The transportation sector has undergone a major change over the past few years with the widespread use of information and communication technology (ICT). This technology involvement has become even deeper in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic. C.V. Ramdas, general manager, IT, Bangalore Metro Rail Corporation Limited, talks about how ICT has transformed the sector, the key technology solutions deployed by the company, the challenges in deployment and the way forward…
How has ICT transformed the transportation and mobility sector?
Since the imposition of restrictions to combat the spread of Covid-19 in India and across the globe, the transportation sector has been hit hard. Behavioural changes such as social distancing, restricted physical contact and hygiene measures have been implemented at all levels. The software industry has adopted the work-from-home model. Retail markets have taken to online shopping and home delivery. Most of the banking needs are now being met online. ICT has enabled this transformation. Contactless ticketing systems and related online financial transactions, contactless biometric attendance and temperature monitoring, and new public information display systems are key ICT contributions to the transportation and mobility sector.
What are your views on the use of emerging technologies such as cloud, big data, AI and IoT in the transport sector? What are the key IT solutions being adopted by your company?
Technologies such as cloud, big data, AI and IoT are continuing to be used in the transport sector. The pandemic has generated new use cases for these technologies. Companies are spending millions of rupees to handle new use cases, but there is no long-term view being taken in most cases, as to what would happen to these investments after the pandemic is over. My observation is that there are opportunities here to align this with the Make in India initiative. For example, Bangalore Metro’s IT team has taken the Make in India initiative and come up with timely solutions to address new use cases by actively collaborating with local MSMEs. The key products/solutions that have been implemented in my company are:
- Bangalore Metro has developed an indigenous product with the help of a local MSME, which has been deployed at all station entrances to monitor commuters’ temperature in a contactless manner, and this can also double as a face recognition-based biometric attendance monitoring device for staff members. We have developed a public information display system using the same product to display useful real-time information relevant to commuters at station entrances. This feature will be enabled shortly for public use.
- Also, a mobile application, called Namma Metro, has been developed and is available on Google Play. The application is being used by commuters to top up/recharge their smart travel cards. This involves the integration of the application with the automatic fare collection system at the back end using ICT technologies. In addition, a new set of point-of-sale machines has been installed at stations. These developments have enabled the implementation of cashless transactions.
- Bangalore Metro stations have a large deployment of digital surveillance cameras and at the back end, we are trying to incorporate new image processing methods to identify violations in social distancing norms and wearing of masks, and to alert security staff as appropriate.
How has Covid impacted the sector and how have your business strategies evolved under the new normal?
The public transport service sector was badly hit by the pandemic in revenue terms. At Bangalore Metro, the IT workload increased as we had to implement new solutions for contactless ticketing as well as a work-from-home policy for some employees. As all the ticketing was happening digitally, the increase in digital traffic and computational load had to be managed. The ERP system had to be tweaked to accommodate changes in business logic.
How are you ensuring the security of your systems and processes in this digital age?
We have an IT security policy and we strictly adhere to it, with periodic audits conducted by external certification agencies. We have identified critical IT infrastructure components and are in touch with the National Critical Information Infrastructure Protection Centre and other IT security agencies of the government. Besides the requisite security tools, we have isolated all the critical data service networks from the internet, and provided proxies and APIs to enable applications to interface with our services.
What will be the key digital/technology trends that will shape the sector going forward?
I anticipate ticketless travel to become a reality in the near future, where a commuter need not use a physical ticket (or even a mobile phone) at any of the entry/exit gates. I also foresee improvements in last-mile connectivity with an integrated multimodal transport system, where bus and metro train service information will be combined to help travellers plan a trip.