All posts by vishy

Reforming Bangalore’s Public Transport

By | Buses, Commuting | No Comments

Karthik (Resident Quant at Takshashila Institution and Bangalore denizen) does a structured rant on what’s wrong with Bangalore’s bus infrastructure and how it could be fixed. He then storied his tweets and shared on Facebook where it was picked up by a mutual friend and showed up in my newsfeed and.. of course I HAD to share it on the mGaadi blog. You know.. just your garden variety sharing and amplification at work. Some interesting ideas in here so do browse all the way to the end.

Extended mGaadi hours for New Year Eve

By | Autos, Commuting | No Comments

Friends don’t let friends drive drunk.

Pic courtesy hdwallpapersinn.com

Pic courtesy hdwallpapersinn.com

If you or your friends plan to party hard (or late) and you don’t have a sober friend/chauffeur to drive you home, fret not.

The good drivers in the mGaadi network are doing their bit to give you (Bangalore New Year revelers) another option. At least 10% of mGaadi network drivers have confirmed that they will be working late on New Year eve.

mGaadi’s Call Auto service line (080 6768 4983), normally open from 8 am to 10 pm, will have extended hours for Dec 31, 2013, i.e. until 2 am of Jan 1, 2014.

Alternatively, you can also schedule a pickup using the mGaadi Android app.

Happy New Year in advance!

 

Fix the Potholes in Bangalore

By | Commuting | 2 Comments

[Editor’s Note: There are a whole range of companies (large and small, local and international) trying to alleviate the pain of the urban Indian commuter. Whether it’s taxi fleets, taxi aggregators, micro car rentals or companies like us trying to bring transparency and efficiencies to the auto rickshaw segment, all rely on one common infrastructure. The roads. Embarrassing no? Public infrastructure that’s taken for granted in practically any part of the world. Appallingly bad would be a flattering description for Bangalore roads. Among the six Indian metros, Bangalore would win the “worst roads” title by a hefty margin. There’s nothing any of the aforementioned companies can do to improve the roads. Is there anything YOU (Bangalore resident) can do? Ashoka India’s Sunish Jauhari believes you can. Sign the Change.org petition and you make his hand stronger when he goes to meet the Commissioner of BBMP. At publishing time, the petition had 18,195 signatures.. only 6,800 to hit the 25,000 magic mark. Read on and do the needful.]

Pic courtesy deccanchronicle.com

Pic courtesy deccanchronicle.com

Roads in Bangalore are terrible. Bangaloreans are getting together to demand pothole-free roads and we have 17,000 signatures already.

Last week I met the officials at BBMP and asked them about the progress in fixing the potholes. Shockingly, they only told me that BBMP has no resources to fix the roads.

This is unacceptable! Roads are a huge problem in the city and the BBMP needs to be accountable for them.

Next week, I will meet the Commissioner of BBMP, Lakshmi Narayana and deliver my petition with all your signatures. I’ve also contacted several experts and we will be taking some suggestions with us too.

We need to show him the potholes is a serious problem and we want them to fix it immediately. BBMP will have to listen to us if we can get more numbers of my petition.

Help me reach 25,000 signatures before my meeting. Vishy, here is how you can help.

  1. Forward this email to your friends asking them to sign it.
  2. Share this petition on Facebook and Twitter.

If you have not shared my petition widely yet, please do so and get your friends and friends.

Thank you for taking action for good roads in Bangalore.

Sunish via Change.org

Bangalore’s Auto Raja – just WHO is he?

By | Autos | No Comments
Pic courtesy Livemint.com

Man on the windshield (Pic courtesy Livemint.com)

If you’ve been on Bangalore roads (even if you HAVEN’T taken an auto), you’d have seen this guy’s picture. By this guy, I mean the man on the windshield of this (and tens of thousand other) auto rickshaws.

