisure commuters who only wish to experience a Monorail ride. This has naturally amounted to very weak financial returns to the Mumbai Monorail management.

2.      On either side of the Monorail commute through the seven stations, one could justifiably see greenery. There was no financial, residential or industrial complex visible. This basically translates to loss for the MMRDA in the short and medium term. It is quite possible that political parties and builders (Ajmera builders who already have a presence near IMAX Dome theatre) might have purchased land around the Monorail for future gains. Then again which transport project is not about land?

If Phase 1 has employed Rs. 1100 crore, the headway must be reduced to the targeted 2 minutes and optimum number of cars must be introduced as per plan in order to recover the invested amount. Shashank informed me that Mumbai Monorail documents all commuter movement and has numbers pertaining to economic, financial and technical progress. This must be shared with the general public, hence contributing towards better awareness and acceptance of such a public transport initiative.

I was very happy to be part of such a trip. After the Monorail ride nine of us continued discussions over some Asian food of which the Malaysian curry was most scrumptious.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Hong Kong Transportation System

Taking into consideration that the year of 1949 is a significant year for Hong Kong, let’s track back to Hong Kong’s history for a moment. In October, 1949 when China celebrated its National Day it left Hong Kong for the British on the condition that Hong Kong must successfully perform as an entrepot trade center. Such a condition encouraged the Government of Hong Kong to propel itself into a manufacturing hub which would help maintain its capitalist stature.

Hong Kong’s geographic position is a boon, attracting business opportunities. Supporting such opportunities is a world class transportation and communication infrastructure. The country has the highest rate of commuters using mass transit. The third comprehensive transport study predicts that 90% of daily 11.5 million commuter trips will be completed using public transport networks by 2016. The transportation network consists of government owned MTR Corporation Limited, the sole rail operator since merger with Kowloon-Canton Railway Corporation in 2007 and private operators of buses, public light buses, green light buses, tram, taxi and ferry.

The Environmental Report 2011, Transport Department, Government of Hong Kong recognizes 8 green transport objectives to be fulfilled in the year 2011. The 5 most relevant objectives include –

1.      Reduction in vehicular traffic – This will be met through public transport integration called ‘interchange schemes’ and by rationalizing more bus routes.

2.      Tightening of emission control – Improvement of fuel standards targeted at franchised bus operators. This has been met through retrofitting of Diesel Oxidation Catalyst, Diesel Particulate Filter and Selective Catalytic Reduction device.

3.      Replacing Diesel Vehicles – Targeted at Public Light Buses, the objective is to move from diesel fuel to LPG fuel or electric operated vehicles.

4.      Pedestrian Schemes – Improvement of pedestrian facilities through traffic calming schemes.

5.      Efficient use of road space – This will be achieved through application of advanced technologies such as dissemination of real-time traffic information to people, Driver Route Search Service, mobile application for DRSS, speed map panels, Traffic and Incident Management System and Area Traffic Control Systems.

The Transport Department will pursue the above objectives until desired outcomes are achieved. The Hong Kong transportation network currently consists of –


The above table has the following hidden details –

1.      There are 138 licensed vehicles for every kilometer of road
2.      Taxis in Hong Kong were introduced in 1947
3.      The Octopus card is used to pay for transport and other services
4.      The Peak Tramways is the primary source to reach The Peak, a tourist destination
5.      The Citybus franchise has 942 air conditioned buses and increased the number of double deck buses, not single deck buses, in the period 2012-2013

The above features make the Hong Kong transport network a world class transport experience.


New World First Bus (green, orange) and Citybus (yellow)


Hong Kong Tramways (blue) and NWFB


Urban red taxi
        

Monday, June 10, 2013

One Day, Three Cities, Seven Modes of Transport

Before I get back to developments mentioned in the previous blog entry I would like to share my three city tour across seven modes of transportation on World Environment Day.

