London’s 7D

In classes 11 and 12 i had to travel every day from Jayanagar to indiranagar to get to school. There was a direct bus that took me from just behind my house to Just behind my school. This was 7D. But despite my mother’s insistence that I take that, I seldom did. For it took such a circuitous route that it would take ages.

I’m sure that someone has done a survey of bangalores most convoluted bus routes, and if so, 7D would fall close to the top there (the only bus that I imagine could beat 7D is 201).

So rather than take 7D I’d take one of the many buses bound to Shivajinagar and get off at Richmond circle, from where I’d get 138 to take me right behind school (or the double decker 131 to take me 10 mins walk away in the other direction). The changeover at Richmond circle was rather simple (no walking involved) and this process would help me save at least 15 minutes each way every day.

Now I’ve figured that the London Underground has its own 7D, except for the fact that the route is not circuitous – it’s simply slow. I live in Ealing and my office is near Victoria so the most direct way for me to travel is to take the district line. It takes 35 minutes and runs once every 10 minutes (the line splits in two places to frequency to Ealing is low).

On most days I don’t travel directly from home to work since I drop Berry to her Nursery on the way. So taking the district line straight from Home to work is never an option.

Yesterday I was ill and so my wife took Berry to her Nursery. So I travelled directly to work. And for the first time ever since I joined this office I took the district line on the way to Office.

I reached Ealing broadway at 8:02 and Just about caught the 8:03 train. The train rolled into Victoria at 8:40 and I was in Office at 8:45.

Today once again I was traveling directly from home to work, and reached Ealing broadway station a few seconds later than yesterday, just missing the train I’d caught yesterday. I had the option to wait 10 minutes for the next district line train or using what seemed like a convoluted route. I chose the latter.

I took a great western railway train to Paddington, where I walked for about 5-7 minutes to the bakerloo line and got it. I got off the bakerloo five stops later at oxford circus where I changed to the Victoria line, and got off two stops later at Victoria. The time was 8:35!

In other words I’d left later than I had yesterday, changed trains twice (one involving a long walk) and still reached five minutes earlier. And all the time traveling in trains far less crowded than an early morning district line train headed to the city!

I hereby christen the district line as London’s 7D. Except that the route isn’t anywhere circuitous!

Incredible stupidity in taxi marketplaces

So it’s nearly a week since Uber and Ola drivers in Bangalore went on strike, and there’s no sign of it (the strike) ending. The longer the strike goes on for, the more incredibly stupid all parties involve look.

The blame for the strike should first fall on Uber and Ola, who in some hare-brained madness, forgot that running a platform means that both sides of the market are customers and need to be taken care of. They took good care of passengers, providing discounts and growing their market, but rather quickly pulled the plug on drivers, and there is no surprise that drivers are a rather pissed off lot.

The root cause of driver dissatisfaction has been falling bonus payments, and consequently, incomes. This is a result of Uber and Ola providing too great a subsidy during the time they built up the market.

I don’t fault them for providing those bonuses – when you are building a two-sided market, you need to subsidise one side to solve the chicken-and-egg problem. Where I have the problem is with the extent of bonuses, which gave drivers an income far in excess of what they could make in steady state. This meant that as the market approached steady state and incentives were withdrawn, once side of the market started getting pissed off, undermining the market (Disclosure: I’d once proposed to Ola that they hire me to help them with pricing and incentive structuring. the conversation didn’t go too far).

With Uber and Ola having done their stupid things, the next round has gone to the drivers. In a misguided attempt that a long strike will help them get better deals from the platforms, they are prolonging the strike. They’ve even ransacked Uber’s offices, and gone to the government for help.

What they don’t realise is that having invested what they have in their cars to drive on these marketplaces, their success is inextricably tied to the success of the marketplaces. And the more the jeopardise the marketplaces, the less their incomes in future.

A long strike reduces market size on two counts – it gives people time to adjust to the absence of service and get adjusted to alternate arrangements, and it decreases the reliability of the marketplaces in the eyes of the passengers. Thus, the longer and more frequent the strikers by the drivers, the less that passengers will look to use these services in the future.

A strike can work when the striking employees are protected by some form of labour laws, and there is no way ahead for their employers apart from a negotiated settlement. In case of a marketplace, the platform has absolutely no obligation to the drivers, and Uber and Ola can simply do what Uber and Lyft did in Austin, TX – pack up and move on. And if they do that in Bangalore, the drivers with their shiny new cars will be significantly worse off than they were before the strike.

The other act of stupidity on the drivers’ part has been to involve the government, which, as expected, has responded in a nandelliDLi (“where do I keep mine?”) fashion. The recent ban on shared rides (UberPool/OlaShare) came after a regulator read the rulebook after the last strike by the drivers. Given the complex economics of platform markets, any further regulation can only hurt the drivers.

