ASTC’s Digital Ticketing System to Monitor Travel Amidst COVID-19 Scare
The Assam State Transport Corporation (ASTC) has modernized public transportation services within the state by partnering with mobile applications and web portals.
Since its inception, the corporation has been expanding its transport operations within the state as well as to its adjoining areas and covers 500 routes on a daily basis.
The transport department had suspended all inter-state and city bus services from late March through April to control the spread of coronavirus and to terminate travel within the state through the prolonged lockdown.
With the relaxations on the lockdown by the government, ASTC announced that 100 buses would ply in Guwahati from May 4.
An additional 200 buses were announced to operate in the city from the day after the announcement was made with continued conditions of social distancing, mandatory masks, gloves and no standing journey of passengers.
G Plus got in touch with the Managing Director of ASTC, AP Tiwari, who shed light on the current state of affairs of transportation within Guwahati city and the state.
“Since the government has not given instructions to open all shops yet and there are restrictions on the strength of staff operating in offices, there is not much requirement of more buses in the city during this period of pandemic lockdown,” Tiwari said.
“This is a very dynamic process to ensure that buses should not be too many or too less than the number required,” he added.
The organization had announced earlier this week that buses plying in the city would require passengers to book tickets on the “Chalo” app. The partnership with Chalo mobile application was meant to help commuters know the arrival time of buses well in advance, so they could plan their travel accordingly and avoid unnecessary crowding in bus stands. Apart from this commuters could also track the live GPS position of buses.
Passengers standing in buses would face punitive action and only 50 percent of the seats would be available for commuters while the remaining seats would be kept vacant. Offline ticketing was not allowed and it was also made mandatory for passengers to follow precautionary health measures such as wearing masks and gloves, while boarding these city buses.
The imperative and supposedly user-friendly mobile application with 8 language options including Assamese and Bengali apart from the default language English meant that the upgradation of city bus services would not cause problems to those who have smart phones and are tech savvy.
Commuters however complained over how the entire system of booking e-tickets was still not inclusive because, not all commuters availing public transport facilities have smart phones and that some commuters possessing smart phones are not digitally literate with senior citizens and visually impaired people topping that list.
In response to such complaints, Tiwari said, “There is some confusion among people about online e-ticketing services within Guwahati city.” Clearing the air around this confusion, he added, “Chalo is an app-based solution which has been there for the last one, one and a half years. It is not a new app. It is not like you will be allowed on the buses only if you have this app.”
“City bus e-ticket will be available at city bus stops or in buses,” the official had tweeted on May 4. One can now even go and book tickets directly from inside the bus, provided seats are vacant and they will be given tickets by the staff through the Chalo app itself under an Electronic Ticketing System.
This came after commuters in the city enquired whether one would be able to travel in and around the city in buses without downloading the recommended Chalo app or having to book tickets prior to their journey.
Further, ASTC had also initially asserted that people could book their tickets online for inter-state and inter-district travel. The transport corporation had scheduled departure and arrival of buses and had uploaded the same on the ‘RedBus’ app and portal to ensure hassle-free ticket booking in advance. Although these services were being offered from various parts of the state for people to travel to and fro with ease, commuters seemed to find the app problematic.
Complaining about the inconvenience caused to him, a commuter named Dinender Kumar Das tweeted on 6 May, 2020 requesting authorities to pay attention to the RedBus app’s ASTC bus booking service. The commuter had tried contacting ASTC and also tried to reach out on the 104 helpline number.
“For long distances, RedBus app is recommended. It has been with ASTC for the last 2 years. It’s again not new and the whole idea behind this is to get all details of travellers,” Tiwari said on why the app is crucial for monitoring travel.
“For instance, if Guwahati becomes a hotspot later, online ticketing will help the government get access to details of all people who travelled from Guwahati to other parts of the state with ease,” he explained. “The need of the hour is to keep a record of each traveller commuting in the state, for public health purposes and the better good of people,” he added.
Besides this, ASTC has also added bus services from hill districts, BTR and Barak Valley May 5 onwards. Earlier, there had been queries from citizens about when bus services would resume for people to start travel from hill districts of the state.
Helpline numbers have been provided for people to raise issues, grievances and provide feedback to ASTC on the prevailing bus services. A toll-free number has been given for people to call and inform authorities, along with 5 WhatsApp numbers, meant for texting only.
The State Transport Corporation is advancing in its journey to revamp passenger-centric services as one of its key initiatives under its Integrated Electronic Ticketing System (IETS) which also includes Electronic Ticket Issuing Machines (ETIMs) and multiple payment modes such as smart card and mobile wallets, not only in Guwahati but across the state. This, people believed, could prove to be troublesome in a region where a relatively large chunk of population remains technologically backward or ignorant.
“We are ready to tackle the situation on a case to case basis, whereas, in general we have given a system which can be accessed from any IT system in any computer shop by using multiple portals. We can’t stop this system and you will not find any system which is absolutely perfect. Greater health interest of people is what matters the most at the moment,” said Tiwari.
Guwahatians seek economical bike-taxi services amid lockdown relaxation
Due to the new guidelines issued by the state government which prohibits pillion-riding on two-wheelers during Lockdown 3.0, app-based bike-taxi services stand far from resumption.
Bike services such as Rapido, Ola Bike and Uber Moto suspended services in the city last month due to the lockdown clamped to contain the outbreak of coronavirus.
The Rapido Bike-Taxi Service app remains inoperative in Guwahati as well as many other states causing inconvenience to commuters seeking pocket-friendly commuting options. The service provider had earlier made it possible for people to access the service for emergency medical purposes around 5 to 6 kilometre radius of quarantine centres and for those willing to procure essential commodities. This however, had to be suspended after commuters started using the application for non-essential travel, as per an official spokesperson of Rapido, Guwahati.
Other two-wheeler taxi services also remain inoperative due to the freshly issued guidelines by health minister Himanta Biswa Sarma, which only allows pillion-riding either with one female or one child up to 12 years of age.
Travellers commuting alone prefer availing two-wheeler services due to its convenient nature and pocket-friendliness over the relatively expensive cab/taxi services which have been resumed from May 4 in Guwahati.