CMC, a Tata Enterprise, recently diversified into intelligent transport systems. R. Ramanan gives Venugopal Pillai keen insights into how only such systems can provide a lasting solution to India’s urban transportation worries. Ramanan explains that by 2030, India will have 60 cities each with millionplus population, seriously straining our transport infrastructure.
Tell us about the rationale behind CMC’s foray into intelligent transport systems.
CMC has always been a leader and trendsetter in the IT & Technology space, and has been tapping newer opportunities that can make lives better and smarter.
Public transport currently accounts for 22 per cent of urban transportation in India, which is way below the basic service standard of 50 per cent and the global benchmark of 82 per cent. Of the 85 cities that have population of more than half a million, only 20 have city bus services. All these factors are leading to increased usage of private transport, which in turn increases pollution, congestion and unsafe travel coupled with higher costs of travel for poor. Intelligent Transport Systems (ITS) are first of the many steps we envision will drive increased use of public transport since it helps users to be better informed and make coordinated choices from the transport networks available to them.
With the increasing vehicle density in urban cities, CMC’s overall vision is to devise a technology solution to make public transportation in the cities more efficient, comfortable and customer friendly so that citizens are encouraged to wean away from excessive use of personal vehicles. Thus, leading to improved traffic efficiency, reduced traffic congestion and fuel consumption, improved environment quality, energy efficiency and improved economic productivity.
We strongly believe that Intelligent Transport System is a project of national importance, which can be replicated to make public transport more commuter-friendly and efficient in all our cities which are undergoing urban renewal. Delivering innovative and world-class solutions for projects of national importance has been in the DNA of CMC, and with the rapid urbanisation and economic development, there would be a steep increase in the demand for innovative urban transportation systems, to ease traffic woes and reduce the impact of transport on the environment.
We expect that this trend will be coupled with “integrated” intelligent transport system in future, which will enable multi-mode travel and would help commuters plan their journey in advance. Seamless exchange and single tickets will become the norm of the day. We can already see an evidence of the same in National Common Mobility Card, which serves as a single point of transaction across different modes of transportation like metro, taxi, bus, train and ferry.
Can you discuss the need for ITS in India, given the rapid urbanisation?
Only 24 per cent of India’s 7,935 towns and cities have master plans! These urban master plans are formulated broadly in context of Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission scheme implementation, guided under 74th CAA and its subsequent implementation by states. On paper, while these town/cities may have master plans, they are esoteric rather than practical and riddled with exceptions.
McKinsey Global Institute report on ‘India’s urban awakening: Building inclusive cities, sustaining economic growth – April 2010,’ reported that no Indian city has a 2030 Transportation Plan, nor has anybody allocated enough space and appropriate zoning for affordable housing.
With estimates, that by 2030 India will have 60 cities with more than a million population each, the strain on our transport infrastructure will be enormous. To add to this, in India, 90 per cent of public transport is through buses, except Mumbai, where urban rail transport is reliable. Some statistical figures like 14 standing passengers per sq meter are quite alarming and a threat to safe travel. The general perception around our public bus transport is that it is unreliable, unpunctual, unsafe, prone to delays, highly polluting, and so on. Insufficient transport infrastructure has led to increase in private vehicles thereby increasing both congestion and emissions even more.
Given the situation, innovative and intelligent transport systems will help address the critical issue of customer service by improving the productivity and efficiency of public transportation. With ITS, one could plan a commute knowing in advance the exact time a bus would arrive at the bus stand, availability of seats, and the time it would take to reach the destination, thus, saving on the waiting time at the bus stands and avoiding overcrowded buses. Information such as schedules, arrival/departure time, location, etc. can be obtained through satellite based GPS and disseminated through large LED displays and also as customised mobile text messages to registered users. This certainty and customised service would help in attracting commuters to the public transport system and help improve the overall traffic congestion issue.
The Mysore intelligent transport project, as we understand, has been a landmark in India’s ITS-related efforts. Tell us about the project vis-à-vis CMC’s role and how CMC intends to capitalise on the experience.
