Mumbai’s experiment with smart card fails

Tuesday, 5 October 2010 - 2:54am IST | Place: Mumbai | Agency: DNA
The BEST and railways have decided to do away with the 'Go Mumbai ticketing' smart card. DNA asks commuters about their experience and whether is it okay to stop the service.

In London, it is called the Oyster Card. In Singapore, it’s called the Octopus and in Mumbai, it was known as Go Mumbai. The city’s experiment with a common transport card, conceived in 2006 and implemented in 2007, has failed miserably.

The card, launched first for BEST buses, was later extended to Central and Western Railway services and promised to be a transport card for seamless connectivity in Mumbai. While BEST conductors were provided with hand-held devices to validate the cards, Go Mumbai devices were installed at all railway stations.
There were also plans to extend it to toll collection, taxis and autos.

But the dreams crashed after Kaizen Limited, the company involved in the project, failed to supply enough number of hand-held devices to check the card’s validity. Another reason for its failure was that the commuters did not find it easy to use.
According to railway officials, of the 37 lakh commuters who travel every day by CR, only 12,000 used the Go Mumbai card. Of the 33 lakh commuters on WR, only 39 used it!

“There was a problem of machines. A lot of them were plagued with technical problems,” BEST spokesperson NA Walawalkar said. On August 1, the BEST stopped issuing monthly and quarterly smart cards.

Then it was the turn of the railways, which decided to discontinue them in September. Asked for the reason behind the move, CR officials said the service delivery points at stations where cards were being renewed and refilled were abruptly shut down, leaving commuters in the lurch.

“We have stopped issuing new Go Mumbai cards. The existing cards will remain in the market till December 28 after which the project will be shut down. As it is, it was a pilot project,” a WR spokesperson said.

However, according to CR officials, the State Bank of India that was the payment operator between the railways and Kaizen has expressed willingness to do the project and discussions are on between the two parties. “It may just be revived. Let’s keep
our fingers crossed,” a CR official said.

Forget city, national transport card on its way
Top officials in the urban development ministry at the Centre have said that Mumbai need not be bothered by the failure of the Go Mumbai card. The metropolis will soon get a new card that will be valid not only on the city’s trains and buses, but also on new transit modes like the metro, monorail, fleet taxis, and even autos and toll plazas.

The National Urban Transport Policy has envisaged a common mobility card — a single ticketing card for public transport — that can be used anywhere in the country. It can be used on national, state, and city modes of transit and will have a common framework.

“For rolling out a common mobility card and an automatic fare-collection system across India, it is important to have national standard specifications so that various systems can be integrated seamlessly,” said SK Lohia, officer on special duty (urban transport), in the central ministry of urban development.

He has written to all public transport undertakings in the country, including the chairman of the railway board and operators of the metro and monorail systems. A company owned by the finance ministry has already embarked on the project following guidelines by the Reserve Bank of India.

Design of the Go Mumbai scheme is faulty
Consider a daily 'travel as you like' ticket of BEST. You pay Rs25 and can travel on non-AC/non-express/non-corridor buses in the entire BEST operations area. If you pay Rs40, then you can travel in all BEST services, except the AC services.

Consider the day tourist railway ticket costs Rs50 for second class and Rs170 for first class. Tourist railway ticket gives you the freedom to travel as you like in your chosen class in the entire Mumbai suburban railway system.

Then the railways have their own Smart Card, which allows you to use Automatic Ticket Vending Machines (ATVMs) to buy a ticket, allowing you to choose the class too. The railways also allow you to carry coupons.

Risky business
The Go Mumbai smart card on the other hand is the most risky option. As you enter the railway station or a bus, if the smart card does not have the amount exceeding the maximum fare on the system or the bus route, it rejects validation and you have to buy ticket with cash, adding to the effort of having to go to the ticketing window, standing in queue and worse, having an amount locked in the purse that is equal to the maximum distance fare from the station or the point of boarding the bus.

