Our wish-list for Railway Budget-2014

Respected Shri D V Sadananda Gowda,
Minister Of Railways,
Government Of India.

Warm regards.

As a citizen of India, I present my wish-list for the forthcoming Railway budget which you are going to present soon.

1) Due to disppointing level of services and facilities provided by varioud government agencies, we, the people of India have lowered our expectations from anything ‘Government’. Indian Railways is one such enterprise. We request you to break that jinx. Make improvements in Railways such that ‘Government’ mean reliable, credible and dependable.

2) A lot of facilities are started with lot of fund allocation, but they are not maintained properly. Different types of coaches, station facilities, technology solutions, web sites, indicators etc are some examples in case of Indian Railways. Request Hon Railway Minister Shri Sadanand Gowda to ensure that all facilities that are started, are maintained properly to attain their intended purpose.

3) Indicators displaying train coach position, time, platforms etc are a real blessing, only if they work properly and consistently. But somehow, due to poor maintenance, they go out of order any day. One can’t depend upon them. Please make them dependable. They can save a lot of time, trouble and stress.

4) Make railways’ public address system meaningful. Train the disgruntled announcers to speak in a tone, volume, speed and language which is understood by listeners. Today, such an announcement is more a noise than anything useful.

5) Decongest IRCTC web site. It is certainly not rocket science to avoid hours of delay one has to face while logging into the reservation site during Tatkal booking beginning hours.

6) Stop the menace of unreserved travelers traveling in reserved coaches. Only a firm, determined resolution is required to curb this. The TCs have to be held responsible for such transgressions.

7) Your previous counterparts created a new class called “Sleeper Class” separate from Second Class with practically no tangible difference. It is obvious that this unnecessary complication has only added confusion to the system and people. Request to abolish this “Sleeper” class or merge it with Second Class.

8) Same is with now-defunct First Class in non-local trains. First Class is a classic example of the failure of government ministries to rationalize the products/services with changing technology or market landscape. With newer AC classes, First Class has lost its relevance. But, like all things English, Indian Railways has failed to update or altogether remove this laughable luggage of outdated, aristocratic Angrez mindset.

Ironically. in Indian Railways’ first class, there is nothing first class except the  fare. The fare is much higher than much better AC classes. The official apathy and lack of clarity has resulted into meaningless legacy being continued halfheartedly.
Make First Class really “First Class” or abolish it for good. Nobody will miss it.

9) Currently, the seat allocation during running train is at the discretion of the TC. Due to this, the reserved passengers who could not travel have no practical way to prove their “no show”, preventing them from getting any kind of refund and the TCs have a field day “selling” such seats to people who have no waiting list tickets also, bypassing the bona fide wait-listers.

This situation can be easily corrected. If Mumbai’s city bus service can introduce handheld machines for issuing each ticket, why can’t railways do? Allocate a unique barcode to every reserved ticket, scan it through a handheld with TC, which will ensure which seat remained empty and was reallocated by TC on the way. This handheld should be connected to the central reservation server, which will dynamically update actual arrival/occupancy status in real time, enabling RAC/Waiting passengers to know the real seat status. This will plug the leakage of unaccounted money going to TCs and will make the system completely transparent.

10) In Chair Cars, some genius Einsteins in the design departments have tried to save some money by providing 1.5 or less hand-rests per person. There is only one hand-rest between the two people in the adjacent seats. This leads to continuous jostling between the two to capture the few inches of the hand-rest. This may be based on the assumption that an average Indian has 1.5 arms. Please get rid of this outrageous assumption. With barely enough space to accommodate one’s body, provide TWO arm-rests for each seat. This seems funny, but the current situation in an AC Chair Car is funnier.

11) Toilets in the coaches need to be checked, cleaned and maintained regularly. Currently, it is not done regularly. I am sure a full budget for manpower, maintenance, cleaning etc is passed and is ‘deemed’ utilized. But this needs to be made accountable.

12) Food provided in Shatabdi/Rajdhani is outright down market. It is of poor quality, bad hygiene and appears as just a formality being completed. The plates and seat trays are storehouses of germs. Please ensure that somebody randomly checks this food and the manner in which it is served. There is certainly a room for improvement.

13) Pantry cars are nothing short of gastronomic disasters in motion. They are dirty, unhygenic and badly maintained by dirtier manpower. Please overhaul food delivery system in trains.

