A bird race that isn’t one

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How many times have you asked for directions in namma Bengaluru and ended up going in circles? Whether it’s the roadside vendor or the autorickshaw driver taking you for a ride, we have all been in that spot, lost in a city that we have called home! Coming to your rescue, are location-based services on your mobile phone, the Internet or even maps for that matter. Have they made it easier to commute through this clogging city? Yes and no.

With a population of over five million, Bangalore is a fast growing city. And in a city this big, finding your way can be an arduous task. It isn’t surprising if a resident of Basavangudi has no clue about how to get to HRBR layout! And asking for directions is not always advisable.

Directions on mobile

Getting directions over sms is possible with btis.in and latlong.in (pic: Meera K)

Traditionally, a map may have answered your question. But today, the scene is quite different. In order to help the lost Bangalorean and the innumerable outsiders, various companies have started location-based services which can be used to navigate your way through the city. Be it through the World Wide Web or the very handy mobile phone, these services help you find your way through the city. And most of them even help you avoid the ever-changing one-ways.

Ravinder, an engineering student, uses a service called Latlong to help him with routes to areas he has never been to before. He says, “It tells me which is the best route to take and it is very accurate.” Developed by ONZE Technology India Private Ltd in November 2007, Latlong is one of the many services in the city that helps you with routes to any location in Bangalore. All you need to do is log on to their website or send an SMS. The SMS cost is as per your mobile phone service plan. The service also tells you the distance between two locations.

Says Sudarshan H S, co-founder, ONZE, “Bangalore has grown over the years. Someone living in south Bangalore doesn’t know how to get to the other end. We knew this need existed”. ONZE believes that asking for directions from passers-by helps for nearby locations but is not the case for faraway places. This service also helps in locating ATMs, restaurants and even the nearest Nirmala Swachcha Shauchalaya! Ravinder has one complaint though, he says his college, which is located on Mysore Road, doesn’t feature in the service.

A similar service called the Bangalore Traffic Information System or BTIS was launched in 2007. Started jointly by the Bangalore Traffic Police, Airtel and Mapunity, a social entrepreneurship venture, to help commuters in the city, this service is available both on the Internet and via SMS. You can use this service to find out what the traffic situation is like in a particular area, the route to a certain location and even how the traffic is likely to be on your commute.

bus maps

Maps and Tools (Collage: Meera K)

Pradeep B V, co-founder, Mapunity, says, “There was very little information about the traffic situation in Bangalore. We wanted to track the traffic in the city and the traffic police joined in to help us.” The website also features a map which gives you step-by-step directions to get to a place. They even give you the auto fare for the same. BTIS specifies area codes in order to get accurate information. The website even broadcasts live streams from about 80 junctions across the city where cameras have been fitted. The SMS is free of cost for Airtel users. But if you are using a service provider other than Airtel, don’t be surprised if your SMS doesn’t go through!

For software professional Raghunandan BR, this service replace ‘dads’! Yes, we all have banked on our fathers to tell us how to get to a place. “This service helps me find specific locations like a particular electronic store in Gandhinagar”, says Raghunandan. But they don’t always help with the one ways, he adds. Consultant Raghunath DN finds these services ‘different’. He says that such services will eventually replace asking people on the street for directions. “It is fantastic. You may know an area but you wouldn’t know how to get to an exact place. These services help you”, he says.

Praveen uses an online map from iCiti. For a person who moved back to the city after living in the United States, the one-ways and new areas in the city were a matter of concern. That’s when he came upon this website which is developed by Proficio GeoTechnologies, a GIS-based business solutions company focused on map-based solution. Says Shashidhar S Joshi, VP, Corporate Development, Proficio GeoTechnologies, “We are the first company to provide landmark routing. We haven’t marketed the service intensively but are currently in the process of remodifying the system”. Though their services are available only online, Joshi says that they are likely to start the SMS service by March this year. Their services give you driving directions, bus routes and auto fares. Praveen says that this service has a lot of nice features even as there is scope for improvement.

