Technology and the Metro Bus

Published: March 23, 2013

The writer worked as the Chairman of the Punjab Information Technology Board. He holds a PhD in computer science by the University of Cambridge

“What’s the count today, Dr Sahib?” was the BBM message I received from the Punjab chief minister every night. The reason for this exchange is that we have an Automatic Fare Collection (AFC) system for the Lahore Metro Bus. Every passenger that walks through a turnstile on a metro bus station, using a token or a smart card, is tracked in real time. This helps us monitor and plan our operations based on real time analytics, eliminates pilferage in revenue collection and facilitates passengers.

The Metro Bus is run by a sophisticated set of IT systems, each carefully tweaked, according to our requirements. For instance, our AFC system employs reusable RFID tokens, rather than the magnetic tickets used at the London Underground. Magnetic tickets need to be printed for each new journey and cost between two to three rupees. For keeping the fares affordable, we needed a solution that does not incur additional costs of printing tickets. Furthermore, magnetic tickets use mechanical ticket dispensation machines, which would have had a high failure rate in our dusty outdoor environment. Therefore, the Metro Bus uses contactless RFID plastic tokens for one-time rides. The riders simply show the token at the entry turnstile and deposit them at the exit turnstile so that they can be recycled in the system. This also subtly enables the system to measure the distance travelled by each rider and provides the mechanism for distance-based fare collection in future. Regular riders can use smart cards, which will also allow the government to implement special fare policies for students, senior citizens and frequent travellers.

The Metro Bus system uses automatic ticket-vending machines. This is the first use of ticket-vending machines in Pakistan. These machines can be used for both buying tokens and recharging smart cards. When we were designing the e-ticketing system, we remained apprehensive of the uptake of such technology by riders on this route. Within three weeks, we have all been left amazed by how quickly people have learned to use the system. The entire system — including ticket-vending machines, PDA ticket rechargers and turnstiles — is equipped with GPRS SIMS, in case the primary fibre link fails. The seamless switchover ensures that our fare collection system keeps working despite power cuts and disruptions in connectivity.

An important ingredient for long-term success of the project is the ability of the system to maintain a strict bus schedule. For this, each bus is equipped with an on-bus-unit (OBU) that communicates with a central bus scheduling system. The location and speed of each bus is tracked in real time and drivers are continuously updated about information to help them maintain their scheduled headway. The OBUs also communicate with a central system that automatically generates announcements of bus schedule for the passengers.

The Lahore Metro bus system uses a dedicated corridor for all but eight locations, where the bus must cross a signal used by other traffic. The Intelligent Transport System (ITS) used by the Metro Bus is based on an adaptive signalling mechanism. The ITS traffic signals monitor approaching buses, as well as the length of queue of regular traffic at signalled junctions. As soon as the system detects an approaching bus, it attempts to give it a green-wave but simultaneously adapts the signalling frequency to maintain an acceptable length of queue for regular traffic.

In order to enable at-grade boarding of buses from elevated stations, the Metro Bus system uses a precision docking system, synchronised with automatic sliding doors. The stations are equipped with sensors that detect an approaching bus and open the sliding doors as soon as the bus is precision docked. This helps prevent accidents at the time of boarding of buses and facilitate passengers.

Finally, the entire Metro Bus system uses 338 cameras to monitor the entire 27-kilometre corridor, traffic junctions and bus stations. Live video-feed from these cameras is streamed to our central command centre. The team monitoring the system uses this for security surveillance and manual overrides, when necessary.

By the way, today’s count was 143,879!

Published in The Express Tribune, March 24th, 2013. 

Reader Comments (43)

  • Ahamd Khan
    Mar 23, 2013 - 10:07PM

    what is so impressive about it? it common technology. It would have been impressive if Punjab Govt had developed this technology, which they could not.

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  • Fawad Khalid
    Mar 23, 2013 - 10:10PM

    Good Job Dr Sahib

    Your efforts have certainly made us proud, I can recall to the day you got appointed and Mr abubakar started opposing your selection. I would like to publicly apologise to you for teaming up with those who had personal grudges towards you .

    You are certainly a pride of nation, meeting your father and learning how you had decided to go for PHD instead of family business has made you an Icon to me .

    Metro Bus, Dengue locating App and much more. Teaming up and working with CM you have served public to its height. Wishing you all the best.

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  • uet
    Mar 23, 2013 - 10:17PM

    Dr Sahib
    I would Just say Great Job.
    And Neglect the Haters.

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  • Waseem Arain
    Mar 23, 2013 - 10:19PM

    Fantastic. Technologically driven solutions can definitely raise Quality of Life if employed sensibly.