It’s noted Kannada actor and director Shankar Nag. Outside Karnataka, he’s best known as the Director of Malgudi Days, a phenomenally popular TV series based on RK Narayan’s short stories. He has acted in over 80 Kannada movies but Auto Raja is the movie that made him into a cult hero figure amongst Bangalore’s auto drivers (possibly in the rest of Karnataka as well?) He died in a road accident over 23 years ago (at the age of 35) but his popularity among the auto rickshaw drivers doesn’t show any sign of waning.

Nag’s enduring popularity spurred Sushma Veerappa to make a documentary film, When Shankar Nag comes Asking. The documentary explores the relationship of the working class to cinema, the endurance of a star’s fame even after his death, the nature of fandom, the rise of nativist politics in Karnataka, and the changing nature of Bangalore.

I’m excerpting several interesting tidbits from this Livemint interview of Veerappa.

On filming..

I filmed everything from the Ganesh utsav on Shankar Nag Road in Domlur, Bangalore, to a CITU (Centre of Indian Trade Unions) rally, of which the autorickshaw union is a member, Karnataka Rajyotsava celebrations across the city. Sometime in 2010, when I seriously started seeking funds to make the documentary, a structure began to emerge based on what I had filmed.

The documentary began with Shankar Nag on autorickshaw windshields. That’s something all Bangaloreans of my generation have grown up with.

On how the documentary evolved..

Yes, it was supposed to be about Nag on windshields. Except that the Suvarna Karnataka celebrations took over the city around that time in 2006. I noticed how autorickshaws became a prime constituency for the playing out of identity politics on the streets. It looked like quite a joyride—Shankar Nag and the Kannada flag riding together on an autorickshaw. But was it? The trajectory of Bangalore city’s growth post 1990 seemed very intertwined with lives of auto drivers, who are the lifeline of Bangalore. 1990 was also the year Shankar Nag passed away in a road accident. Fifty years of statehood, 20 years of globalization—all being played out in this city. It seemed like a good time to look into ideas about belonging in a city.

Auto drivers’ collective love for Nag.

There are many ways of seeing, remembering, celebrating. It is complex. The auto driver is also constantly redefining the idea of the fan. Shankar Nag may be disappearing from auto windshields. But auto drivers make space for him by the tail-light of the autorickshaw. The fact that this man still remains in public memory more than 20 years after he passed away cannot be just a socio-cultural phenomenon. This means that there is a lacuna in the political system that has created space for this.

Is the auto driver not a citizen?

As a documentarian, I am compelled to show the alternative to mainstream portrayals in which the state sets up a 24×7 call centre to help the citizen against harassment by an auto driver—as if the auto driver is not a citizen. If I am saying that not all auto drivers who are Shankar Nag fans align themselves with a language activist group, it means that the kind of language politics that plays out on the street is never black and white.

On presenting impressions over information.

It was very important for me that Shankar Nag—the person, his work—gets articulated by the auto driver, and not by a subject expert. That didn’t quite happen. I could not get an auto driver to intellectualize his fanhood in so many words. But at the same time I was meeting several of them eking out a livelihood on his name. There were so many fantastic ways in which he was and is living.

For a more humorous introduction to Shankar Nag (and Auto Raja), check out this Kannada Speakeasy video. The relevant portion is from 1:20 to 3:00 though the entire 6 minutes are quite entertaining too — you’ll pickup some conversational Kannada in the process.

A tale of three cities

By | Autos | No Comments
Pic courtesy redroom.com

Pic courtesy redroom.com

On a scale from 1 to 10 (with 10 being excellent and 1 being terrible), how ‘good’ are your city’s auto drivers?

Okay. This is no exercise in morality. Replace the word good with likelihood to go on meter.

Commuters in Mumbai are likely to rate 9 or 10 for their city’s drivers. Their counterparts in Chennai might rate a 1 or 2. Maybe.. just maybe the Chennai rating might have improved recently after the Tamil Nadu government brought back the meter (after an extended hiatus of 15+ years). This is thanks (at least to some extent) to the efforts of Times of India’s Missing Meter campaign.

What does the rating look for Bangalore?