All in all, the drivers’ stupidity can be traced back to not understanding platform markets, and protesting the way protests used to be done in highly unionised industries. Drivers, whose main skill is in driving cars, cannot be faulted so much for not understanding platform markets. Uber and Ola, on the other hand, have no such excuse!

Sweetshop optimisation on festival days

As I mentioned in my earlier post, while Varamahalakshmi Vrata is considered rather minor in my family, it is a rather big deal in my wife’s house. So I headed to a nearby sweetshop called Mane hOLige to fetch sweets for today’s lunch.

Now, this is not a generic sweetshop. As the name suggests, the shop specialises in making hOLige, also known as obbaTT, which is a kind of sweet stuffed flatbread popular in Karnataka and surrounding areas. And as the menu above suggests, this shop makes hOLige (I’ll use that word since the shop uses it, though I’m normally use to calling it “obbaTT”).

I had been to the shop last Sunday to pick up hOLige for a family gettogether, and since I asked for the rather esoteric “50-50 hOLige”, I had to wait for about 30 minutes before it was freshly made and handed over (Sunday also happened to be yet another minor festival called “naagar panchami”).

Perhaps learning from that experience, when heightened demands led to long wait times for customers, the sweetshop decided to modify its operations a little bit today, which I’m impressed enough to blog about.

Now, as the subtitle on the board above says, the shop specialises in “hot live hOLige”. They are presumably not taking VC funding, else I’d imagine they’d call it “on demand hOLige”. You place an order, and the hOLige is made “to order” and then handed to you (either in a paper plate or in an aluminium foil bag, if you’re taking it away). There is one large griddle on which the hOliges are panfried, and I presume the capacity of that griddle has been determined by keeping in mind the average “live” demand.

On a day like Sunday (naagar panchami), though, their calculations all went awry, in the wake of high demand. A serious backlog built up, leading to a crowded shopfront and irate customers (their normal rate of sale doesn’t warrant the setting up of a formal queue). With a bigger festival on today (as I mentioned earlier, Varamahalakshmi Vrata is big enough to be a school holiday. Naagar panchami doesn’t even merit that), the supply chain would get even more messed up if they had not changed their operations for the day.

So, for starters, they decided to cut variety. Rather than offer the 20 different kinds of hOLige they normally offer, they decided to react to the higher demand by restricting choice to two varieties (coconut and dal, the the most popular, and “normal” varieties of hOLige). This meant that demand for each variety got aggregated, and reduced volatility, which meant that…

They could maintain inventory. In the wake of the festival, and consequent high demand, today, they dispensed with the “hot, live” part of their description, and started making the hOLiges to stock (they basically figured out that availability and quick turnaround time were more important than the ‘live’ part today).

And the way they managed the stock was also intelligent. As I had mentioned earlier, some customers prefer to eat the hOLige on the footpath in front of the store, while others (a large majority) prefer to take it away. The store basically decided that it was important to serve fresh hot hOLige to those that were consuming it right there, but there was no such compulsion for the takeaway – after all the hOLige would cool down by the time the latter customers went home.

And so, as I handed over my token and waited (there was still a small wait), I saw people who had asked for hOLige on a plate getting it straight off the griddle. Mine was put into two aluminium foil bags somewhere in the back of the store – presumably stock they’d made earlier that morning.

Rather simple stuff overall, I know, but I’m impressed enough with the ops for it to merit mention on this blog!

Oh, and the hOLige was excellent today, as usual I must say! (my personal favourite there is 50-50 hOLige, if you want to know)

Dogs of Jayanagar

Fifteenth Cross is a fairly important road in Jayanagar. A rather wide, and widely used, road, it has two other names – “South End Main Road” and “Nittoor Sreenivasa Rao Road” (you must hear the Google Maps navigator pronounce the latter).

Fifteenth Cross is also an important “boundary road”, in more than one way. The part of Jayanagar to the North of it is part of the “Jayanagar” ward in the metropolitan corporation (BBMP), and part of the Chickpet Assembly constituency. The part to the south of Fifteenth Cross belongs to the Yediyur BBMP Ward, and part of the Padmanabhanagar Assembly Constituency. Fifteenth Cross is also a boundary between Jayanagar Second Block (to the North) and Jayanagar Third Block (to the South).

And these are not the only boundaries demarcated by Fifteenth Cross – it marks a frontier of canine territory as well.

Jayanagar Third Block, part of Yediyur Ward, has something that Jayanagar Second Block, part of Jayanagar Ward, lacks – garbage. There is this spot next to a triangle-shaped park, and across the road from an empty site, where people dump their garbage. This is on account of door-to-door garbage collection in Jayanagar Third Block not being up to the mark.