I was invited to attend a workshop focusing on fuel efficiency in Pune. The journey began at 6:15 on a Wednesday morning. I drove myself along with family to the well known Bisleri water factory. It is a route that requires 40 minutes devoted in evening hours, which I completed in 10 minutes.



On the Eastern side, I was to catch an AC bus that would take me to Pune. This was the second time I was travelling to Pune by bus. The journey is filled with greenery and mountains. En route passengers are treated with chikki, a healthy snack bar filled with and usually made of various dry fruits. The journey takes 3 hours to complete and I was not going to be dropped at the exact point required.

 



On reaching the city I figured that it is not going to be easy hopping onto one of the local buses. The buses did not have any indicator on them. So I figured best to walk a few steps and get myself an auto-rickshaw. The Google Map reading showed that I was in walking distance to Pune University. I had wanted to get to Yashada on Baner Road. One thing is certain, I was taken in circles. Although it was nice looking at the fine houses, trees forming a canopy on these streets and the smooth auto ride with no pot holes.





I reached the workshop on time, at 10 minutes to 10 am. While the workshop was a round table event and a different experience by itself, I will keep that story for a separate entry. On completion of the workshop I coordinated a meet with the founder of Parisar, a Pune based Civil Society Organisation focusing on urban transport challenges facing Pune. I had the opportunity to ride along with Mr. Sujit Patwardhan on his scooter to the Parisar office. On entering the colony, Mr. Patwardhan shared a cold fact with me. He mentioned that the colony has been renovated at the cost of Rs. 12 crore, a complete waste of taxpayer money. It looked very spick and span.





Next, I had to catch a flight to Delhi. Before I did, I enjoyed a beautiful walk down a lane of the same colony. Pune airport is not very big and hence very convenient to complete bag screening and security. I had reached very early, one hour and a half before takeoff. The flight time is not very long; the distance takes under two hours to complete.




On landing, it was 21:15 and not knowing that my final destination was only 25 minutes by road I took an hour and half long metro ride to my final destination, Saket Metro Station. The Orange line airport metro is very spacious in comparison to metro boogies of other routes. The metro route required me to swap at New Delhi Metro Station in order to get into the Yellow Line to reach Saket. Once on the Yellow line, it was a trip down memory lane. In June, 2011 I was in Delhi, travelling up and down the Yellow metro line. I was in Delhi as part of a summer programme titled Agenda for Survival. The final leg of the journey was also in a way to post live feed to my Agenda for Survival friends on our Whatsapp group photos of the now so mesmerizing Yellow line route.





































In the morning, this is how I saw Saket Metro Station after two years and a 1393 kilo meter or 865 miles stretch of journey. In my opinion it was the most contradicting day to score such a high carbon footprint.



Monday, May 13, 2013

China : Auto Anarchy..Not Quite So


It is very evident that the immediate future of the automobile industry lies in the hands of young buyers across Asia. Similar to mass demand for the mass produced Ford Model T in 1914, auto enthusiasts in China are demanding cars, but at a complete different level.


According to AlixPartners, a consultancy, worldwide market for cars will grow to 107 million units a year in 2020. China, the current market leader for cars will remain a leader way past 2020. Projections of annual car sales are set to be at 31 million units by 2020. This figure is six times more than the combined car sales of Japan and South Korea, double the size of Western Europe car sales and 11 million more units of sales seen in North America. Even with such numbers the Chinese government has its nose up in the air.

The PRC is bothered with the fact that it still does not have a single automobile company that can provide stiff competition to Western counterparts. In a bid to improve this situation, the Chinese government has put conditions on foreign automobile companies, a cost to enter the Chinese market. Foreign car companies are required to form joint ventures with domestic car players.

According to Bernstein, this policy measure has proved futile. While the Chinese government hoped that Chinese car companies would learn from foreign experience, a situation of dependence has occurred. Chinese car companies are highly dependent on foreign technology and pay heavy royalties for use of foreign brands. Even the Chinese consumer has large preference for foreign brands.