Depending on who you talk to, where and when they commute regularly, the rating might vary widely, say between 3 and 8. We reckon that Bangalore’s blended rating might be 5 (or 6). In short, Bangalore is bang in the middle of the two extremes (Chennai and Mumbai).

This poll we started on our website suggests that over 30% of Bangalore’s auto rickshaw drivers go on meter. Considering only 21 have voted so far, this is far from conclusive. Whatever the final ‘consensus’ number turns out to be, our experience is that finding and enrolling such auto drivers into our network is not an easy task.

Is it needle-in-a-haystack difficult?

No.

But it does require a multi-pronged approach.

Our operations team is working on a few prongs but there’s at least one prong that involves you. Yes, you – the Bangalore auto rickshaw commuter.

Our next post in this series will will get into the mechanics of how the Bangalore auto rickshaw commuter can play a crucial role in locating auto drivers who go on meter.

 

 

 

A portrait in human commuting pain

By | Commuting, Research | No Comments

[Editor’s Note: A Facebook thread on auto rickshaw drivers in Bangalore, commuting in urban cities, and a carrot vs. stick policy led to this interesting commuting survey conducted by IBM in 2011. Thanks Sridhar Pabbisetty. Two of the 20 cities surveyed are Bangalore and New Delhi. I’ve cherry-picked the most interesting insights with a bias towards what Indian commuters are saying.]

8000+ survey respondents in 20 cities across six continents. The following 20 cities (which figure in the  world’s  top 65  in terms  of size and economic activity) are:

  • Asian cities: Bangalore,  Beijing, Moscow, New Delhi, Shenzhen, Singapore
  • European cities: London, Madrid, Milan, Paris, Stockholm
  • North/South American cities: Buenos Aires, Chicago, Los Angeles, Mexico City, Montreal, New York City, Toronto
  • African cities: Johannesburg, Nairobi

At the extremities..

Mexico City showed up as the ‘most painful’ city for commuting, while Montreal, London, and Chicago came out the ‘best’.

Consider some of the extremes: In Nairobi, 35% of drivers reported that they have spent three hours or more in traffic, and in Moscow, over 45%. In Beijing and Shenzhen, anger from traffic is by far the highest among the cities surveyed, while in New Delhi, Shenzen and Beijing, huge numbers of drivers have simply turned around and gone home rather dealing with the frustration of their intended journey.

Surprise surprise! driving is the predominant way to commute..

Across cities, driving is the predominant way to get to work or school (55% drive a car, 5% a motorbike, and 5% carpool on a worldwide average), with public transportation ranking a distant second (13% use the bus, 7% a train).

For all of the cities, the average one-­way length of the commute is 12.8 miles, taking about 33 minutes – meaning they are traveling a little over 23 miles per hour, a pace most would probably consider frustratingly ‘leisurely.’ American respondents (New York City, Chicago, and Los Angeles), as well as inhabitants of Johannesburg, have the most miles to go (15+), while those in Mexico City, Moscow, Bangalore, Beijing, and Africa (Nairobi and Johannesburg) spend the most time (close to 40 minutes, on average) on the road to get to their workplace or school.

Can you believe Bangalore and New Delhi commuters are claiming “improvement”??? New Delhi’s metro a definite contributor.

Forty-­one percent of the respondents overall believe that traffic has worsened over the last three years in the areas where they commute, while, by contrast, 34% believe it has improved. Bangalore, New Delhi, Beijing, and Shenzhen showed the highest percentage of people claiming improvement, while Buenos Aires, Mexico City, Paris, Milan, Moscow, and Johannesburg showed the highest percentage reporting decline. The large investments in transportation infrastructure in China and India could explain the improvements there.

Only New Delhi, Beijing, and Shenzhen commuters indicated that, net, traffic had become significantly better. And, in those cities, the results were resoundingly better: the improvement out-­‐stripped the negative by 30% or more. Clearly, in some very-­high‐traffic cities, some efforts to fix traffic are paying off.