14) The platforms, waiting rooms, bridges, subways or any other common utility areas at railway stations need to be cleaned and maintained properly. Again, same is true as mentioned above for toilets. Giving it to private parties against advertising rights can make this easily feasible.

15) Please simplify the rules for cancelation, refund, break journey etc along with their explanation. Currently, they are worded in such a way that one needs to be an advocate to decipher them.

16) Make fine collection transparent. Currently, fine collection is a money making machine for the officer on duty to make some quick bucks with very little reaching the bleeding coffers of railwayd. Use technology to prevent this leakage.

Here are some suggestions for Mumbai local train service.

17) In Mumbai, the areas inside and outside railway stations are encroached by unauthorized hawkers, causing a lot of congestion and convenience to the commuters. In spite of the enough manpower, this menace goes unchecked. Have courage, will and determination to prevent this encroachment forever.

18) Distinctly separate ladies and first class compartments and coached in Mumbai local trains with some clear visual distinction in the interiors as well as exteriors. In newer trains, this division is very blurred. Due to that there are lot of confusions with new commuters getting into wrong coaches.

19) Also, please ensure visual barricades inside the coaches separating these compartments within the same coach. Currently, ladies/gents first class compartments are separated by steel railings, allowing clear views across each. Same is for first/second class compartments within the same coach. Please get them visually blocked from each other. This will stop a lot of peeping and mischiefs by the onlookers with a roving eye.

20) Install more automatic ticket vending machines. They can be a very good alternative to the burden of highly inefficient and demotivated manpower that the railways is carrying. Please don’t forget to keep them properly maintained.

21) Majority of the Coupon Validating machines are out of order most of the times. This is just one more example of too many initiatives, too little improvement. Please ensure proper maintenance.

22) The ‘lean management’ practice implemented by ticket counters in Mumbai results in sometimes 25 minute wait for a 4 minute travel, because all local/outstation and season tickets are sold from every window. This ridiculously slows down the dispensation.  Please advise somebody to have a sensible correction.

23) Please insist on the personal inspection by everyone who decides on the designs of the coaches and other passenger facilities which affects millions of people. The newly introduced coaches in Mumbai locals have truncated leg spaces and have little consideration for standing commuters who outnumber the sitting ones many times. Advise them to undertake one full journey themselves during peak hours to understand the real problems.

24) A lot of discretionary misuse by TCs can be stopped by using technology and ensuring proper vigilance. Make vigilance accountable.

These are some of the improvements sought. Please ensure their timely redressal.

Thanking you in anticipation,

– A Common Man of India

Business management lessons from AAP’s failure

The sudden rise and equally sudden fall of Aam Aadmi Party has some important learning lessons for businesses which are currently in the growth mode.

Many businesses which start with a rapid growth in the beginning, start faltering after growing to a specific size. Maintaining growth momentum after attaining some size becomes a real challenge which few companies can overcome. Others either stagnate at that level or go back downhill.

AAP faced some management challenges which it could not overcome. Growing companies also face similar challenges. The debacle of AAP in 2014 elections has some management lessons for growing businesses.

Arvind Kejriwal’s
AAP rose to popularity really too fast. It promised a hope of a corruption free India. It is a success story of a brand getting hugely popular too fast. But, the brand AAP did not live up to the hype it generated. Why? Here are some reasons.

Management Bandwidth
One reason for AAP’s failure is the lack of Management Bandwidth. Just like many suddenly grown companies, AAP, too , faced lack of quality, talented and experienced manpower who could manage the party’s affairs and could provide leadership at various levels of the organization.

Only Branding Focus,
No marketing
AAP and Arvind Kejriwal are good at grabbing media attention and thereby keeping their brand afresh in popular mind. Somehow or the other AAP and its leader kept themselves in the news. Huge advertising budget and a lot of noise in the media may ensure brand awareness and visibility, it may not necessarily ensure marketplace success of the product. The product has to deliver on the brand promise. Here is where AAP failed. Media hype was good, but the party failed to deliver what it was expected to. Particularly, after the Delhi government fiasco, it became clear that AAP was good at agitations and not in execution. Along with focusing on popular attention, AAP should also have developed its own governance and administration arms.

