Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Traffic Jam killer ideas!!!

An average Mumbaite spends anywhere between 2 to 3 hours on road everyday - stuck in slow moving traffic. I am sure so is the case with most other large cities nationally and internationally.

But given that I am a “solution idea person” – I always end up thinking of root cause of the problem. The fact that I am not an engineer adds further imagination to my solutions!!! So here goes…

Firstly – is this problem important enough to merit a discussion?

Given that petroleum, auto and road industry put together are easily more than 10% of our GDP – even a small improvement in this field can lead to massive public benefits. It’s obvious - At micro level just think as to what %ge of your monthly expense can be attributed to travel costs. Add to that cost of time of so many people stuck together and you are staring at a large national problem, opportunity and priority.

First of all I think the system of wheel based vehicles driving on firmed up “roads” is little dumb. The idea basically has lived its lifetime. The system itself is pre historic, Stone Age idea and has changed little over the years but for the quality of vehicles and roads.

  • Frankly I think that its time the roads gets smarter to navigate and drive us all the way… after all the challenge is not very different from independent data packets moving intelligently via data super highways without colliding even once.
  • The car in itself is also not very efficient. On any average weekday morning in Mumbai, there are about 20 Lac cars drivers who spend countless man-hours together doing basically the same thing – navigating from each other to safely reach the destination. And an average car drives 1.5 persons in peak hour…What a waste! We don’t need so many drivers doing the same thing – we can somehow get all these cars to bundle up and one or two drivers can pull the vehicles on the main streets which would be 80% of journey distance. Your driving skills will come into use for only the last mile!
  • We live in communication age – but average car owner like me struggles to find peer group of travelers with similar start - end destinations and time of travel. Such information can easily help in commuters organize themselves in logical units and achieve more efficient travel

Is it sounding like I am basically suggesting that all carwallahs take a local train instead?

The answer is NO.

I am not underestimating the comfort and flexibility offered by a car.

What I am really saying is this – how would you have designed the city transport system had there been no legacy structure? If you were given the task of building it bottoms up?

I think this is a 3 part solution

  • The start mile and last mile – these is the journey from your home till one grand assembly point and then from destination deport point to the workplace (and vice versa on return). This stage should include small vehicles like cabs or private cars which can be parked near the pick-up and drop point.
  • The problem of bunching – we need a intelligent wireless mobile phone based system which will track commuters and manage the workload
  • High bandwidth fast travel connectivity – this is journey constitutes 80% of travel distance. Wherein masses of commuters are bunched together and ferried at faster pace via highways that will totally free of individual drivers.

Sounds too dreamy? Think again. Let’s try and make this happen from current available means.

We already have King Long AC buses in Mumbai and we have A/C Cabs and we have mobile networks.

All we need is a service wherein a service provider offers integrated solution at one single price point – say Rs 2000/- per month for Andheri to CST.

The service provider uses my cell phone to track me (via Google Latitude kind of service).

There is A/C cab pick-up and drop for the last mile and King Long AC bus service for the highways. The frequency of the buses and cab can be managed depending on workload on real-time basis so that nobody has to wait for the bus. In fact once registered I don’t have to make a single call for the cab or wait for the bus. It’s all taken care via my cell phone!

The technology is available, the customers are ready – waiting for next Mr Ambani to wake up and smell the opportunity.

At a conservative million customers a month – you are staring at a business opportunity that’s worth Rs 200 Crores a month in Mumbai alone. Extrapolated for all india annually, its worth over Rs 20000 Crores a year!!!

Reservation in Private Sector?

“What non sense” - The response will be immediate, intense, vocal and in thumping majority if you belong to India’s burgeoning pvt sector in any capacity.

After all it is the private sector who has been the torch bearer of India’s amazing rise to the global round table. Whilst the state blundered and the political republic just about survived it’s the genius of private sector that pulled load.

And by all accounts India’s private sector is more meritorious than any of its other sectors. The recruitment process of India INC is by and large fair, just, merit oriented etc etc. The incidences of caste based discrimination are unheard of here. We must give it to them – well done.

Being a part of the sector I can vouch that the recruitment process does not take into account things like caste, creed, religion and other such non merit criterions.

The defense rests – throw the reservation proposal out of the window Dr Singh!

But then why are the cockroaches creeping out?

A friend of mine recently suggested a very unnerving experiment.

Take a random sample of employees working in any pvt sector company and count %ge of HOMs – HOM stands for Hindu, Open, Male. More cockroaches!

HOMs contribute to less than 16% in population – whilst in workplace that %ge will be anywhere upwards of 60%... flying cockroaches.

There will be further isolation that will emerge if we rake urban and rural splits. HOMUR? That means virtually 80% of population finds no representation in the private sector.

Some may argue that this proves the superiority of the Aryan race – since these candidates get selected on pure merit. Others will be stumped – how is it possible? – After all we don’t look at birth based criterions at all?

What happened?

I think the answer lies in our deep routed biases – our recruitment process may at best be “non-aligned” to birth based criterions – but it is inadequate to ascertain real merit.

In reality, the image of “Ideal candidate” in the recruiter’s mind is flawed. It is full of biases which render privileged position to HOMURs. Let me explain.