Stop-and-start Traffic – does ANYONE love it?

Traffic comes in all forms, none of it pleasant, but stop-­and-­start traffic is considered the worst part of the commute (51%), followed by an unreliable journey time (31%), low speed (28%), and rude or aggressive drivers (27%). Only 11% say there is nothing to complain about. Further on this score, some local differences surfaced. Drivers in Los Angeles, Mexico City, India, China, Singapore, and Johannesburg seem to be particularly vexed with the stop-­and-start rhythm.

Stress and commuting – an obvious correlation!

The survey also looked at whether traffic had any subjective negative effects on respondents’ health. Forty-­two percent declared their stress level had increased; 35% reported more anger; 16% percent each, respiratory problems and less sleep; and 13% claimed to have been involved in some sort of traffic-­related accident.

Stress from driving is notably high in Mexico City, Milan, Bangalore, and Johannesburg (over 50% of respondents in these cities reported it). Respiratory difficulties arose most often in Bangalore, New Delhi, Beijing, and Shenzhen. Drivers in Moscow, India, China, and Singapore were the angriest about traffic congestion, while those in Milan, India, China, and Singapore suffered health‐affecting traffic accidents more than in other cities.

What commuters want – public transportation and more timely information

25% of respondents said they would greatly appreciate more-­‐accurate, more-­‐timely information about road conditions, and 20% would prize the option to work at home. These are, of course, possibilities that technology has made far more available. The drivers most hopeful about the public transportation option are in Buenos Aires, Mexico City, New Delhi, Beijing, Shenzhen, and Nairobi, while drivers particularly craving better road-­‐information are in Chicago, Los Angeles, Moscow, and the Indian cities.

Consequences of traffic

A little over one-­third of respondents reported changing the way they get to work in the last year, while the remainder clung to habit. Drivers in Mexico City, Milan, Bangalore, New Delhi, Beijing, and Shenzhen were the most likely to have changed, while Americans, Canadians, Londoners, Muscovites, and residents of Stockholm, Madrid and Nairobi were the most resistant – whether because they were the most habitual, or because change was simply impossible.

Forty-one percent of all respondents reported that at least once in the last three years, traffic was so bad that in the midst of a journey, they just turned around and went home (possibly encountering the same traffic jams on the way back!). The incidence of this about-face was especially pronounced in Mexico City, as well as in the Indian, Chinese, and African cities.

Even worse, 47% of all respondents said that in the last month they decided to forego a planned trip due to anticipated traffic at least once. Such discouragement particularly afflicted residents of Moscow, Bangalore, New Delhi, Beijing, Shenzhen, and Nairobi – again, the prime victims of traffic in our survey.

A purely hypothetical question…

Finally, if people could be liberated from the specter of traffic, what would they do with the additional time? The survey revealed that 56% of people would spend more time with family and friends, 48% would exercise (or exercise more), 40% would spend more time on recreation, 29% would sleep more – and 24% would work more. In this last category – more work – those especially prone to do it are in Milan, Bangalore, New Delhi, Beijing, and Nairobi.

Source links for IBM survey: press release [PDF]

IBM Commuter Pain Index

From auto driver to advocate: a Bangalore woman’s story

By | Autos, Driver Chronicles | 2 Comments

[Editor’s Note: It’s been five years since I moved to Bangalore. During our first few weeks settling into a new city, new office, new apartment, etc. auto rickshaw drivers and taxi drivers were our best friends. One of the taxi drivers who drove us around in his new Tata Indica was 22-year old  Nagaraj. We still remember him because he was: a) studying for his LLB degree on nights and weekends while b) driving the Indica during the day, and c) making the car’s installment payments. What a remarkable story to welcome us to Bangalore, we thought. After reading our recent post, a blogger from iChangemycity shared a similar heart-warming and a more powerful against-all-odds story about a female auto driver who goes on to become a lawyer.]