The question of interest is - which are these new technologies over which China is being arm wrestled. We can broadly divide the technology initiatives under three classifications –
1)      Electric powertain advancements
2)      Tech based policy adjustments
3)      The Driverless car ambition

In the next upload we shall look at each of the three solutions which have already gained momentum in the second decade of the 21st century.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

EMBARQ CONNECTKaro Event



The above is a screenshot of a  live web cast to which I received an invitation organized by EMBARQ India.  This is EMBARQ's first annual conference titled CONNECTKaro which literally translates to 'do the connect'. In context of the conference it was an apt title signalling the need for improvement and integration of public transportation in the city of Mumbai in order to stimulate public transportation habit and usage. I attended the opening session and found a link in the key message delivered by the various speakers.

EMBARQ is the World Resources Institute's Center for Sustainable Transport. It is recognized as an independent think tank in India and other emerging economies. The conference began with an introduction from a member on WRI's Board of Directors -

Mr. Jamshyd Godrej - Emphasized on the need to realize urgency in upgrading transport fuel grades in India to Euro V and VI standards.

Mr. UPS Madan - Being the current Commissioner of Mumbai Metropolitan Regional Development Authority explained transportation as we see it on the roads today. He argued that widening roads and continuously building highways is not the solution to public transportation. This is not sustainable as the demand for privately owned vehicles is ever increasing.

Mr. O.P Gupta - He is the General Manager of BEST Undertaking, Mumbai's public bus service. He mentioned that road safety is very important. The city lacks public discipline as seen by overtaking private vehicles and BEST buses even on a traffic packed road. He concluded by saying 'effective public transport is clean and dignified' this is a means to get more individuals to use public transport.

Dr. Sudhir Krishna - He is Secretary, Ministry of Urban Development. He gave various examples of sustainable transportation development across India -

a) Delhi bus fare - It has played an important role in changing attitudes of bus commuters. The air conditioned buses charge Rs. 10 which has resulted in members from all economic classes to travel together in the same bus

b) As per the Union Budget 2013, Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission  with get 10,000 additional buses for city commuters

c) Transit Oriented Development as seen by the Mumbai-Delhi Industrial Corridor

d) Bengaluru observes a Bus Day on fourth of every month to promote public transportation. Mysore's bus depot can be compared to a 'museum'.

e) In the future  mass transit projects such as metro should be under the administration of the municipal corporation of a city. Responsibility in the hands of local authorities will ensure success of such projects.

Professor Jan Gehl, video recorded message - He is the founder of Gehl Architects. In the video recording he spoke heavily on the effectiveness of walking and cycling as an effective means of non motorized transportation. 

Ms. Henriette Vamberg - She is a director and Head of Gehl Cities at Gehl Architects and spoke in lieu of Professor Gehl. She suggested that city planning should develop bicycle lanes for maximum bicycle use. In many countries ministers use bicycles to get to work. This practice is not frowned upon by the citizens and instead motivates masses to embrace cycling as a daily means of commute.

Mr. Madhav Pai - He is Director at EMBARQ India and was the host of the dialogue.

In my opinion, the broad message drawn from the speeches of the speakers is requirement for change in attitude towards public demand for public goods, in this case transportation. This change in attitude will favour  expansion of public transport services and as a result challenge the existence of unsustainable means of private transportation.

Friday, September 7, 2012

National Conference on Emerging Market Economies

Earlier last week I attended a conference at Ruia College, University of Mumbai. As the title suggests it was an Economics conference focused on examining the role of Emerging Market Economies in the 21st century. I would like to get into certain details of the conference as here is where I presented my first paper. It is on Environmental Economics, titled : Asia - Potential for Green Economy.

Over the three day conference speakers spoke about issues concerning Macroeconomic Policy, Banking, Finance and Insurance in India, Trade and Investment in India and there was also a panel for Environment and Energy Economics. The opening evening saw Ruia College's two esteemed alumnus - Economist Lord Meghnad Desai and Member of Planning Commission Dr. Narendra Jadhav.

