Two-and-half months since the BMTC introduced digital passes, demand for these passes remains low. According to A V Surya Sen, Director (Information Technology) at BMTC, only 17,645 digital passes were active on June 22nd. This comes to less than 1% of BMTC’s average daily ridership of 25 lakh.
In pre-pandemic times, use of paper passes was common among BMTC passengers. For example, a BMTC survey of 2019 had showed that 48% of those surveyed used paper passes. It seems few have converted to digital passes.
Launched on April 6th, the total number of digital passes issued so far (including expired passes, and repeat passes for some passengers), comes to just 45,218 as of June 22nd.
The passengers we spoke to – both users and non-users of digital passes – while believing that digital passes could be convenient, have several concerns about implementation. While the bus conductors prefer the old system of paper tickets/passes.
Meanwhile, BMTC is pushing for further digitalisation, with the aim of going conductor-less by the end of the year.
Convenient to buy, but no so to use
Generally, digital pass users find that the process of buying these is convenient – they can buy these online any time, anywhere. Users can login to the Tummoc app – the company that issues the passes – and opt for daily, weekly and monthly digital passes in any type of bus. They only need to provide some basic details, upload an ID card and a selfie, and make the payment. “It is an easier and paperless mode of travel,” says Amogh, who has used daily digital passes.
However, Kishor Bhat, who uses monthly digital passes, says the QR code-based validation required for every trip could be a hassle. For each trip, the app generates a dynamic QR code. If the conductor has the scanner/ETM (Electronic Ticketing Machine), they will validate the code directly. Else the passenger himself has to scan the QR codes put up in the bus. Kishor, who travels by Volvos, usually scans the QR code himself.
“QR code validation could be inconvenient in a fast-moving bus,” says Kishor. “If my internet is faulty, the app won’t open or even display my ID details. Sometimes the app itself can be slow, and validation takes time. So if something doesn’t work, there’s no proof that I have the pass. There’s no option to take and keep a screenshot of the pass either.” He also mentioned a few instances where conductors asked to see his BMTC ID card.
Validation of regular paper passes are more straightforward as the conductor just needs to see the pass. “But with digital passes, conductors have to look closer, make sure I scan correctly, and wait if I need to keep re-scanning,” says Kishor. Given these difficulties, he believes digital passes shouldn’t be too app-oriented. “Ideally it should be something I can easily pull out like an ID card, but is also hard to duplicate.”
Factors like technology, language and the unreliability of BMTC buses could discourage more people from buying digital passes, feels Aneesh Mugulur, who occasionally buys weekly digital passes. “For large sections of the people travelling in ordinary BMTC buses, the technology [for using digital passes] is already a filter,” says Mugulur. “Second, the app is in English**, there is no Kannada option. Besides, passes will work only if you are a daily commuter who can rely on a bus to take you to a specific location every day at a fixed time. For me, the bus to my workplace never comes on time. So how can I buy and use passes regularly?”
Premalatha Prakash, who recently used a digital daily pass found the experience hassling. “The bus conductor didn’t have a scanner and was aggressive with me,” says Premalatha, who herself is not quite comfortable with technology. “But the app would be convenient if its processes are simplified”.
Monika Pandit, a college student, is wary of moving to digital passes given her experience with conductors when she uses her regular student pass. She recounts instances of conductors refusing to accept her student pass, and one time when she was forced to get out of the bus at a random location.
“What if I’ve already paid for the digital pass but the conductors don’t accept it, and demand payment or let me out of the bus?” asks Monika. “At that moment, I can’t do anything about it, right?”
Conductors worry passes could be faked
BMTC conductors aren’t comfortable with digital passes either.
Of four conductors Citizen Matters spoke to, all, on condition of anonymity, said they preferred the old system of regular passes/tickets. They find the transition to digital difficult to adjust to.
Three of the four work in non-AC buses, and don’t have ETMs to validate digital passes. They are especially wary that passengers may show fake passes. So far, only 1,500 out of over 6,000 buses are equipped with the ETMs.