Pic courtesy iChangemycity.com

Pic courtesy iChangemycity.com

Among thousands of autorickshaw drivers, Venkatalakshmi was unique in attitude, spirit, confidence and in her goals. For 13 years, she drove an auto that took care of her family’s subsistence that aided her to become what she dreamt of. Becoming a lawyer is what she aspired for and today, she is one. It was during the last five years of her life as an auto driver that she spent preparing for her law exams and in 2010 had successfully graduated from Babu Jagjivanram Law College in Basaveshwarnagar. She is now a successful lawyer with a dream and agenda of her own.

She was an ‘unwanted’ child of her parents as they were expecting the birth of a boy. She was brought up by her maternal uncle who inspired her to chase her dreams irrespective of her limitations. She aspired to be a police official and this was the time when she got into a legal tangle with some land sharks trying to grab her land. There were attempts even to kidnap her and this was when she was exposed to the corruption in the police department. It only made her to give up her aspiration of becoming a police officer.
While driving her auto, she got to interact with people of various backgrounds which helped her to develop her people skills. She travelled across the city which gave her a sense of location of offices and their jurisdiction. She was the sole bread winner for a long period of time, as her husband was not physically fit and her daughter was still studying in middle school. She also had to regularly go to her farm to supervise the cultivation.
The only time available for her to study for law was when she was at home and the time she spent waiting on road between trips. For her, the side of a pavement, an auto junction or even a traffic jam was study time.
On why she aspired to be a lawyer, Venkatalakshmi feels that it is a way to fight for justice. Her heroes are M.N.Venkatachalliah and Anna Hazare, are among them as they have the fight in them despite their ripe age. She has worked in the Gem and Jewel industry and even in an insurance company that helped her to get knowledge on the legal aspects of these sectors.
Asked on whether her stint as an autodriver had helped her law practice, Venkatalakshmi has an emphatic Yes for an answer. She  relates to clients with ease, and driving through the potholes of Bangalore city had taught her the values of patience and fortitude.

This article was originally published on the iChangemycity blog by Janaagraha’s Divya Komala. 

 

Na hum extra maangte hain, na hum lete hain

By | Autos, Driver Chronicles | No Comments
Pic courtesy mbslibrary.typepad.com

Pic courtesy mbslibrary.typepad.com

(Translation for non-Hindi readers: Neither do I ask for extra money, nor do I take it when a customer offers it.)

My regular auto commuter friend, who has a clear tipping policy for five star auto drivers, was left dumbfounded recently. After peering at the meter, she gave a Rs. 15 tip to the driver. He calmly returned the money and uttered the words Madam, na hum extra maangte hain, no hum lete hain.

This, my friends, is the A+ grade for a five star auto rickshaw driver. You cannot ask for more. He agrees to your destination. Goes on meter. Has a perfectly functioning meter. Drives cautiously and follows all traffic rules. He is polite and courteous to a fault. And he refuses to take tips!

For someone in the service profession to decline a tip, what is it but the very definition of a moral compass?

There are two important and related questions that need to be answered in some detail.

  1. Why do some auto drivers ask for extra money?
  2. Why do many auto drivers NOT want to go to YOUR destination?

The answers are not as straightforward as you might think. There’s a method to their madness. At least for a segment of auto drivers. Stay tuned. Subsequent posts will shed light on these questions.

 

 

 

Income determinism, rhythm and a daily routine

By | Autos, Driver Chronicles | No Comments
World music band Autorickshaw (I kid you not!)

World music band Autorickshaw (I kid you not!)

Three months ago, we had a fascinating conversation with an auto driver in in his early 50’s. Satish (name changed for this story) had the entire office’s attention as he spoke about his family, his expenses, his daily routine, healthcare challenges, rickshaw camaraderie and several other sundry topics. He was one of the initial auto drivers who spoke really good English (we’ve since met many more who speak impeccable English) but that isn’t why I remembered him today.