Lack Of Structure
In any family managed business, there is no structure and the family members monopolize control over all decisions and resources. AAP functioned just like such a  business where all decision making rested with a select group of people. This lack of democracy disillusioned many big names in the party who deserted it recently.

Even though it is not the end of the road for AAP and it can definitely recover from the recent setback, it will have to make greater efforts to bounce back due to its own mistakes.

The business which wishes to cash in on its initial success must learn from these mistakes and avoid them.

In India, how can we save a lot of public money?

Recently, a report about a teenager’s suggestion to US government to change font in their stationery from Times New Roman to Garamond estimated that it could save some $400 millions of the government due to reduction in ink use. Even though the authenticity of the claim is yet to be established and counter arguments are out to prove this wrong, India, too, can save a lot of money if some obviously simple things are done more sensibly. Here are some suggestions.

1) By putting proper signs on roads

A lot of precious time and fuel can be saved and a lot of accidents can be avoided if the quality of road signs in India improves. The signs on inner roads and highways are either missing, or they are too small or at obscure locations which are impossible to spot while driving. At most of the places, the Einsteins in charge of NHAI and other road infrastructure authorities have put so ridiculous signs at completely meaningless locations that they appear just too late, leaving no time for action. The only sensible and timely signages are found on expressways. Why can’t all Einsteins think similarly?

2) Making the commonly used information accessible

A huge amount of time and energy is wasted in finding some simple information regarding government and its offices and companies. A web site like sarkaritel.com can save a lot of money. The only condition is that somebody should actually pick up the phones of which numbers are mentioned. In India, helplines are generally not helpful because most government helplines just keep ringing.

3) By putting timers on traffic signals

In cities like Mumbai and other metros, sometimes we need to wait for 20-30 minutes at some junctions when 3-4 iterations of signal changes pass before we finally get through, thousands of litres of fuel can be saved by shutting down vehicle engines if timers indicating seconds to reopen the signal can be shown.

4) By putting signals or traffic police at every crowded junction in cities

A lot of avoidable traffic jams are caused by vehicles which break traffic rules at an unmanned junction. In the absence of regulator or a disciplining reference, India’s smart drivers prove their enormous smartness and agility by sneaking through impossible places, risking their own and others lives and creating a complete chaos and traffic jams. India has a lot of unemployed. The cost of employing people to control traffic will be many times compensated by the saving in terms of time, energy and fuel.

5) By sensibly designing coins

The recent coins introduced by the Einsteins of RBI are so confusing that people have to spend a lot of time just figuring out whether it is 1, 2 or 5 rupee coin. The similarity of new Rupee symbol with number ‘2’ adds to the meelee.

6) Privatize all Government companies

Yes. Privatize or close down all Government companies. Business can’t be mixed with charity. History of Indian PSUs has shown that Govt can’t do a good job at business because of its temporary nature. The bosses change every five years. Where is consistency required for implementing a stable mission? Most of the government companies are hotbeds of inefficiency because of the callousness from top to bottom. Examples like telecom, aviation, infrastructure and metal industries have proved that the fear of customer disadvantage due to privatization are completely misplaced and the contrary is true.

Most of the money wasted in India is due to unaccountability of the Government and its machinery. This rot from top must stop. If the government is divested of all other activities than pure governance, it will be a blessing for India.

Indian Railways’ Bad design = Bad Customer Experience # 1

Indian Railways (and many other Indian Government departments) have a large number of Einsteins sitting in their dusty offices. These Einsteins come out with innovative designs and process solutions which, instead of improving the quality of service, increase the hardships and troubles of the passengers.

Railways has installed some modern escalators at local train stations in Mumbai. At Dadar, one such swanky escalator on platform no.2 on Western side is not much used by people. It is always deserted. Very few people use it preferring the staircase next. Why is this so in a heavily crowded station like Dadar, where people should have loved to use such modern facility?

The escalator leads to a foot over bridge which is truncated up to Western side only. The unassuming people willing to go to East side or Central Railway who climb up the escalator have to first climb down from that bridge and climb up stairs all the way again….! Result ? The escalator is useless for 70% of the commuters.

Some among the Einsteins should have seen the place before coming out with such half-baked modern solution wasting huge amount of time, money and energy. Bad designs result into bad customer experience. At least we should learn this from the wasteful expenditure of our government.

These Einsteins don’t have to pay from their pockets so they can afford all such idiosyncrasies.
We can’t.