One conductor said: “Passengers can doctor passes and I would have no idea as I don’t have the scanner yet and I’m not tech-savvy enough. I prefer the old passes since the system was much more simpler.”
“The validity of passes can be better understood in paper passes, as people will be able to edit digital passes,” said another conductor.
Tummoc, however, responded to Citizen Matters that the passes couldn’t be faked. “We employ dynamic QR codes that change every second. Another feature is that only valid passes can be opened, not expired passes.” They added that BMTC conductors were trained extensively before the product launch, and are supported at the backend by BMTC and Tummoc teams on issues related to pass validation.
One conductor who does have a scanner, works in a Volvo bus. He sees formal employees, like those from the IT sector, use digital passes more effectively. However, he has encountered issues like passengers getting stuck with app updates, server issues, as well as a recent issue with his own scanner not opening properly. He believes the app will more helpful if these issues can be resolved.
But he too prefers the old passes. “Conductors are used to paper tickets for a long time and are used to quickly giving out tickets, change and passes,” he says. “The new system is difficult, and its effective use will take much longer among conductors.”
Surya Sen, Director (Information Technology) at BMTC, says they plan to give ETMs to all conductors soon. The current ETMs have been rented from state-owned KEONICS, and tenders would be floated to get the rest on rent. “One tender for this has already been called, and another will be called in the next 2-3 days,” says Sen. “We only want to rent the ETMs, because these are use-and-throw electronic materials.”
BMTC’s mega digitalisation plans
Sen says that the current passes issued by Tummoc is only a stopgap arrangement, and that BMTC will roll out its own app in the next couple of months with English and Kannada language options, making it more accessible. “The app is ready and we are testing it with some volunteers,” says Sen. “We want to reach at least four lakh people (over 15% of passengers) through this app. People will still have the option of using Tummoc though.”
For the future, BMTC is envisioning at doing away with digital passes and transition to wallets and smart cards (similar to Metro cards), that can be recharged. “Passengers will be able to opt for daily, weekly or monthly recharge of the wallet, which will act as a pass,” explains Sen. “You will be able to recharge your account up to Rs 2,000, which is more than the value of a monthly pass. As per RBI guidelines, KYC is not needed for amounts up to Rs 2,000. Excess money will remain in the wallet and can be used later. BMTC is currently working on its backend systems for this.” Transactions will be allowed through apps like Google Pay as well.
Regarding smart cards, Sen says, “BMTC is holding talks with BMRCL (Bangalore Metro Rail Corporation Ltd) to use their cards for BMTC, so that we don’t have to come up with new cards. With this, Metro and bus travel can be integrated.”
“Once the wallet and smart card systems are in place by the end of the year, BMTC will experiment with conductor-less buses,” says Sen. All buses will be equipped with ETMs, and passengers will be expected to validate their wallets/cards by themselves. “We are putting our trust on passengers. Even now with digital passes, the majority of passengers are validating the passes themselves.” Asked where the conductors would be redeployed, Sen says they will work as drivers as they are recruited as drivers-cum-conductors.
While the immediate focus is on improving the pass system, the new BMTC app will also have smart features like live bus tracking, planning their trip, etc. BMTC had rolled out these same features in an app in 2016, though that didn’t work well. “We don’t know how it’s going to work out, but we want to make it work,” said Sen. “We have a deadline of 2022 for all of these. They are in the pipeline, and we will launch these one by one.”
Sen acknowledges that as of now user acceptance of digital passes is low. “We have collected lots of feedback – many people still don’t believe BMTC,” admits Sen. “But the numbers have been picking up, especially in the last month. On July 1st, we will introduce flexible monthly passes (currently, monthly passes have to be taken at the start of the month and are valid only till the end of that month) which will allow users to book a monthly pass on any day and use it for the next 31 days. We believe this will increase the digital pass uptake.”
[With inputs from Vidya Prakash]
** Errata: This article previously quoted Aneesh Mugulur as saying that the app is in English and Hindi. This has been corrected to mention that the app is in English.