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Predictive planning need of the hour

Ravi Prakash Gupta, Head – Information Technology, DIMTS
Ravi Prakash Gupta, Head – Information Technology, DIMTS, India

To manage city level transport situation effectively and efficiently, Geospatial technology plays a crucial role. Ravi Prakash Gupta, Head – Information Technology, DIMTS talks about challenges mushrooming in the scenario…

Geospatial World (GW): What are the various activities that DIMTS undertakes?

Delhi Integrated Multi-Modal Transit System (DIMTS) Ltd. is an urban transport and infrastructure development company, committed to build and deliver quality infrastructure. It is an equal equity joint venture of Government of Delhi and IDFC Foundation with a broad focus on urban transportation. We provide concept to commissioning consultancy, Intelligent Transport System solutions and Urban Transport asset management services. Our research division looks into the implementation of geospatial technologies and how they should be leveraged in context of smart cities.

We take end-to-end solutions right from transport advisory, planning traffic simulation, transport planning, and comprehensive mobility planning for cities. We have electronic ticketing in 1300 orange buses running in Delhi and have smart card based payment systems for them. We track thousands of vehicles such as buses, autos, mini buses, school buses and ambulances in seconds.

(GW): What are your views on ICT for Transport Technology/Management? How do you foresee the major trends?

The new government, led by Mr Narendra Modi, has given way to newer trends. Now, a great emphasis is laid on the building of smart cities. We began with project allocations, but even after nine months, there is no clear picture in terms of the way ahead. People in the states and the bureaucracy definitely wish to bring in more transparency through the use of Information Communication Technology. However, the trends I foresee focus of taking steps in turning villages in to smart or model villages. Unlike urban areas, rural India does not face glitches like parking problems, I am sure we can give them better connectivity and even awareness.

Then I also foresee that five years down the line, we may have only one smart card that will serve as my access card – a card that looks like a driving licence and has info like the Aadhar card. This new card will also have a chip and a pin and will have features like a credit card. To explain it better – in case a person is below poverty line, he automatically qualifies for the Jandhan Yojna and can get a direct transfer of money from the government on to smart card. This smart card will also have mobile wallet linked to it. This feature will enable people to use this smart card at any public distribution ration shop, or even for local transport. It is the confluence of mobile wallets, payment banking, and transport solutions that will ultimately get merged. This smart card can also be converted into national common mobility card. I think the future of smart travelling is on the anvil and ICT is definitely going to make a major impact here.

(GW): How critical is the use of GIS and Geospatial Technologies for Transport Management?

It is extremely critical, mainly so because unfortunately the number of vehicles is increasing each passing day. Interesting concepts like Rahgiri are catching up, mainly to have more space for people to walk or cycle. I don’t think we needed a GIS or an LBS solution to tell where traffic is going to be congested or not. The way the country is transforming to have more cars, maybe it is good for the economy, hence arrives the need for GIS and other Geospatial Technologies. I would be excited to see the day we would have predictive output using these technologies.

Once the traffic congests the roads, it is plotted on the map. If a vehicle has over-sped, then you have violated. So, can we use the technology to predict such a situation will occur? There are definitely some very good applications like Google maps which do predict congestions in traffic and similar conditions. To put it right, let’s take an example – If there are about 6 or 10 vehicles beyond threshold at a red light, then the red lights must automatically be fine-tuned to not allow any more crossing the line and re-route the traffic instead. Definitely Google Maps is there, but what beyond Google Maps? There might be people who don’t want to use maps at all. The traffic light itself should work on an automatic system and tell people “Now you got to go right/ left” and so on. The diversion should also be automatic and the traffic lights could be timed accordingly. Dynamic red lights are already functional in the NCR and this is done through radar called “SCOOT” technology. This length of the radar is used to infer the red-light. I feel, unless we have a predictive built-in set up, it’s of no use.

(GW): How Geospatial Technology is used in ‘Intelligent Transport Systems’, particularly using mobile apps?

Mobile applications serve as zero cost medium for the government to disseminate information. So earlier, we used to have passenger information system display boards had a scroll with information metro stations and state bus stands on the arrival time of buses, but since not many people are literate enough to gather the information presented in English and neither do they have a smart phone. So, it was challenging. May be five years down the line when we overcome these challenges and have vernacular spelt in the mobile applications, things will seem better. There are certain apps that give information in Hindi as well, like PoochO. Another mobile app called TellTail is very innovative. Assuming that people can afford smart phones at lower costs, this is the only mechanism by which you can disseminate information seamlessly and help them take decisions. We have features like shake the phone because when you are in panic you may not have the time to send messages. Automated Fare Collection is the biggest boon that could happen in India.

(GW): Throw some light on the implementation of Geospatial technologies in these applications?

Let’s talk about one app at a time –

PoochO is a great example of culmination of two Geospatial Technologies, one is the GPS and the other is the electronic ticketing. They are packaged together to become an app.

The NextBus app helps people figure out the estimated time of arrival of the next bus using GPS and also gives average speed of that road (as we getting the GPS feed from other vehicles on the same road). This is predictive. This is where I am saying is predictive has to be built in our system.

The electronic ticketing machine helps in understanding the number of people who have purchased the tickets, and have to make some approximations as there are people who don’t always purchase tickets. Seat availability is calculated then and together is packaged in a mobile application.

(GW): How successful have these applications been in your view?

We have around 55000 downloads for PoochO. It’s a very innovative mobile application, where we do not use sensors to predict the traffic.

Schools particularly use the RFID along with the GPS module. The RFID receiver has GPRS slot itself and GPS of the bus. So, when your ward boards the bus, and he taps his RFID card, the coordinates are matched with the bus and its location and parents come to know that their ward has boarded the bus. They also receive an SMS two stops before. This depends on pre-marked points on the bus route on your maps – they trigger off an SMS the moment the bus crosses the Geo-fence of those particular two stops before your ward’s regular stop.

There are solutions we have built for ports also, which enable you to track which truck is entering at what time and has paid the money or no. If a truck has paid money, it is recorded in the RFID tag. If no, then you tap it and the money gets deducted, making the boom barrier open and enabling the truck to enter the port. These are few models based on Geospatial technologies that we have done.

(GW): What have been the major challenges?

The major challenge has been in creating awareness and informing people about the cost benefit that comes with these applications. The software division at DIMTS has developed the location based services for all the buses in Delhi. Now GPS‘s have been installed in buses, public transports worldwide, but there is a difference in the discipline in India and in other cities of the world like San Francisco. I am very happy that at least from map perspective, we are doing a good job.

(GW): Tell us about the present day scenario of the multi modal transport system in Delhi?

Typically buses contribute about 43% of the multi modal transport strength, excluding the metro. People are moving away from public transport, buses mainly, and are shifting more towards private cars. Therefore, at city level planning, there is a larger need to plan for more walking spaces, pedestrian paths, bicycle tracks and building more flyovers to cater to more number of private vehicles.

(GW): How do you intend to go forward from here in the national scenario?

Things need to be done at the conceptual stage itself. There’s a larger need for comprehensive mobility planning and implementation is a major challenge here. In the national scenario, there should be greater investments in GIS and Geospatial technology that ultimately benefit the consumer. We need to work towards the common mobility card, which would serve as an identity cum mobility cum payment card. The consumer doesn’t want retrospective, post facto information. It has to be predictive. So that’s the direction we should be walking in!