Dr. Narendra Jadhav, speaker of the evening, presented his findings on Emerging Market Economies where he studied all countries with a population greater than 30,000. He spoke about economic literature of emerging economies, coining of term 'Emerging Market Economies' and concluded by raising a question - now that the West is in debt, how and from where will Eastern economies generate income?

That evening I got an opportunity to talk with Lord Meghnad Desai. Lord Desai gave me research direction towards my next paper. In the above mentioned paper I have drawn conclusion by estimating year when India will achieve bend on Environmental Kuznets Curve.



Lord Meghnad Desai

The following two days and specifically lecture by Dr. Dilip Nachane, Emeritus Professor, IGIDR, Mumbai I was introduced to Efficient market hypothesis, Jackson Hole consensus and inverted U relation between  financialization and economic growth. At the panel on Environment and Energy Economics chaired by Mint newspaper Executive Director, Niranjan Rajadhyaksha, panelists included -

Dr. Pushpa Trivedi professor at Indian Institute of Technology, Mumbai spoke about National Income versus National Resource Counting,

Dr. Dinesh Hegde, professor at National Institute of Industrial Engineering, Mumbai spoke about Environment, Energy and Technology Interface and

Mr. Girish Kuber, Executive Editor, Lok Satta newspaper discussed the role of oil in everyday life, economy and cause for political imbalance. 

The valedictory function was a lecture by Economist Ajit Ranade. He spoke about all aspects concerning China's economy. The lecture was very informative and interactive, as audience was dominated by college students. The conference was a success and I am looking forward to pursue research in Environmental Economics. 


Saturday, March 31, 2012

Car-Plane, Road Plane or Flying Car...


Twenty two years ago, a modern day flying car was built and operated by a certain Canadian engineer. He revealed that such an idea need not be a concept and flew his M400 at an altitude of 20 meters. Catering to modern day transport dilemma (a growing concern even in 1989) he opined that a vertiport shall provide solutions to urban transport. This is at the cost of rising petrol prices, ear tearing noise levels, safety risks, low fuel economy and a whopping initial market price of one million dollar a car. Paul Moller's Skycar never became legal and imagining someone paying a million dollars on a flying experiment, they would rather spend that on a McLaren.

 In 2004, BBC published an article titled 'Flying cars swoop to the rescue' deriving an alternative use of the car- plane. A resourceful piece from the article - "When you try to combine them you get the worst of both worlds: a very heavy, slow, expensive vehicle that's hard to use," said Mark Moore, head of the personal air vehicle (PAV) division of the vehicle systems program at Nasa's Langley Research Centre in Hampton, US. NASA aspired to develop sustainable means of smaller capacity planes. They aimed to develop technology such that small sized planes would fly as silent as a motorcycle, by 2009. All of this is indicative of efficient alternative source of dual passenger air travel.



Flying Cars of the Past, Present, and Future

 Today, after decades since the thought of a car plane conceptualized and watching Chiity Chitty Bang Bang, a tech firm, Terrafugia, based in Woburn, Massachusetts is on the way to selling its first commercial road plane - Transition. With tests already taken place, this is no concept and aims to go on sale by end of 2012. The model aims at promoting air travel and specifically to those who wish to acquire a pilot’s licence. As the name suggests the model would work as an airplane and an automobile, hereby a pilot would not have to change vehicle during flight or on road. No wonder, already 100 Transition models have already been booked. Overlooking fuel economy of 14.9 kilo meters a litre on land and a range 643 kilo meters in air, companies must pay strict attention to safety measures. 



 Development in the field of safety standards in air travel, automobiles or "flight-mobiles" in the twenty first century is largely going to advance through sensor technology. We must realize that even though these vehicles are designed to run on petrol, personal air transport is proving to be take form in a big way. The American companies have paved the way and found a practical solution to an alternate source of transport. Hopefully such engineering marvels sustain and are seen in significant numbers in a year from today.