October 2010

Mumbai's Oyster Card, a Dismal Failure

Mumbai's Oyster Card, a Dismal Failure

Mumbai's pre-paid city transport smartcard 'Go-Mumbai' is to be scrapped after just over 3 years of operation since its launch. The card was supposed to offer seamless travel across Mumbai's multiple transit systems, and operate much like London's Oyster Card and Singapore's Octopus Card which have successfully provided easy and hassle-free journeys for commuters.

The main components of Mumbai's public transport system are the Bombay Electric Supply & Tramways (BEST)) operated bus services and the Central & Western Railway networks. The 'Go-Mumbai' card initially only operated on the buses and was introduced on the Central Railway network in 2008 and the Western Railway network lines in March 2010.

Recently, an official report revealed that of the 3.7 million daily commuters on Central Railway (CR), only 12,000 commuters were using a Go-Mumbai card and even more tragically of the 3.3 million daily commuters travelling on Western Railways (WR), on average only 39 people were using the smartcard.

In lieu of the Go-Mumbai card's poor performance, the Railway Board has issued a letter to both the CR and WR to stop the card's operations by December 28, 2010. BEST have also stopped issuing monthly and quarterly Go-Mumbai cards.

The Go-Mumbai scheme operated as follows: the card (a contactless smartcard) is initially purchased for 37 Indian rupees (53 pence GBP). Passengers flash their card against the station readers. The readers automatically deduct the maximum travel fare applicable from that station, and also records on the card the boarding station. When reaching the destination, you need to flash your card again to exit, and in case of any excess fare deducted at the boarding station, it will get refunded back to your card. (https://www.kaizenengg.com/goc_auto.htm)

When you are low on credit you could top-up your Go-Mumbai card with further amounts (minimum Rs.50) as and when required.

However, in spite of having many similarities with the Oyster Card of London, the Go Mumbai Card failed to gain success.

One of the main causes behind the "Go Mumbai" smartcard's failure is that Kaizen Automation Limited, the company that provided Smartcard & equipment, failed to supply enough of the hand-held devices used by ticket inspectors to check the card's validity.

Another reason for the cards failure to live up to expectations was the high number of faulty gate readers. According to Manoj Nair's published complaint dated 26 April 2010 on "The Indian Express" portal, people need to move around the new Mumbai stations searching for the machines and in case they get hold of it, most of the times they tend to be not functioning and having a 'Out of Order' board.

As per the news published on 5 October, 2010, the BEST spokesperson NA Walawalkar said, "There was a problem of machines. A lot of them were plagued with technical problems". Hence, unless the technical glitches are addressed and the existing defected readers are repaired, the problem of using "Go Mumbai" smartcards will continue to grow.

Unlike in Oyster cards, where student concessions are given under various age groups with different savings options on Travelcards and bus and tram passes, in BEST buses, concession rate are available for senior citizens only, excluding students. In case of railways, no concessions are given (To note: majority of Mumbaikars travel in trains). Hence what happens is that a good number of students don't buy Go Mumbai card and instead use paper tickets instead.

The Oyster pay-as-you-go cards have reduced considerable travel costs for many Londoners. Whereas there are some serious doubts as to how far the Go Mumbai Smartcards have gained success in reducing travel costs for the Mumbai commuters!

Following BEST's Go-Mumbai card's unsatisfactory services, the top Central urban development officials are undeterred and are now planning for a more ambitious scheme of a new common mobility card in place of the Go-Mumbai card. The new card can be used in practically all modes of city transport such as buses, suburban trains, underground metro, monorail, fleet taxis, and also in autos and toll plazas.

Following The National Urban Transport Policy¹, the common mobility card will act as a single ticketing card for boarding on a national, state or city transport, anywhere in India. For the card's flawless use across the country, there will be national standard specifications so that various systems can be integrated seamlessly, according to SK Lohia, officer on special duty (urban transport), in the central ministry of urban development.

By Suparna Sen, Smartcard & Identity News

¹ The National Urban Transport Policy (NUTP) was made in 2006 to integrate land use and transport planning in Indian cities, and to bring about all-inclusive improvements in urban infrastructure.


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