Other things remaining same choose between following candidates- Dark or Fair, Tall or short, Pure accent or desi Hinglish, perfumed or smelly, gelled hair or coconut oil.
Some recruiters will be able to maintain sanity for first few – but its difficult to resist biases as a group. The choice becomes more and more obvious when presented with option such as a candidate that is Fair, Tall, Pure accented, Perfumed, Gelled Hair versus a candidate that is Short, Dark, Hinglish, Smelley, Coconut hair – other things being the same.

Whom do you choose – the HOMUR or non HOMUR (you just missed Dr Abdul Kalam there – who cares!!!)

There’s vicious cycle effect at play here. The likelihood for a non HOMUR to be tall, fair, pure accented and well dressed are far lesser comparatively. His upbringing as well as his family is the reasons. And it gets worse and more confusing– even education grades are not comparable! Education is not really an “open for all” race – make no mistakes. The family habits to study, the DNA, the discipline, wealth, confidence makes a lot of difference. So even the marks and the grades of candidates become non- comparable. Female candidates get thrown out of career race due to tyranny of marriage, pregnancy and household responsibilities.

So what’s the solution – Honestly I don’t know.

We are a unique nation. My guess is at no point in the history of mankind were so many downtrodden people tied by such longstanding oppressive customs, offered opportunities to break the glass ceiling at once. So there are no benchmarks and examples to follow.

I am just saying that the private sector recruiters need to be more aware of HOMs and non HOMs. We need to acknowledge that the biases exist. This will make us more open to plural definitions of “ideal candidates” and hopefully more and more non HOMs will get through.

Finally it’s the longest standing truth of economics that will prevail – you rather have little lesser wealth distribute equally than have more wealth distributed very unevenly. Eventually the ‘have nots’ will revolt if the exclusion is severe. Let’s not get to that point.

PS: the writer is belongs to the “open” category!

Who is the real terrorist?

In every year except 2001, only a few hundred people in the entire world have been killed by international terrorism outside of war zones. Add to that the fact that ordinary homicide vastly exceeds murders caused by terrorists – John Mueller – Terrorism Expert.

Surely natural Tragedies, medical disasters, accidental deaths cause lot more deaths than the above two combined– then why is terrorism tom tomed so much in media?

I read somewhere that that in Kashmir Indian army outnumbers terrorists 1000: 1 and still terrorism is our biggest threat – why? Could it be that the Kashmir terrorist is the asian avatar of Rambo or Terminator who can take on 1000s of trained army men at once?

Think – think. The truth can’t be as dumb as it seems.

How could a problem that is not even amongst top 10 causes of death seem bigger than everything else before it? How could such handful of terrorists hold the Indian republic at ransom? There have to be some more invisible hands helping the terrorists in their fight – isn’t it?

The facts are screaming the truth – says Mr 007!

Following groups are analogous to me.

The writer, the publisher and the reader.

The Porn star, the Porn Industry and the internet surfer.

The Terrorist, the media and the …. Yes YOU – the TV audience.

Here’s the Eureka moment! It feeds on you – you fool… its been doing so all along.

In media they say – it (the story) leads if it bleeds. Media loves the high octane human drama involving

blood, pain and the saga of human suffering. They are not in it for the high of dramatic reporting – but for the lure of advertising bucks. Shame shame.

But then it gets murkier – there’s someone who is buying this stuff – glued to the TV screen in comforts of the living room– knowing fully well that the likelihood of this happening to him is close to zero… - face it –You are the porn buyer, YOU are the child molester, YOU ARE THE TERRORIST.

The real face behind this ghastly game is YOU.

Think - who is ultimately paying for the non-stop media reporting of terrorist acts via the advertisers? And what could the terrorist achieve without the media coverage – which YOU are indirectly financing? If YOU switch off the TV and stop overreacting to the terrorist threats (remember its not even in top 10 causes of death) the game stops. Yes your heard it right – THE BLOODY GAME STOPS FOR GOOD! Simple huh!

Now we know why terrorists are appearing to be winning in Kashmir – how the struggle continues for 20 years. Who the invisible hands belong to – us. We are feeding it via media, advertisers and by being terrorized. We stop and they stop.

It’s time we understand that terrorists are using media (and therefore us) as weapons. A random round of gunshot, in some random town which kills less than 0.00001% (less than 100?) of population is not enough to shake the confidence of one billion people unless we contribute to it. And we are.

We must stop unintentionally aiding the terrorist – NOW.

I propose a few things

  • Complete private channel blackout of terrorism coverage. State media – like DD – is generally responsible, slow and dull enough to take hype out of the equation. And such coverage will also protect our right to information
  • If the above amounts to subversion of media then the private media should be allowed on one condition - no advertiser slots during the terrorist attack coverage. This will force media to avoid giving undue importance to such attacks – and more importantly will avoid reruns of stale images. (Terrorists watching this coverage must be relishing such star status – Additionally such coverage serves as the best recruitment advertisements for terrorist organization. Lets stop that as well.)
  • As responsible citizens let’s switch off the TV sets and SHOW repelling behavior towards media which over covers it. They will automatically smell the coffee.
  • I advocate strong web / internet filtering of terrorist messages.
  • Most importantly public awareness campaign on tv and mass media making citizens aware about how terrorists are using media and mass terror through it to their advantage in this 21st century war.