Jayanagar Second Block, being part of the generally (seemingly) better administered Jayanagar Ward, lacks such garbage “hotspots”. Thanks to this, stray dogs in that ward looking for a late night (or midnight) snack have nowhere to go. And so they look to cross into Third Block, hoping to find something in its overflowing garbage bins.

The small problem, of course, is that Jayanagar Third Block has its own fair share of stray dogs, most of which have made a home near the garbage dump near the triangle park, across the road from the local mosque (it’s funny that dogs have their home so close to the mosque, considering puritanical Islam considers dogs as being haraam). And they like to guard their territory fiercely.

And so if you live anywhere close to the triangle park and were to get woken up around 2:30 am (which I’ve been for the last week or so), you’ll get to witness this grand canine battle of Jayanagar. The dogs of Second Block trying to make their way to the garbage dump in Third Block, and the Third Block dogs doing their best to scare them away.

From the sounds of it, there is little bite, mostly bark. And from the sights of it, it is interesting how the dogs orient themselves. Each dog positions itself in the middle of a street intersection (most of these in Third Block are rather brightly lit), and facing its adversary, howls. Howls and barks are returned. Other dogs (from both the aggressor and defender parties) join into the cacophony, and soon there is a crescendo.

Not to be left alone, the house dogs in the area join in the party, adding their own barks, though it is unlikely that the street dogs care too much about them – they continue their battle regardless.

This morning, after an hour of tossing and turning, I stepped on to my balcony to survey the scene below. The home team (Third Block dogs) had situated themselves at the intersection closest to my house (Sixteenth Cross), standing abreast and watching quietly. Three dogs from the away team (the raiding party from Second Block) were quietly making their way back across Fifteenth Cross, their raid over, and possibly unsuccessful. The house dog in the house opposite continued to bark, but no one cared about him!

The Third Block dogs stood at the intersection until the raiding party was safely past the Fifteenth Cross boundary, before returning to their business, whatever that is. And the house dog across the road continued to bark.

I don’t understand the strategy of the Third Block dogs. While they control a great amount of garbage, and have access to plenty of food thanks to that, their strategy of defending it through the night doesn’t make sense – for in the morning a BBMP truck visits the garbage spot, and takes it all away.

In other words, the sources of food these dogs guard is a perishable commodity, thanks to which there is little benefit in defending it. They might as well share the loot with their brethren from Second Block without much cost, for what is defended now is gone a few hours later.

But then, maybe they just want to send out a signal. Defending their loot, even if it isn’t valuable to them, might be a way of sending a credible signal that they will defend their territories in the face of any other attack.

Or maybe they’re just being dogs!

Making bus lanes work

Bus Rapid Transport, which is mass transport based on lanes dedicated to buses, is something that has been proposed in India for a very long time but has never really worked.

Delhi abandoned its efforts a few months back under the current state government, after experimenting with it on one road for a few years. Pune has BRT and  bus lanes, but that is also ridden with problems (no pun intended). Ahmedabad supposedly has a well-functioning BRT but the share of commuters using buses in that city is far below other cities.

Source: http://www.livemint.com/Politics/tPT6767pB5DSEEdZnBYcgP/Why-Delhis-bus-service-is-more-expensive-than-that-of-Chenn.html 

There have been proposals to introduce BRT in Bangalore, and some flyovers on Outer Ring Road were designed with the express purpose of maintaining bus lanes. Nothing has come to fruition so far.

In most cases, the problem has been with selling the scheme to the people – a lane exclusively reserved for buses adversely affects people who use private transport. Even though the latter are not numerous (data from the census shows that a very small proportion of urban Indians use private cars for their daily commute), their voice and clout means that it is a hard sell.

In my opinion, the reason BRT has been a hard sell is because of the way it has been implemented and sold. One problem has been that it has been implemented on only a small number of roads, rather than enabling a dense network on which one can travel by bus quickly. The bigger problem  has been implementing it on roads with low bus density, where the demarcated bus lane mostly appears empty while other lanes are clogged, giving incentives for motorists to cheat.

Instead, bus lanes should be demarcated only after bus density on the road has reached a certain density. There are several roads in Bangalore, for example, where buses already contribute to the lion’s share of traffic congestion (Nrupatunga Road, inner ring road in BTM layout and Hosur Road between Wilson Garden and Madivala come to mind – but there needs to be a more scientific study to identify such).

If such roads, with already existing high bus density, are chosen to mark off bus lanes, the bus lanes can be sold as a method to restrict all buses to one lane so that cars can move about freely on the rest of the road. While there might still be protests (thanks to such “reservation”), the fact that the reservation will not have much of an impact will mean that it is an easier sell.

