Friday, May 13, 2016

FAQ's about the Bus Routes Management System project

1. Why don't we just do live GPS mapping of all buses and wait till that happens?
>> a. I'm sure there's many folks already doing that; 
b. I feel that timetables and proper routes info for buses is something basic and necessary and cannot be substituted by live GPS mapping; 
c. I'd rather empower and make accountable the bus system people to do things properly, and enable them to keep up their obligation to the commuters of punctual and transparent service, instead of leaving everything to the map apps and giving leeways for last-minute delays and changes. It would be great to have BOTH instead of having to choose one.
d. The all-buses-will-have-GPS thing isn't here yet for each and every city and town in the whole country, and this solution shouldn't be limited to just one metro city.

2. Are there any deadlines for this?
>> Once you see the whole thing, the question that pops up for most is "Why isn't this available already, it's such an obvious thing!". I think that's because of the deadlines culture, and have witnessed closely how things have gotten messed up in Pune's bus system's case because of rushing and taking shortcuts. But anyways, if you do want to fix a deadline, how's this : Before your children grow old enough to commute on their own using public transport.

3. We should integrate this with metro, trains, flights...
>> Sure, please go ahead, do that at your end.. meanwhile let me try to cover the basics here...

4. Why are you doing this?
>> Aise-ich! It's fun yaar! And might make some parts of life convenient too.. I'm a bus commuter myself and so have a clear vested interest in making this happen.

5. Why u open-sourcing practically all the design details??
>> Because I'd rather see this getting done by whoever cares; and besides, why try to own something that isn't mine to begin with? These requirements were communicated by the bus authority's officers; I merely put them together. Even the data is all belonging to the public, and meticulously put together by several on-the-ground staff who go un-thanked for their efforts. It's really stupid of IT people to just come in at the last link of the chain and then claim ownership over the whole chain. We should act like plumbers called in to fix the pipes of a building.. just fix it and go, forget about claiming royalty over the water.

6. Is this an app for commuters?
>> No. ([sigh], see the full ppt, people.. it's not too long!) It's an app for the bus authority or allied volunteer group, to help them put together and maintain the data in a human-friendly way, which will then generate machine-friendly data (GTFS), which will feed the apps for commuters that are already out there. We might be able to have a read-only version for commuters too to see the routes n stops with nice map interface etc, but that's secondary.

7. How do we know that this will get used by the bus authority after it's developed?
>> If you're looking for solid guarantees, then there aren't any. I have shown this to PMPML and they have shown interest and promised to give a letter of appreciation to the coders who make this, but I can sympathize with the fact that way too often they've been led to severe embarrassment by techies who promised the moon and didn't deliver. Even I don't know if this will fully work out as desired. So I will prefer to let the proof lie in the pudding, and to follow the age-old principle of "don't count your chickens before they hatch" for this one. If you can bring yourself into the mental space of not having great expectations but deriving pleasure and learning from the work itself, then welcome aboard!

8. What kind of coders are you looking for?
>> I prefer students or freshers, preferably those who got low marks and who have pulled off a techie prank at some point. With more experienced folks I've found that they tend to overly complicate things (whereas this project is so ridiculously simple that it's embarassing if something like it really doesn't exist yet.. I'm still searching!). They also tend to need super-duper assurances that the output will surely be used and there should be proper life cycle and future scope of monetization and what-not : something that's impossible to guarantee and foolish to chase when you're doing open-source work,

9. What can you say will happen after you've achieved this project, gotten a fully working model going?
>> The project will then reside on a github repository, with complete documentation on how to deploy and use it. And there will be one live deployment, probably hosted on a free server, for doing Pune's bus data, which will be open for volunteers here and for PMPML to check out and maybe join in. And for myself: I see myself working on sustainable agriculture and other kinds of things that will not have much related with this project itself, once this is done. Basically, I will finish this, and then move on with my life. The project will be free for anyone to take up and use or innovate forward.

10. What about monetization?
>> "There is enough on this planet for everyone's need, but not enough for everyone's greed".
Still, it'll have the standard github licenses so plenty of scope for others to take it forward and monetize for themselves. I suggest the plumber approach mentioned in #5. Fix the pipes and take due payment for fixing them; but don't pretend you own them.

11. But why don't you want to make sure this gets used by the bus authority in Pune?
>> Let me put it this way : I want my child to learn something important, but if I try forcing her to learn it, or if I spoonfeed it to her, then she's not going to value it, it won't click with her, she might even develop an aversion to it.
I'd rather ENABLE the bus authority to use it by clearing out all the hurdles in their path (like, for example, current non-existence of said program) than try and FORCE them to. Let the proof lie in the pudding. The routes management IS a major headache for them right now, and is preventing them from moving forward in several aspects. If something comes along that THEY feel is fixing their issues, and if they really want it, then they'll take it and more importantly, take ownership of it.
So our role has to be that of an ENABLER, not an enforcer. If this doesn't work on you, perhaps you can contribute at some other link in the chain, like mobilizing public pressure when the solution does become available to use.

12. But everybody is corrupt and so will never take it up.. / public transport will never solve any problem... / why are you helping a monopoly... / privatization is the only way forward... / yada yada...
>> Then f**k off, man. If you're convinced there is no solution in this sector, then why are you even bothering to read this? Just go away so that those of us who WANT to move forward can move forward.

13. Ouch. Ok, can you provide any example of how this would translate to a better experience for commuters at a bus stop?
>> Sure! Take bus stops. It would be great to have information at the bus stop about the routes passing by there, their timings, etc. Or if you type in a stop's unique code in an app, or do location-based search on an app, it can retrieve the information for you. We have seen such boards placed on many but not all bus stops in Pune city. At present, there is no direct data for stop-wise route info, because there is no major list of bus stops with their locations. They exist as name-mentions in over 300 route listings, that too with varying spellings and even varying local names. There might be lists separately (with the depts in charge of constructing bus stops maybe), but there presently isn't a reliable interlinking between bus stop and routes data, as far as Pune is concerned.The boards we see currently are the product of a lot of hard work by PMPML staff of manually going through all bus route lists and cross-referencing, triangulating, asking local conductors/drivers for tacit knowledge, and as last resort, (gulp!), staying at the bus stop and noting down when buses come and go. This all is a very tedious exercise. And updating them when route changes happen is a nightmare. The data is route-centric.

If we have a proper system managing the bus stops (which is phase 1 of the project), then with a little programming we can get stop-centric route data. We can program things such that by picking your bus stop, you get instant info of all bus routes and timings instantly. One could even build an API to generate printable charts with latest data on the go. This would make it much easier for both PMPML and concerned citizens to update information at the bus stop, hence building higher reliability into the information we display at the bus stop.

14. How can I learn more about GTFS?

Pune's GTFS data, dated around 2010 :

15. I want to plunge in! Where are your developing this project?
On Github:

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