If while entering the railway system or the bus, you validate the entry point data on your card and while getting off, the validator malfunctions, there is a liability of losing the entire fare deducted while boarding and not getting refunded while disembarking. Since first class Go Mumbai card validator is separate for second and first class, any mistake can result in loss of e-money.

People are reluctant
It is not surprising that the Go Mumbai smart card could not find customers. All other initiatives are quite popular. One can fully travel cashless by expending money through e-purse. For this, BEST needs to provide e-purse/cash bag with every conductor like ATVMs at every railway station.

There is a valid fear that ATVMs may not function properly and one may have to resort to standing in a queue. People have experienced malfunctioning coupon validating machines. But my personal observations are that ATVMs are rarely, if ever, out of order. It takes just 20 seconds to get your ticket.

Sudhir Badami
, urban transport analyst

Where time is money, the card is a boon
I am a businessman and have to travel across the city for my work. Therefore, it makes sense for me to avail of the service of a smart card as I can avoid wasting time in queues for a ticket. Every day, I refill the smart card as it is very convenient and saves time. Also, it is cheaper; I get to travel anywhere in the city for Rs200. In Mumbai, where there are long queues and time is money, smart card is boon for me. Moreover, I don’t have to worry about the change for tickets. If the authorities are planning to discontinue the smart card facility, it would be of great inconvenience to many like me.
Nirmal Shah, Vasai

Slow machines reason for low usage
I opted for the smart card thinking it would make commuting convenient as I won’t have to stand in long queues or worry about purchasing a ticket every day. A lot of people I know don’t avail this facility because of the poor service. By the time one gets her card swiped and is convinced that it has been swiped, she is frustrated because the machine are either not working or very slow. It’s convenient for the authorities to do away with it to cut down losses, but what about the people who have already bought the smart cards? What about their losses? I think the best service is the old service where a commuter opts for a train pass or ticket.
Jumana Mahabaleshwarwala, Bandra

Service needs to be advertised well
Haven’t used the smart cards but I have friends who have opted for it and find it really useful. As one doesn’t need to stand in long queues to purchase a ticket, it saves a lot of time. The card acts as a saviour whenever someone is running late or has to travel between two lines — western or central. The best part about it is that it can be used in trains as well as buses. However, it’s not advertised well and hence a majority of people are not even aware of its multiple uses. Hence, despite its usefulness, it never became very popular. They should advertise about its easy use and demonstrate the use of machines. They wouldn’t have to discontinue it.
Prerna Anchan, Mulund

Stopped using it for three reasons
I used to use the Go Mumbai smart card for travelling but don’t use it now because of three reasons. Firstly, I had to swipe it at both the stations — the starting station and my destination. This  wasted a lot of time. Also, it is problematic to find a ‘functional’ machine at stations. Secondly, machines are not available at all  stations. Thirdly, it is expensive. It costs Rs100 to buy a new card and one gets only Rs52 as balance. Why should i waste Rs48? However, in the bus it was convenient as I didn’t have worry about change to give to the conductors.
Abhishek Tiwari, Kandivli

Shouldn’t discontinue the facility
I have used the smart card facility and it’s helpful as it saves a lot of time and one can avoid long queues. But it’s not commonly used. I think it’s because not many people avail of this facility probably because they don’t know its benefits. If the railway authorities believe they are incurring losses because of it, they will think about discontinuing the facility. Also, they should not abruptly end the service. There are many people who have found this facility useful. So, we need an alternative as long queues for the coupon machine too. The smart card should be smartly promoted to get more people to use it. 
Rajat Singh, Santa Cruz

Commuters could avoid the long queues
The Go Mumbai smart card service provided by the authorities is quite helpful as I travel by both, train and bus. Instead of standing in a long queue for buying a ticket, I just have to swipe the card while entering the station and when I exit. It is also better than railway coupons as I don't have to punch and sometimes the punching machines are faulty too. Even on a bus, it only adds to the commuters' convenience as the cumbersome job of giving the exact change to the conductor is done away with. To make it succeed, the  only thing the government had to do was to promote and popularise the use of the card well.
Anjali Salunke, Bhandup


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