CMC was the lead system integrator for the project. We provided end-to-end solutions from designing, implementation to maintenance of the system for next three years.
The aim was to make transport more intelligent and more userfriendly. As part of the project we covered 500 buses, 105 bus stops, 6 bus terminals and 45 platforms in Mysore. In-vehicle systems were used which included Vehicle Mounted Units. These systems had all the necessary technology equipments and services like central servers and operator consoles, disaster recovery site, digital signage, centralised helpdesk and management. To impart scalability, we have also integrated it with electronic ticketing system.
CMC is engaged in and exploring several intelligent transportation system projects that can leverage GPS, mobile and cloud technologies to enable citizens to receive real time information on state transport, thus, enabling efficient and productive use of the system. We will definitely draw on our experience in implementing the same in other cities as well.
This is the first of its kind project in India. While we plan to replicate this at the earliest in other parts of India we will also collate feedback from this project to ensure continuous improvements in future implementations.
Introducing intelligent and smart transport solutions in India will have to be a progressive affair. What can be quickly done to set the process in motion?
We need to educate the concerned bodies on the benefits of implementing ITS. Every city has its own challenges. For example, in Mumbai the traffic is two-way. Some cities are circular and have different traffic patterns. Bengaluru is an IT city; due to IT parks and establishments, there is a particular kind of traffic pattern in the city. One can see Volvo buses’ plying only to and from IT hubs and not in other parts of Bangalore. Economy of the city is another important factor. Traffic pattern is diverse across the cities, and as a result, a customised approach has to be adopted while deploying ITS in each state.
It takes six months to one year to make systems fully operational. It also depends upon the traffic, population density and condition of the bus fleet. All this information has to be there with government bodies to at least roll out the first phase of the project; rest will follow automatically.
Amongst the developing countries, which are those that have recorded progress in the field of ITS?
As far as developing countries are concerned, they are yet to adapt properly to ITS and haven’t shown any significant progress. ITS adaption in India is a significant step in development of ITS systems. It will also set an example for other developing nations.
Currently, developed countries and cities like Spain, California, New York etc. are doing exceptionally well in the field of ITS.
Private sector is playing an important role in India’s transport infrastructure involving itself in diverse aspects ranging from national highways to high-technology metro rail systems. How do you generally assess the future role of private sector (and also the PPP model)?
Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) will be one of the largest private contributions to transforming transport infrastructure in the future. Technologies enabling intelligent tracking, mobility, analytics to name a few, will emerge as the tools to convenient, efficient and smart infrastructure. Due to growing economic development across the country the requirements are also growing.
Private sector will also play an important role in working with government bodies to meet these requirements.
As far as the PPP model is concerned, the understanding between government and private sector bodies is getting better. Private sector can deliver services more effectively without excessive government involvement.
Urban planners say that an efficient public transport is a lasting solution to decongest vehicular traffic in cities. What is your view? How can intelligent transport systems make things even better?
In India, by 2030, 590 million people will live in cities. As against 42 cities today, 68 cities will have a population of 1 million plus. 2.5 billion miles of roads will have to be paved, 20 times more than the last decade. Around 7,400 km of metros and subways will have to be constructed, 20 times more than in the last decade. All these things call for a system which can help in effective and efficient management of the infrastructure and transport systems. This is where ITS will come to the rescue, as it can help make things better than the existing situation.
ITS will provide several benefits to managing bodies like green egovernance to reduce traffic congestion, improve environmental quality and energy efficiency, improve economic productivity, key MIS and analytics for efficiency improvement and planning, online tracking of vehicles using GPS, better routing and thus, minimising fuel consumption, ensuring driving discipline and an overall enhanced commuter satisfaction.
Besides this, ITS will provide several benefits to the commuters, like online tracking of vehicles through GPS systems for commuters ,online and real time information, SMS alerts, information of bus arrivals of a specific route to all its users through large LED displays at bus stops which will result in a more reliable and dependable transport system.
All these benefits make ITS effective solution in dealing with increasing vehicular traffic in various cities.