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  • Sheheryar Khan
    Mar 23, 2013 - 10:58PM

    Without an iota of doubt, excellent work Dr. sb. But I would beg to differ because Intelligent Transport System (ITS) is not working let alone it facilitating the trafffic using adaptive signalling frequency. Almost all of time, the wardens are manually operating the traffic flow at the junctions.

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  • Humaira Asad
    Mar 23, 2013 - 11:15PM

    It is amazing how much one institution – LUMS – has contributed in so many fields. Specially recently under the leadership of Dr. Adil Najam as VC it seems LUMS has just come to maturity and increasing its links to society and its major problems.

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  • Salman Ahmed
    Mar 23, 2013 - 11:20PM

    I agree that this is good work, but this is technology that has been used in turkey and other countries for many years, so not a feather in anyone’s cap. The test will come when the equipment and the system start becoming older and needs repair.

    Also, how much subsidy is being provided to the travellers on this metro bus?

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  • Waseem Arain
    Mar 23, 2013 - 11:22PM

    @Ahamd Khan No doubt Dr. Umar has not invented this technology neither he’s claiming that. But even in developed countries like UK this technology is not being used! And BTW you don’t need to invent the wheel if it already exist.

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  • adnan
    Mar 23, 2013 - 11:38PM

    excellent Techi project by Punjab Government, however, they should considered changing the name of “gaju matta” to something modern, I am sure people would have liked it :)
    anyway it was just a suggestion :)
    well done PITB Team! and many congratulations for such a successful project

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  • Blithe
    Mar 24, 2013 - 12:28AM

    We need to apply these sort of statistics and queue management in all departments of Pakistan .

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  • Umer
    Mar 24, 2013 - 12:35AM

    For instance, our AFC system employs
    reusable RFID tokens, rather than the
    magnetic tickets used at the London
    Underground. Magnetic tickets need to
    be printed for each new journey and
    cost between two to three rupees.

    You are completely wrong here.

    The most common method used by commuters within London is a ‘re- chargeable’ credit card sized Oyster card. You can top it up as often as you want within seconds via mobile, online or through any number of kiosks; and there is no wait to board on bus unlike your system were people have to wait in queue even up to 1.5 hrs. The oyster cards are kept by their users and re-used, unlike the RFID tokens that your system uses which has the potential of being taken away as souvenirs by the commuters, knowing how our people behave. This means you will continually be running out of them adding to the costs.

    Dr Sahab you have made the classic techi mistake; going for the latest technology, but not the best one for the job.

    I urge you to re-consider your options and go with a London style top-able Oyster card system which is very successful.

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  • Umer
    Mar 24, 2013 - 1:20AM

    The riders simply show the token at
    the entry turnstile and deposit them
    at the exit turnstile so that they can
    be recycled in the system.

    This is another fundamental flaw in the system. The bus company has to for ever reserve a portion of human resources just to recycle the tokens by taking them from buses to the sale points every day all day long. As the number of buses and commuters grow this would require even more resources, increasing costs at every stage of expansion.

    If you compare it with London’s Oyster based system then there is nothing physical to move around, a much more convenient and economical system for both commuters and the Bus company.

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  • Pro Truth
    Mar 24, 2013 - 2:18AM

    Dr Sahib you need to call Hassan Nawaz in London to know that RFID is installed in every London Bus and London Underground thats in addition to paper tickets for backward compatibility and include the tickets issued internationally!
    While you guys are comparing ticketing with London Underground, Lahore Metro failed to even compete with Dehli Metro. Difference they are not buses but real mass transit TRAINS!

    While its commendable effort, having said that by no means its revolutionary technology in transport.

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  • aliya
    Mar 24, 2013 - 3:25AM

    Fantastic work. The planning and thought that went into the design is showing the results. What is amazing that its the first time such a system has been installed in Pakistan and has worked! No doubt if you get award winning scientists working for the government, it’ll show results. Kudos to Shahbaz Sharif for choosing people such as Dr. Saif to work in important government positions.

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  • Sohail
    Mar 24, 2013 - 3:52AM

    @Ahamd Khan:
    What the government /Umar Saif and team has done is not a joke. Any such system here in NY will have costed $$$ more and still not been able to deliver the analytics and information in realtime. I am an engineer based in NY city and do not have any acquaitance with either of the staff. Please rise above your prejudices and learn to appreciate the good things.

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  • Jamshed M
    Mar 24, 2013 - 3:56AM

    Correction: in london people use oyester card not tickets… only tourists use tickets for temp use .. introduce something like that so people can get discount on weekly and monthly pass … with coins u will be getting new customers everyday and slowly u will see decrease in commuters … with travel card like oyester u will get loyal commuters who have to travel anyway ..

