A long route for contactless “One Nation One Card” scheme for metros across the nation

Although, very least progress has been made in the field so far on the ground but there are a lot of opportunities in the field at this time. The authorities must understand the needs of the hour

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PM Narendra Modi launched SWAGAT - the Automatic Fare Collection Gating System presented by BEL
PM Narendra Modi launched SWAGAT - the Automatic Fare Collection Gating System presented by BEL

Even after more than a year of its launch, the dream project remains a dream only as no adequate works on the ground has been done so far.

As we live under a pandemic induced by China and trying to adapt the “new normal”, things have already changed overnight. COVID-19 has already devastated the ways we used to live in. It has hampered the lives of millions in India and across the globe and the things are going to change in future dramatically. One of the worst affected sectors is travel, tourism and hospitality sector.

We all know the importance of urban mobility in the development of a nation and since the start of the century we are living in, metro systems have taken the place of greater importance specially in the most populous urban centres of trade and economy. The rapid growth of the metropolitan cities has attracted people from different states of rural and semi-urban societies for the fulfillment of their aspirations.

The coronavirus has already induced a new way of living with changing many aspects of our lives. Masks and sanitizers have now become a kind of necessity. The metro services, however, remain suspended for more than four months but once the situations improve, the urban transport system will start working in the ‘new normal mode’. The things now need to be improved in all the sectors of transportation and we need to bring in a place open-loop system of fare collection in place of existing ones here have been reports that Delhi Metro Rail Corporation( DMRC ) has been working tremendously to complete its ongoing projects in a rapid manner and trying to adapt to new technologies for the opening of its wide range of Metro Rail network. The things now need to be seen from a different perspective. Once the things are back to new normal and the Metro networks reopen again in different cities of the nation, few noticeable changes are going to take place.

At the DMRC automated fare collection (AFC) gates, you need to touch the terminal/validator with your metro card or token to proceed further for entries and exits at the metro stations. The system needs to be replaced with new technology as these places may become a breeding ground for the coronavirus. The need of the hour is to go fully digital and contactless in the metro systems when the services resume later this year. 

One alternative to the existing system is the ambitious scheme of the central government, “National Common Mobility Card” or (NCMC) launched by prime minister Narendra Modi in March last year during the launch of the first phase of Ahmedabad Metro in Ahmedabad. The scheme commonly known as ‘One Nation One Card‘ Scheme is an umbrella program under the ministry of housing and urban affairs of Government of India. This scheme proposes to include a common payment option for various services like Metro travel,  Bus travel, ferries, toll taxes, taxi services, parking charges, retail shopping and even further includes the withdrawal of money. It is an indigenous prepaid card which is supported by the National payments corporation of India led the Rupay payments system.

When we try to find the things on the ground, very little progress has been made so far after a year and four months of its launch. The NITI Aayog and Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs had chosen two leading PSUs namely Bharat Electronics Limited (BEL) and Centre for Development of Advanced Computing (C-DAC) in 2019 for manufacturing the NCMC gates which shall enable the contactless payment system at the metro stations. However, no progress has been made in the field so far. One source familiar with the matter told that it takes a huge amount of metro infrastructure to manufacture the AFC gates. If these two PSUs are  start manufacturing NCMC gates i.e. BEL manufacturing hardware and C-DAC developing software, many unemployed people will get benefitted. It will certainly generate employment and cut the import expenses of the Metro project. Once the goods are manufactured locally, more people will get jobs and the Public Sector Utilities will gain more strength like those of the other nations.

The DMRC which is the longest Metro network of the nation has not till now fully adapted to the system. The same story remains with other major metro rail networks like those of Kolkata, Mumbai, Noida and Bangalore. The DMRC is the organisation which plays the most crucial role in determining the future of the metro systems in India. Once DMRC adapts to any new system, all other metro corporations will follow the same path and once this system is fully implemented, India will go one step forward in becoming Atmanirbhar especially in manufacturing metro equipment which is currently imported from either China or European Nations.

The NCMC can help passengers for a hassle-free journey along with health safety throughout any metro network of the nation if implemented effectively. The existing magnetic sensor-based AFC gates may be replaced with a new technology to implement the scheme or few NCMC gates may be installed along with the existing ones. It will further boost the revenue of indigenous payments network of India, Rupay. Further, payments through the card at the shops and retail outlets in the metro premises instead of cash may boost the Digital India initiative. It may further be used for fare payments in  Buses, auto-rickshaws and taxis for a contactless payment system. Although one can pay the DTC fare through  DMRC metro card it’s using is confined to Delhi only. Going ahead with the new system which is a dream project of the Central Government, the whole nation’s transport system can be brought under a single authority. It will not only help the people but also save their money and time as well as generate revenue of the government.

The DMRC , which has a network of 285 stations with total length of 389 kilometres distance and daily ridership between of 4.5 to 5 million has been badly hit by the pandemic and a normal recovery for it may take long time. DMRC with existing system will not be able to cater to such a huge crowd of riders who used to travel during the Pre – Covid days. It will solely depend upon the measures taken by the DMRC to ensure safety and health issues of passengers to bring back the greater Ridership strength again. Apart from these, DMRC will also have to implement other new policies and procedures for passenger’s health safety which has become the new matter of concern with the outbreak of Coronavirus.

Likewise DMRC, Noida Metro, Mumbai Metro, Bangalore Metro as well as Kolkata Metro will need to adapt to the new technologies. The entry gates too now need to be made contactless along with sanitization facilities for the luggage. The crowd of the people at queues for purchasing tokens and card recharges are common scenes at all stations of different metro networks.  Although, most of the stations of Noida Metro Rail Network are equipped with QR Code enabled entry gates but the paper tickets used to be common there. The token system in Delhi and Bangalore Metro also needs to be changed with alternatives and in this move, the NCMC may play a crucial role in digitalization of Metro Networks. There shall be listed human contacts for obtaining cards as human contacts may increase the problem.

Once the people are back for the metro travels, they will need more health-related issues than before. The coronavirus indeed may infect a lot of people if Metro Stations along with Metro Corporations do not take precautionary steps before restarting the services. The older token and ticket systems are not going to be feasible at all. The time has come to end the existing system of tokens and tickets as they may become the potential carriers of Coronavirus and other microbes. The existing metro cards too need to be read with contactless technology. 

It is the perfect time to bring a revolutionary movement in the metro systems through NCMC and necessary health related equipments. This will benefit a large number of people who travel to different cities at a time as well as the regular commuters. There can be an alternative for the existing metro card holders to use same card at the NCMC gates or they may be issued fresh NCMC cards making it a “One Nation One Metro” initiative. This will further boost the way for ‘Vocal for Local initiative’.

Although, very least progress has been made in the field so far on the ground but there are a lot of opportunities in the field at this time. The authorities must understand the needs of the hour . As the “Vocal for Local” movement is gaining pace along with Make in India, a lot more is needed on the ground to change the current scenario. The Central Government must ensure that things gain a rapid pace on the ground. Achieving Pan Indian use of NCMC will take more time than expected as we perceive through the current scenario of things being done. The C-DAC which operates under the Ministry of Electronics and Information technology may play a crucial role in implementing the scheme at a Pan India level.  The long route for NCMC remains a matter of urgent attention both of the Metro Corporations and the Government as the current move for Atmanirbhar Bharat and Vocal for Local go popular with the masses.

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