Monday, August 22, 2011

Big brother is watching you

Denizens and visitors will surely scoff at this, but apparently Bangalore’s traffic control is the role model for other cities. I found it hard to believe this claim but when the person who told me this had just won the President’s medal for distinguished service, I had to pay attention.
  Praveen Sood, Additional Commissioner of Police (Traffic) an engineer from IIT Delhi and a Post Graduate in Public Policy and Management from IIMB, goes on to assert that the lack of gridlocks shows that the traffic cops are working well. He adds a rider, “Traffic can only move if there are roads; what can the cops do if large chunks of road are dug up or rain-laden?”

The truth, as they say, lies in seeing. So there I am in Sood’s office where he plugs into the central server and pretty soon, we are able to see views of traffic across the city. Very few know that befitting the city’ s stature of a tech capital, a state of the art Traffic Management Centre (TMC) monitors every traffic junction in the city. Specially trained traffic police personnel at 80 workstations pay special attention to 20 corridors that have high traffic density. 

The little blimps on the screen are the GPRS equipped buses operated by the Bangalore Metropolitan Transport Company (BMTC). The TMC is hooked up to the BMTC control room; if the buses move smoothly, the cops know there is no problem, if a bus slows down, they can zoom in their cameras to assess the situation. Pretty cool, isn’t it? It gets cooler –the cops also assess the traffic situation is from the density of mobile phones. The algorithms of higher usage of mobile phones as an indicator of congestion is calculated from information shared by mobile telephony operators.
 
“We have 2500 policemen working in three shifts. Not enough in a city that has 4 million vehicles, with four lakh new vehicles added each year. It is a fact that Indians follow rules only when they think they are watched. Since we can’t have enough cops on the roads, we turned to technology”.
 
Cameras at traffic junctions across the city capture images of traffic violations and notices are mailed to offenders. Blackberry toting cops – the only traffic cops in India to have them- present a cool picture themselves as they print out receipts for on-the-spot fines. Transparency has been built in to the system as the central office gets real time updates of the fines collected and syncs it to the treasury. Sood insists that there would be no corruption if violators pay the full fine and collect their receipts; the problem arises when a violator wants to pay only part of the fine. Obviously then the violator is perpetuating corruption. 

Sood spends a lot of time interacting with people on Bangalore Traffic Police’s facebook page and at various public forums. Modestly, he says, “All the good ideas are not mine. Many were started by my predecessor and I network with bright minds who have interesting solutions.”

-Sandhya Mendonca
(Sandhya Mendonca writes a weekly column for Oheraldo)

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