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  • Khan
    Mar 24, 2013 - 4:34AM

    This is a step in the right direction without a doubt, but its a needle in the haystack and as for using technology for managing operations is concerned even the medium sized retail companies in Pakistan use sophisticated inventory and sales management solutions which are real time with redundant connectivity etc, add to that sophisticated analytics for bigger companies. If you look at larger corporations using geo locations for increasing sales or defining marketing budgets is also in play.

    Respect for Dr Sb aside, this advertisement for an govt otherwise lagging behind isnt appreciated,

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  • xor
    Mar 24, 2013 - 6:05AM

    Technology after doling out out large amount of cash. Let see how long it would function.

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  • Pasha
    Mar 24, 2013 - 7:10AM

    Good work. The more you use the technology, the more cost effective the system would be.

    As far as Subsidies are concerned, show me one mass transport system in the world that is not subsidized! It is the provincial government or municipalities primary responsibility to provide transportation facilities to the general public at a subsidized rates. Mass transport systems pay for themselves by increasing economic activities in the downtown areas as well as areas around the stops and hubs.

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  • Farhan
    Mar 24, 2013 - 7:26AM

    Regardless of which government comes to power Umar Saif should remain chairman of PITB.

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  • Maria
    Mar 24, 2013 - 9:40AM

    @Ahamd Khan: I can’t understand your negativity. Isn’t the whole point of good governance to take innovation and best practices from other places and tailor them for use in Pakistan so the lives of people be improved? Everyone I speak to in Lahore has positive things to say about the Metro Bus Service and folks in other Punjab cities are hoping to see the same efficient modern transport service extended to their cities too. Take a look at the development and stability in Punjab and then ask yourself whether you should be hating the growth there or appreciating the efforts of the one provincial government that has been doing good for its people.

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  • Rizwan Ansary
    Mar 24, 2013 - 10:45AM

    According to the doctor, the number of people who benefit from this service daily is 143,000. The city’s population is 11 million. The province’s population is 91 million.

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  • safdar
    Mar 24, 2013 - 12:37PM

    Sorry to say but the PTI misguided social media brigade seems to have missed the point totally. The metro bus, as explained in the article, uses both oyster card style smart cards (I have seen many people use these on the metro bus), as well as RFID tokens for one-time riders. Actually i have seen people use the ticket machines to top up the smart cards. I think the article explains both. So what is Umer dude or Pro truth talking about? The social media is much better without these political trolls.

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  • salman
    Mar 24, 2013 - 2:21PM

    Good job sir. But had the technology broken down yesterday (23 march)? Is that why buses werent running? I hope you have a good support model for the IT systems.

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  • Khurram
    Mar 24, 2013 - 3:32PM

    @Ahamd Khan:
    Are you for reall? Do you really mean everywhere in the world where any sort of technology is used, they actually develop it first? How pathetic. This Usage of RFID in any sort of public system is the very first of its kind in this part of the world & instead of welcoming & celebrating it you guys are making ridiculously stupid statments just because of your political biasness.

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  • Abdullah
    Mar 24, 2013 - 3:55PM

    @umer .and pro truth .Both of u should read it once again.seem u just dont want 2 appreciate gud things n d country.

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  • XCriminal
    Mar 24, 2013 - 4:32PM

    This current idea of RFID coins is implemented in KL Malaysia, quite successful there but still there were few ways I remember to bypass it (if there is no security personnel standing on monitoring that everyone shows his/her own coin) I am sure Pakistani people (master of disaster) will find it & use it when got chance.

    equipped with GPRS SIMS

    Don’t rely on them, mobile services are quite often jammed in Pakistan #JustSaying

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  • Truth_Prevails
    Mar 24, 2013 - 5:49PM

    @Ahamd Khan: Khan Bhai, something’s burning!

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  • Ali Khawaja
    Mar 24, 2013 - 7:13PM

    Used the metro yesterday. Really is awesome I wish it would run for hundreds of years :)

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  • Ali Khawaja
    Mar 24, 2013 - 7:17PM

    Used the Metro bus system yesterday. I wish for it to run for decades to come and that many more projects be deployed in areas of Public Safety, Healthcare and Education and that our governments work for the welfare of the people.

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  • Kashif Zia
    Mar 24, 2013 - 8:54PM

    Well done Punjab and Dr. Sb.

    Its quite a revolution from “mazda wagons” to an International standard. I know people would start using it more and would acquire knowledge to use it.

    The critics here are unbelievable.
    150,000 people are using it now, as compared to 0, having following facilities
    – its cheaper
    – its timely
    – its comfortable
    what else do you want? Its like 15% of the population in the start. I would say it to be 20%, as many people accompany their children with them (they must be free, I think). Isn’t it commendable?