Think about it! Meanwhile, here is a picture from Barcelona, which shows that even in supposedly rule-breaking Spain, bus lanes can work.

Parks and public safety

I spent the last hour and a half working from a park near my house in Barcelona. It helped that I wasn’t using my laptop – I was mostly working with a notebook and pen. The incredible thing was that never once did I feel unsafe working in that park, and it has to do with the park’s design.

I got accosted by a human only once – by this guy asking me if I had a cigarette lighter and who walked away when I said no, and by dogs (of all shapes and sizes) multiple times. Despite the fact that I was in a park, and people don’t go to parks at 10 am on a weekday morning, there was a constant flow of people in front of me. There were, to put it in other words, sufficient “eyes on the street” which contributed to the place’s safety.

I’ve ranted sufficiently on this blog about the design (or lack of it) of Bangalore’s public parks (one with a name sufficiently similar to that of this post). The problem with the parks, in my opinion, is that they are exclusive closed spaces which are hard to access.

The sprawling Krishna Rao Park in the middle of Basavanagudi, for example, has only two or three entrances, and the number of trees in the park means that large parts of it are hardly visible, providing a refuge to unsavoury elements. This phenomenon of few entrances to parks is prevalent in other city parks as well, with the consequence that the BBMP (city administration) closes off the parks during the day when few people want to go in.

The park I was sitting in this morning, on the other hand, had no such safety issues. It helped that there weren’t too many trees (not always a positive thing about parks), which improved visibility, but most importantly, it was open on all sides, providing a nice thoroughfare for people walking across the area. This meant that a large number of people in the vicinity, even if they didn’t want to “go to a park” ended up passing through the park, because of which there was a constant flow of human traffic and “eyes on the park street”, making it a significantly safer space.

There might be (maintenance-related ) reasons for having limited entrances to parks in Bangalore, but the administration should seriously consider opening up parks on all sides and encouraging people to walk through them (after all, walking paths are an important part of Bangalore parks). Maintenance costs might go up, but safety of parks will be enhanced significantly, and it will be possible to keep parks open at all times, which will enhance their utility to the public.

Maybe Krishna Rao park, with roads on all sides and in the middle of Basavanagudi, might serve as a good pilot case for this.

Kadlekai Parshe

This afternoon I visited the Kadlekai Parshe (groundnut fair) with the in-laws. It was the second time I was visiting the fair, and the first time during daylight (the last time was in 2011, with the wife, and I remember getting incredibly pained with the vuvuzelas all kids seemed to be blowing then). Some pertinent observations:

  1. Considering that it was a groundnut fair, an activity that all visitors could be expected to indulge in would be to buy groundnuts and eat them as they walked through the fair. Eating groundnuts has the externality of skins, and there weren’t enough dustbins to effectively dispose of the skins.
  2. As you might expect in a fair where you have a large number of shops selling pretty much the same goods, prices were largely the same. A litre of raw groundnuts (yes, that’s how whole groundnuts are measured and sold in Bangalore) cost Rs. 25 in most roadside shops, while a litre of roasted groundnuts cost Rs. 30.
  3. We ended up buying groundnuts from several shops, and the quality varied widely, though the price didn’t. Some had too many “buDDes” (groundnuts with underdeveloped nuts), some were not roasted well enough, some were roasted too much and so on. Yet, price didn’t vary by much. This is puzzling since it was possible to sample a couple of groundnuts before making the decision to buy.
  4. There were a lot of people and most of the road space was taken up by pedestrians. Yet, there were vehicles plying (well at a slower rate), leading to traffic jams all around. A better solution might have been to turn the stretch of Bull Temple Road between haLLi mane and Kamat Bugle Rock pedestrian only. Would’ve ensured greater safety and possibly faster traffic flows on alternate routes.
  5. In terms of food, there was a large number of chaat carts, carts selling slices of a kind of thick (15 inches diameter) edible root, carts selling potato chips (which looked quite good and reminded me of Prague where I remember buying similar chips at St. Wenceslas’s Square), etc. Being noon, none of them seemed to be doing much business. Hopefully they’d’ve had better luck in the evening
  6. Stalls were licensed, as I happened to see a license number on a “stall” (basically groundnuts heaped on the ground) selling groundnuts. This is a good move. We need full time licensing of city food carts.
  7. The entire stretch of BP Wadia Road bewteen Bugle Rock Park and BMS College for Women was occupied by Lambani tribespeople selling plaster of paris figurines. Again, around noon, not much business, but enough attention to block traffic on that road.
  8. There was a massive crowd going into the Big Ganesha and Big Bull temples. We steered clear and stuck to the peanuts.
  9. There were a few people with DSLRs clicking away (I was one of those on my last visit). No groups though.

It seems like a fairly fun event. With better management (traffic, dustbins) it can be even better.