The striking aspect of his driving life was a “school gig” that runs 10 months of a year. A gig that pays him Rs. 5,000 per month and engenders two virtuous cycles – a) the Rs. 50,000 annual income gets directly earmarked for his family’s housing rent , and b) the creation of two trip anchor points (drop off kids to school  7:30 to 8:30am and pick them up from school at 3pm). Throw in a two hour lunch and an occasional nap and he has himself a semblance of rhythm and income determinism, albeit partial. A work ethic that has him pulling 12-15 hour working days ensures his family’s other financial needs are met.

Today I heard a story that takes income determinism to a whole new level.

This is a story that starts with my regular commuter friend – the same one who provided fodder for the Auto rickshaws and tipping post. My friend is an exacting commuter who only picks five star auto drivers. Today’s driver (who obviously did not ask for extra money) suddenly stopped his auto after crossing a signal. Turns out he wanted to buy a copy of the Bangalore Mirror (yes – English). After reaching the destination, as my friend took some time to pay the fare, the driver was in no rush. He was already settled comfortably behind the Mirror pages, reading. As he took the money, he explained that his next “scheduled” ride was still 20 minutes away. Now quite impressed, my friend handed the driver an mGaadi flier and gave a brief verbal pitch. The GPS solution perked him up – apparently he had read about it in the papers.

Ten minutes later our Ops team got a call from him. His day starts at 4:30am and ends at 6pm. Nothing particularly remarkable about his hours — we know many drivers who pull in even longer shifts. What’s amazing about his schedule is that he has regular customers from 4:30am to 11:30am every singe (week)day – a staggering 7 hours of a daily routine! He’s eager to join the mGaadi network and we are very eager to meet him. I’m sure there’s more to his story.

 

Sparse networks and commuting hubs

By | Autos, Commuting | No Comments
Pic courtesy sciencedirect.com

Pic courtesy sciencedirect.com

Most often we describe mGaadi as a commuter marketplace. A marketplace where sellers are auto rickshaw/taxi drivers and buyers are commuters. Any new marketplace has an added challenge (over non-marketplace consumer startups) of building two groups of stakeholders (buyers and sellers) in parallel. A commuter marketplace by definition has two additional dimensions to contend with – location and time.

Sprawling Bangalore is home to 8.5 million people and spread over an area of 2,190 sq. km. Even as we constrain the initial scope of our mission to only auto rickshaw commuting, we have our work cut out. Since we don’t have magicians on our team nor do we have astronomical resources, we can’t just “boil the commuting ocean.” We have been testing mGaadi in pilot mode for the past few months with a small network of auto rickshaws and commuters. Predictably, we ironed out a few bugs along the way but the main issue we’re grappling with is matching commuters and auto rickshaws at the right place at the right time.

Constraints are a beautiful thing for startups.

I mean it.

Constraints give a much-needed focus.

The way we are focusing mGaadi’s efforts is probably not terribly original but let me share it anyway.

Our customer enrollment efforts will largely spent in satisfying the needs of regular office-goer commuters. Even that is too broad a brush. So we are starting with a long list of commuting hubs (top office locations and residential districts) and whittling it down to a short list.

I hope you are wondering about our whittling down process because I’m going to tell you now. 🙂

Crowdsourcing.

We’ll continue recruiting commuters into our pilot but our sweet spot commuters are ones with deterministic and regular commuting patterns (e.g. “EGL to Koramangala between 5pm and 6pm every weekday” or “Dairy Circle to Meenakshi Temple around 7pm every Monday” or “Old Airport Road to Whitefield ITPL between 7 and 7:30am every weekday”).

Our driver enrollment efforts will be disproportionately focused around satisfying commuting demand around the short list of hubs. Once we start satisfying a majority of trip requests in the first set of commuting hubs, we would add the second set. And that’s how we hope to march. Hub after hub with expanding time windows until… (you get the drift).

This is the part where I get to ask “what can YOU do for us?”

If you match the profile of our sweet spot commuters, do signup pronto and our bots will quickly follow up with you. Do you have colleagues or friends who might be interested? What are you waiting for? Spread the love.

Thank you.