    And about the ticketing system.
    1. it should be according to our requirements, not of Turkey or UK. That’s exactly what Dr. Umar Saif is guiding about.
    2. Why should we develop our own technology. A proper utilization of tech. is also important.
    3. And some kind of start towards ITS in cities of Pakistan was required. This project helped to learn the dynamics of Pakistani traffic. This would go a long way for further improvement of traffic conditions.

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  • Alyzeh Naqvi
    Mar 25, 2013 - 4:49AM

    @Ahamd Khan is a typical troll that monitors all articles on progress in Pakistan and they have a shiver up their leg to criticize it so they can get a any responses in future people are best ignored!

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  • Sana Asif
    Mar 25, 2013 - 10:27AM

    With projects like these and minds like yours, I can hold my head high and be proud to be a Pakistani. Metro Bus System has certainly changed Lahore’s image. We need more such projects all across Pakistan. Thumbs up!

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  • O2
    Mar 25, 2013 - 11:09AM

    There is no doubt that MBS is a great initiative for a city like Lahore, you have to partly thank 31 oct 2011 jalsa of IK for this, because for the first three years of PMLN Govt we didn’t see any progress made towards betterment of common man. Still ton of work left to improve our standard of living, MBS is just a small step & I hope politicians now start working for us as they are public servants not kings.

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  • Kamran
    Mar 25, 2013 - 11:15AM

    A very good combination of IT & civil infrastructure blessing almost 1.5 lac people daily (including me).m lovin it!!

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  • H.
    Mar 25, 2013 - 11:17AM

    @Umer:

    I made the same mistake while reading the article, but if you read on you’ll see the following:

    “Regular riders can use smart cards, which will also allow the government to implement special fare policies for students, senior citizens and frequent travellers.”

    In fact, even at London Underground, the Oyster card is merely for regular travelers. The one-time travelers have to use the ticket system as described in this article. And the technology used in Oyster cards (NFC) is not cheap to implement, so not particularly useful for single-trip commuters.

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  • Kamran
    Mar 25, 2013 - 11:40AM

    A good combination of IT & civil infrastucture blessing almost 1.5 lac people daily (including me). loving metro!

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  • Khwaja
    Mar 25, 2013 - 12:50PM

    The Metro Bus system uses automatic ticket-vending machines. This is the first use of ticket-vending machines in Pakistan. These machines can be used for both buying tokens and recharging smart cards.

    Really? Why did I have to stand in queue for a manual ticket then? Or am I missing something here. I bought it from no vending machine but sure enough, deposited it into one.

    And still, after having used it, I am not convinced of it’s efficacy in current times. Sure, it feels grand and all.

    An efficient transport system, or a growing/thriving business hub of a city: Which precedes which?! Priority failure?

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  • Wisdom
    Mar 25, 2013 - 1:11PM

    Please be a trend setter not a trend follower. Dr. Sahib just did that so did the CM.

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  • Sami
    Mar 25, 2013 - 6:26PM

    The only stat I would like to know is the “subsidy” being provided to keep the project afloat !!

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  • Optimist
    Mar 25, 2013 - 7:54PM

    @ adnan
    .
    Changing the name of Gajju Mata to something modern???? That shows our inferiority complex.
    .
    I went to SINGAPORE last month and one of their biggest metro station (where different lines meet) is called DHOBI GHAAT. This name is used because there used to be an old Indian DHOBI GHAAT in that area.
    .
    I am sure if we used Dhobi Ghaat name for station, you will feel embarrassed to use it!

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  • antanu g
    Mar 25, 2013 - 7:55PM

    @Rizwan Ansary:
    population of delhi is 120 million.about 13 million people benefit from metro…. what do you expect… entire population moves on metro? very sad that you people are filled with so much neativitism that can’t appreciate a good development.

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  • adnan
    Mar 26, 2013 - 6:36PM

    @optimist

    “changing the name of gajju matta”

    I am amazed you had time to criticize a mere suggestion!

    Personally, I don’t see anything wrong with accepting new things and adapting to new standards. Dhobi Ghat does have a history, but do you knows the history of “gajju matta”?? or you knows someone who knows it, na,

    I once asked someone from gajju matta if he knew the history behind the place name; he had no idea nor he seemed very fond of it. Thats how I came up with this trivial suggestion.

    However, now, I got this feeling that people can criticize anything based on their own philosophies and mentality and can merely see the good side of anything.

    Hats off to Punjab Govt. and PITB team for delivery us MBS,
    haters do their job, lets do ours!

    :)

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