This may sound elitist but here goes: I recently travelled by local train.
Yes, for a while we were one of those two-car, two-driver families. But when I started working from home so I could finish writing a book (more on that, another time) I figured it did not make sense anymore.
And since I find driving (and more than that parking!) stressful I decided to go back to mostly using public transport. Mostly buses, but when you need to reach town from New Bombay, there is nothing quite as efficient as the train.
That's how I found myself @ Vashi railway station on a fine sunny morning. First shock: the line to buy a ticket, that too at 11 in the morning. And not even one of the first 2-3 days of the month when people buy season tickets.
'Yahaan to kam se kam aadha ghanta lagega', I thought. 'Let me buy a coupon booklet'. Oops, a sign proclaimed they were not available.
After some ten minutes in queue I noticed a deserted looking kiosk bearing the logo 'Go Mumbai'. "What is this," I asked the lady in fron of me. She had no clue.
Well it turns out you can buy a 'smart card' by paying a one time fee of Rs 36 and then topping up the card, for as little as Rs 50. You need to hold up the smart card against the machine installed at entry point and once again do the same at exit point. And it automatically deducts the fare.
There are separate machines for first and second class.
"How cool," I thought as I quickly paid Rs 200 and zipped off to catch a train. But why was the rest of the public standing there waiting to buy a card ticket? Wasting at least half an hour of their lives??
Many of them looked pretty well to do, and could surely pay the one time fee of Rs 36. They just did not know. No one has bothered to properly communicate the idea and its benefits to the aam junta.
What's more the railways own employees are clueless about it. Mumbai Mirror reported that a college student who bought the card and got off at Mahim was fined Rs 260 because it is not yet valid on Western line. Huh??
Neither have I seen a smart card machine on any BEST bus (and the card claims to be valid on buses as well). Pretty sad considering the card was launched on April 24, which is two and a half months ago!
What is the point of half-baked and half-hearted implementation?
And oh, the next evening I searched in vain for a kiosk where I could recharge my card at CST. There wasn't enough money on it to buy a first class ticket.
Nahin mila and I got into second class which was actually quite empty and comfortable. Chalo paise bach gaye.
Par card hone ka fayda kya? Goes to show that the smartest technology will not catch on if its implementation is dumb.
And by the way one of the validation machines has already conked out...when so few people are using it. Aage kaam kaise chalega?
The other point to note is that there are multiple kinds of cards in circulation, and smart cookies have already figured how to beat the system and travel free...
Lastly, after using the Delhi metro a few times our suburban network looks and feels really shabby. All I see is some cosmetic change (like this steel-look first class compartment).
We will one day have our own metro but surely we'll have to do something to what is know as the 'lifeline of the city'. Currently a tired old lady, choking and barely able to bear the strain.