The long and short of getting there

SMS based services example: To go from Jayanagar to Jakkur,
BTIS.in – Send message to 52225 (Airtel users) and 96639 52225 (non-Airtel users)
BTIS ROUTE jayanagar jakkur
Latlong.in – Send message to 9008890088
GO jayanagar TO jakkur

Citizen Matters decided to put to test some of these services, to get to MG Road from Kammanahalli. These are the directions given by Latlong:

    • 7.0 km via>>
    • Om Shakti Temple NEAR Kammanahalli>>Banaswadi Flyover>>Baiyappanahalli Rd>>Old Madras Rd>>Ulsoor Bus Stand>>Trinity Circle>>,MG Rd

Click for complete directions from Latlong.in

And these are the directions given by BTIS for the same route:

KAMMANAHALLI – MG ROAD
Distance: 7.43 kms, Auto fare: Rs 52.01
Route

    • Kammanahalli 0.0 km
    • 3rd cross Road 0.8 km

Click for complete directions from btis.in

The directions given by Latlong is a route that can be taken but it is best not to use that one in view of the Metro rail construction on Old Madras Road. The directions by BTIS are unclear but using Buddha Vihar road is the best way to go. Not many would even know where Bachammal Road is in this case. Their online map gives a clearer picture of the route but then again the one-ways have not been mentioned. Their online map is much clearer as it shows the route via Hennur main road. But the map does not take into consideration that Kamaraj Road is a one-way.

Now, here’s the route provided by www.iciti.in

    • Start out going South on Akkamma Lyt Rd towards venkateshappa Lyt Rd 0.01 km
    • Turn RIGHT onto Venkateshappa Lyt Rd 0.12 km

Click for complete directions from iciti.in

Another service offered by MapmyIndia provides step by step directions on how to go to reach a particular place. Though you need to download specific software for the mobile phone service, the map on the site is quite detailed and shows the smaller streets also. Their driving instructions are quite clear and also give you the distance covered along the way. A unique feature of this service is that they tell you the approximate time you would take to get to your destination.

Journalist and poet Prathibha Nandakumar says she has never used a mobile service or a map to find her way through the city. “I find it convenient to ask people around. I ask autodrivers most of the time because they tend to be right”, she says. Her travails through the city has even inspired her to write a poem, which explains how people give directions based on their reference point. ‘Direction’ is her take on how people give directions in the city according to what they know.

“The Hanuman temple street is one way now
come from the old pond side, its right opposite
the big Banyan tree”

It was not the old familiar place any more
In less than two kilometer I had lost my way
four times. Asking for directions is
a woman’s preoccupation they say

The auto driver was quick
`oh its right next to the next road hump,
just slow down and you will hit it’

I missed it….

Some like it mapped

For Design Engineer Ashok Vasudevan, using a mobile phone to tell you which route to take is a nuisance. Ashok prefers using a map. Yes, how can one forget the good ol’ map? How many of us have even used a map apart from our geography classes in school? Ashok says, “I’m crazy about maps. I use the Eicher map. It’s easy to use as it first provides a complete map of Bangalore in two pages which is then divided into several numbered parts. These parts are then magnified in subsequent pages. It’s a handy tool to find your way through the city. Usage of this map has substantially improved my sense of direction during my travel within the city.” Ashok maybe among the small section of people who would rather use a map to find their way through the city rather than an SMS service.

Companies like Eicher make maps which are extensive and give details like house numbers, building names and landmark points. But it isn’t just maps on paper. Companies like Google and Yahoo! have developed their own mapping services, in turn increasing the number of people using such services.

Yahoo! India Maps provide driving, biking or walking directions with landmark and turn based assistance. Says Shivkumar Ganesan, Product Manager, Yahoo! India Maps, “Yahoo! India Maps is a maps and directions service built specifically to cater to the travel and commute needs of Yahoo!’s users in India. Travelers/visitors from abroad are also potential users”. You can even receive the information on your mobile phone. Their services also cater to the Kannadiga. Ganesan says, “One can see these maps by clicking the ‘Vernacular’ or ‘Kannada’ button. We also have a few exciting features planned for Bangalore, but can’t divulge any information on them now”.

Google maps are also used by people to access information like addresses and directions to different locations. Manik Gupta, Product Manager, Google, says their focus is on innovative solutions to meet user requirements. “Google Maps for Mobile (GMM) is a downloadable application for the cell phone and has all the features available in the web-based maps product. It also has the ability to show the user his/her location regardless of the availability of GPS on the user’s cell phone”, he says.

You may have lived in this city for decades but it is highly unlikely that you know every part of Bengaluru. And services like these only reiterate the fact that this city is growing and we need help finding our way. Prathibha Nandakumar refers to it in her poem, reflecting on how the city has grown and continues to do so.

…The traffic police was more helpful
`just go back and its at the first signals’
It was the same one I had passed…
…The post man, I thought would lead
`I am going on the other beat, this is the old number,
now all that has changed,88 comes after 97, ask any one’…
…I just stood there wondering which way to turn


About Deepa Mohan 151 Articles
Deepa Mohan is a freelance writer and avid naturalist.

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