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How to Design the Future of Transportation: The Story of EMBARQ in India

January 28, 2014

Recognizing the Need

embarq stationThere are over 1.2 billion people in India. Each of them living in a world that becomes more complex and demanding every day. India is experiencing explosive growth, which requires people to be more mobile than ever, often commuting long distances every day for a job or family obligations. This newfound prosperity is contributing to a boom in personal car sales.

Each new car adds to the already congested infrastructure of roads, and more cars on the road means deteriorating air quality, longer commute times, and higher rates of traffic fatalities.

EMBARQ is addressing this problem head-on.

With a mission “to catalyze and help implement sustainable transport solutions to improve quality of life in cities,” EMBARQ India is focused on improving Indian bus systems and providing safe access to transportation for all of India’s citizens.

EMBARQ is also helping further its mission by demonstrating for people the link between public transport and public health. For example, people who use public transportation get 30 minutes more exercise per day than those who don’t.

The leading causes of death in India are now cardio and respiratory issues, which are directly related to lack of exercise and poor air quality. Road accidents are also listed in the top 10 causes of death in India. With most health issues, so much work goes in to preventative care, but with traffic problems in India the focus is primarily on post-accident. EMBARQ wants to shift the focus to preventative measures, by making roads safer.

EMBARQ is working to provide better accessibility for disabled, through improved design and work being done with government on policy changes.

How To Run A Bus System

embarq bus46 cities in India have a population of over 1 million. In 2008 the India government provided cities with money towards the purchase of 15,000 buses nationwide.

Because investments in rail and subways are not scalable, buses remain India’s most cost effective and efficient transportation system. Suddenly there were lots of buses in places where they had never been before. Cities who had never run bus systems suddenly needed lots of help with things like setting fares, understanding capacity, managing systems, and developing training.

To help address this problem, EMBARQ, with support from FedEx, began the Bus Karo Plus Programme, which provides a peer learning network for bus systems. The workshops associated with Bus Karo have been incredibly successful, and the learning goes both ways as great ideas have been raised from many of the workshops.

For example, one city in India bought state of the art electronic ticketing machines, but didn’t know what to do with them and didn’t connect the machines to their systems. EMBARQ helped that city connect the machines to the bus management system, which meant that ride data could actually be utilized optimize service, routes, and fares.

EMBARQ stepped in and developed a bus guidebook through studying cities both across India and abroad.  The experts at EMBARQ helped the government with implementation and performance monitoring, and showed that measurement should not be considered by profit, but by efficiency.

Benefits of the EMBARQ FedEx Fellowship

Working in Mumbai, Prashanth Bachu and Ashwin Prabhu are both EMBARQ FedEx Fellows. Through the EMBARQ-FedEx Fellowship program, FedEx has provided EMBARQ (not just in India, but also Mexico and Brazil) with access to technical and training experts from many areas of the company, from existing operations to pioneering use of electric vehicles.

Prashanth explains, “Through our time spent with FedEx in the FedEx Fellows program, we really learned so much about three valuable things:

1.      Facilities – How to best organize maintenance and parts management.
2.      Fuel Efficiency – Tips for the most fuel efficient driving practices.
3.      Information Technology – Using IT for GPS and route optimization.”

System managers really listen when the subject of fuel efficiency comes up – it means immediate cost savings! EMBARQ has helped develop training for Indian bus drivers to understand the important fuel savings that can be achieved through things like maintaining their speed and keeping to the same route so that the driver knows it best.

EMBARQ is hosting workshops all over India, helping bus system planners understand what is possible.  Through this continued education and advocacy of bus use, EMBARQ is looking to implementation of dedicated bus lanes, high quality bus systems, and increased efficiency throughout Indian society.

“Our goal is for 20 different cities in India to have more than 40% of their populations using public transportation.” says Prashanth.

Planning For The Future

embarq teamAt the EMBARQ office in Bangalore, Srikanth Shastry and Sanjay Sridhar talk to us about strategy. Bangalore’s population is almost 10 million, and 42% use buses on a daily basis. Buses are a big deal in Bangalore.

Srikanth was a programmer before joining EMBARQ. His personal commute was 1.5 hours each way. Fed up with the exhausting, time-wasting traffic, one day he decided that he wanted to do something about it so he got a degree in transportation planning and joined EMBARQ.

Sanjay, a strategy head with EMBARQ, had degrees in urban planning and urban design. He works on transitory improvement – safe access and ability of commuters to walk safely to stations.

It takes a lot of work to create a true pedestrian environment: sidewalks, benches, lights, and even trash bins. EMBARQ India is working with cities and planners to improve bus operations, terminal designs, and driver training.

Sanjay, “At EMBARQ we take our projects and inch wide and a mile deep, so that we truly understand all the challenges. We want to make sure that we choose scalable, measurable, and replicable solutions. We are bringing principles of pedestrian design back to city development.”

Sanjay works with government on developing the city’s master plan to make sure that safe access to transportation is built in to the design.  There is a major challenge in India, in that there is an inconsistent thought process from city to city and inside of government.

EMBARQ is working to promote Bangalore as a pilot city for the Sustainable Cities Institute. For example: Bangalore has over 2,400 bus routes, but other cities worldwide of comparable size and comparable bus ridership make do with 500 to 700 routes. EMBARQ India helped conceptualize and plan the Big Bus Network, a connective grid of high frequency routes to make bus services simpler and more efficient.

FedEx is helping EMBARQ learn more about depot management efficiencies, fleet and operations management, and driver training.

Sanjay, “This is an exciting time for us. There is tremendous opportunity to intervene and do great work. The support of our sponsors is critical. When I see FedEx I see the arrow in the logo, and I’m reminded that FedEx is helping us move in the right direction.”

mumbai night


    ManiNaidu says:

    The last time I was in Bangalore, I was appalled at the congestion on all main roads. My cousin left his car at home and instead hired a autorickshaw to get to a dinner engagement using the backroad not well travelled. What is the point of living in a beautiful city when you cannot get from Point A to Point B in a reasonable time without inhaling exhaust fumes. The diesel odor sticks to your clothes hair and everything else. The pollution index must be aweful.
    I am glad you guys are doing something to make life better in Bangalore. Hope this model can be extended to my hometown in Coimbatore. I will be glad to introduce you to the city leaders there.
    Are you guys doing anything to reduce pollution by using Hydrogen powered buses with range extenders ( Plug power Gendrives) that FedEx is testing? If you build infrastructure for hydrogen stations for the Bus transportation alone, you can significantly reduce the pollution and health care cost( indirect benefit for the masses and future generation).
    Keep up the good work.

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