Tag: Singapore

Life is a Highway

India – More highways or Better National & Public Transport?
This is an email I had sent to our Minister for Road Transport & Highways in January this year. Of course I am still optimistic (or delusional) enough to hope for a response or an opportunity to further discuss this topic. Either way, I hope they at least consider it for a moment.
I have two thoughts to share with regard to your ministry’s awe-inspiring INR 3.3 lakh crore highway development plan [23 highways, 4-5 years]. It might help to reconsider the scale of the projects.
Please consider these two historical events:
Scenario 1: In the late 1800’s, electric car prototypes existed [William Morrison and others]. But given limited research and push, fuel-powered cars won, leading to a century of polluting vehicles and climate damage.
Imagine the world today if a more long-term view was taken in the late 1800’s and electric vehicles were pursued and developed!
Scenario 2: In the 1950’s, a few leaders and businesses saw great potential for plastic in consumer goods. Almost instantly, entire industry sectors were created around plastic goods and packaging. Half a century later, our helpless dependence on plastic continues, and its resulting ecological disaster is becoming irreparable.
Imagine the world today if a more long-term view was taken in the 1950’s and plastic was to be used sparingly and responsibly!
Sir, we are now at a similar crossroads with regard to vehicles in India. And you have the power to choose one of two possible routes for us. Please let it be the one that remains relevant half a century later.
Here are two thoughts for your consideration:
1. As autonomous vehicles become prevalent in the next 1-2 decades, we will most likely shift from a car ownership to a Transportation as a Service (TaaS) model, taking the usage efficiency from the current ~10% to ~90%. With this, the total number of cars needed could reduce to 1/5th its current growing demand [Ref.: https://www.slideshare.net/Ideafarms/transportation-2050-the-future-of-personal-mobility ]
 While cargo related road expansion plans could continue as planned, if we only add sufficient road infrastructure for passenger cars to factor a future TaaS model, our planned highways might not need to be as wide as planned, and the project cost need not be as high as it is.
2. India, compared to North America, has four times the US population living on an area that is 1/3rd that of the US landmass. Therefore, higher individual ownership of vehicles made more sense in the US given the distance between people and places.
   The Indian scenario is quite opposite. Many people on a smaller land mass. This means, a world class national and state based public and private mass transportation would be a more logical option to pursue than individual car ownership. If we simply build wider highways and push car ownership from an auto industry that is largely dependent on a captive domestic market but struggles to compete globally, we would end up with (i) an inefficient auto industry, (ii) traffic-jammed cities and towns, and (iii) huge, inefficiently used automotive assets sitting idle at homes and offices. We might lose our global efficiency and edge due to challenges this inefficiency would present not necessarily now, but in the decades to come.
So, if we create more efficient public and private mass transportation infrastructure like Singapore today, we can save investments on the current highway projects by making them more future-efficient. And the saved funds could be diverted to boost relevant economy sectors that will give us a global edge in the coming decades, while creating more efficient lives in a cleaner and traffic-free India.
end of email–

Phone of Reference

Phone of Reference

Last year, Mumbai’s traffic police enforced a ban on cellphone use while driving. It was backed by a fairly high fine. They even went a step further and banned the use of hands-free devices while driving too.

The extent of enforcing however, remains limited. The main reason for this is overworked traffic cops. And the fact that cops are often diverted to less important tasks including ensuring smooth flow of politician motorcade, etc. Then there is the blatant violation of this ban by literate and illiterate drivers alike.

Other countries have similar or slightly lax laws. Singapore and the US, for instance, allow the use of hands-free devices to make calls while driving.

Sometime last year I read an article that explained why it is a bad idea to speak on the phone while driving. Don’t remember the exact principles that governed it. But it stated that a driver speaking to co-passengers was completely different from speaking on the phone while driving. The latter being extremely risky.

Apparently, when you are driving and also speaking to someone aboard, you both are in the same relative plane of motion. Your mind is relatively present and aware. As are your reflexes.

However, when driving and speaking to someone on the phone, your mind gets into their frame of speed and reference. This means it takes you much longer to anticipate (if at all), and react to danger on the road.

Some of you might huff this off in disbelief. But here’s a seemingly comparable example I thought of. Yes, its yet to be tested or proven, but consider this. Compare two situations: one, where you’re singing a song while listening to it on the radio. The other, you singing while listening to the song using earphones.

Now let’s exclude any lack of talent or a ear for music and singing. You know you’d manage alright when listening to music on the radio, or for that matter, to someone singing around us. It might not sound great, but it is usually tolerable.

However, the moment you plug earphones in, we disconnect from our real frame of reference. Which could be why, that despite assuming we’re singing on Indian or American idol, that illusion gets shattered with someone pulling out a earplug and pleading with us to stop singing.

Commit to the habit of not answering or making phone calls or texting while driving. It really isn’t worth the danger.


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Facebook without a Face

Yesterday, Airtel launched a USSD (Unstructured Supplementary Service Data) system based service. The service, jointly developed by Facebook and U2opia Mobile, a Singapore based company, allows users to access Facebook on their mobile phones without the need for a GPRS service. It works on the same concept as the messaging service you use to check your prepaid balance, etc. So essentially, you would be able to check updates, view comments and ‘like’ news feeds, add friends, post on walls, etc. Of course, since it is a message based service, you will not be able to acccess any media content like photographs, videos, etc. It is useful for people with basic mobile handsets too.

Wonder how that’s gonnna be. Facebook, without the media content, would not be half as fun. A Facebook without a face. It would be similar to trying to read the news by way of SMS’s. Quite painful to say the least. And in this day and age, when phones without a decent screen resolution and GPRS capability is almost an unheard of thing. When even people who just about earn enough to make ends meet are probably onto their second or even third mobile phone that supports GPRS and media content, I wonder who would be the target audience for such a service, even if its free, which by the way, it’s not (don’t lose heart, it comes at a nominal Re. 1 per day).

So, back to who might use such a service. Only person I can think of is a Facebook addict, who, when stuck in an area with a weak network signal, not sufficient for GPRS, and is about to break into a sweat wondering about all the updates he or she is missing as the seconds tick by; then, such a service might just save their lives.

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