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Linux rides pillion on Mumbai city buses

By Suhit Kelkar on May 14, 2008 (7:00:00 PM)

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In the swarming Indian metropolis Mumbai, it can be a gymnastic exercise just to fish in your pocket on the packed city buses and stretch out your paying hand to the conductor. Many commuters have opted instead for a 'smart' and cashless way to pay, provided, in part, by Linux. Named Go Mumbai, it is a prepaid smart card for BEST (Brihanmumbai Electric Supply and Transport) bus journeys.

In the most advanced configuration, two fare collection devices are mounted in the aisles near the front and back bus doors. These devices require the commuter to hold the smart card against them (contactless interface) upon entering and while leaving the bus. Each bus also has a control device. It uses a wireless LAN to talk with the fare collection devices, and, using GPS, tallies the distance travelled by individual commuters with the preconfigured route stored in its memory. The control device can be reprogrammed by the bus driver whenever the bus is rerouted. This triangle of devices in the bus uses ARM9 processors and runs embedded Linux using kernel 2.6. Having these Linux-embedded devices, says Satish Goriani, consultant to the technology provider Kaizen, drastically reduces the transaction time, and the inbuilt services in Linux, such as SSH, make it easy to manage them remotely. Forty buses are equipped in this way. The other 3,500 in the system use a more low-tech solution: a handheld device that the bus conductor uses to debit the smart card.

Riders can purchase Go Mumbai cards from 120 point of sale-and-refill PCs across Mumbai city at BEST's bus depots and smaller outposts. These PCs run CentOS, a distribution compiled from the free packages used in Red Hat Enterprise Linux. Mumbai-based Kaizen Engineering Systems Private Limited, the administrator and provider of the system to the BEST, can remotely access the PCs using Secure Shell (SSH) for maintenance activities, thus ensuring their reliability and uptime. By contrast, Goriani says, "Telnet (remote) access on Windows is prone to attacks. SSH is more secure." At present, the point of sale PCs have sold 800,000 smart cards in Mumbai.

From the point of sale terminals, the fare collections are digitally transferred to individual float accounts on back office servers running Sun's Solaris operating system. When the rider uses the card, the float accounts are debited accordingly. The system handles transactions daily worth Indian rupees (inr) 2.5 to 3 million citywide.

Deployed in January 2007, the system is so stable that it will this month be officially extended to part of Mumbai's suburban railways as well. It is also secure, and has had no hacks and cracks, according to Kaizen.

Thanks to the system's use of Linux, BEST saved about inr 1.2 million on the point of sale infrastructure alone, as compared with a Microsoft Windows setup, Goriani says. BEST paid nothing for the rest of the system, signing instead a revenue-sharing contract with Kaizen.

Though the first of its kind in India, the smart card system needed no radical development; it used off-the-shelf embedded Linux hardware and existing solutions modified for Indian currency rates and for physical considerations such as Mumbai's clammy climate and the rigors of bumpy journeys. Its supplier, Australia-based ERG, has provided a similar solution to Singapore's public transit system.

The BEST system has had a very low failure rate, not least because of the reliability offered by Linux at the points of sale and onboard fare collection, Kaizen has found. Of the 450 embedded Linux fare collection devices deployed in a recent pilot with the railways subsequent to the success with the bus service, only four units crashed -- all due to hardware or electricity failure. "The OS failure is insignificant," Goriani says.

The BEST system is yet another example of how Linux is making inroads in all kinds of niches, thanks to its low cost and high reliability.

Suhit Kelkar is a freelance journalist in Mumbai, India. He has covered civic affairs, science, and technology for Mumbai-based publications including the Times of India and the Indian Express. He is also a Linux addict who changes his distro each month.

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on Linux rides pillion on Mumbai city buses

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Linux rides pillion on Mumbai city buses

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 167.3.4.134] on May 14, 2008 08:55 PM
Hey Suhit,

Thats a great article. Thanks for the post !!

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Linux rides pillion on Mumbai city buses

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 59.184.179.117] on May 15, 2008 07:41 AM
Wow ! That is informative .The TuX generation in India is fast evolving.

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Linux rides pillion on Mumbai city buses

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 195.34.122.3] on May 15, 2008 08:32 AM
Here in Bulgaria we got Linux to run video adds in buses. :)

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Re: Linux rides pillion on Mumbai city buses

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 210.18.178.26] on May 21, 2008 05:40 AM
Hey! I found what our (Mumbai-based) video ads run on. Took a bus last evening. First thing i noticed was that the displays were not on and one of them had a message on it...any guesses?
Was the black screen of death :D
"Windows XP could not start because the following file is missing or corrupt: \WINDOWS\SYSTEM32\CONFIG\SYSTEM"

ROTFL!!!
I could not take a photograph cuz my camera phone is terrible.

Ashutosh (geekgawd(at)yahoo(dot)com

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Linux rides pillion on Mumbai city buses

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 59.183.142.209] on May 15, 2008 10:45 AM
All the best... Sudeep, Satish, SHalaka and Prashant...

From,
Prashant

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Linux rides pillion on Mumbai city buses

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 192.168.40.252] on May 15, 2008 11:12 AM
Hey here too those same systems are being used to run video trailers and adds in the BEST buses. They stream the videos to all the buses running with this devices attached.

Rohit Baisakhiya

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Re: Linux rides pillion on Mumbai city buses

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 59.181.98.240] on May 19, 2008 01:09 PM
The boxes that are used to run videos in BEST buses in Mumbai do not stream content but is pre-stored. You need high bandwidth to stream content which is a challenge especially when in motion.

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Linux rides pillion on Mumbai city buses

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 221.135.149.143] on May 15, 2008 04:56 PM
I used to use GO MUMBAI card. I was not knowing the linux aspect. This article opened my eye.
Loknath Swain
Mumnbai based PR Person
loknathswain at gmail dot com

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Linux rides pillion on Mumbai city buses

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 64.81.83.165] on May 15, 2008 08:15 PM
Way to go MUMBAI... thanks for sharing this.

--Apoorva Kulkarni

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Linux rides pillion on Mumbai city buses

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 192.168.5.48] on May 16, 2008 12:16 PM
This is simple great.Wish you all the best. Good move.

-- Yogita

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Linux rides pillion on Mumbai city buses

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 210.211.131.207] on May 16, 2008 04:38 PM
Hey Suhit, it was nice of you to put this fact down on the net. It is really inspiring for GNU/Linux lovers.

And Mumbai, way to go!

Zaheer.

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Linux rides pillion on Mumbai city buses

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 210.18.178.26] on May 19, 2008 08:25 AM
very informative. Thank you. I have yet to come across a bus with the two fair collection devices, tho. I recall that system being introduced years ago (initially started after there was news that IIT students used a smart card within the campus to pay for food, etc.). It didn't really take off because passengers were required to "check in"/"check out" on their own. Bus conductors seemed more hassled with having to deal with a new device and feeding in changes at intervals (or so it seemed). Plus, ticket collectors did not seem to have a "checking" device to confirm that a passenger had in fact swiped his card at all.
The handheld devices seem like a more practical solution.
The video terminals in buses are very innovative. There used to be PCO's too, which were replaced by Vodafone collection boxes. :) It is good to see things are moving in a positive direction.
I hope to see something as robust for the trains too.

I heard about a hybrid smart card - one that can be used for the BEST as well as the Trains. Is it true? or still fantasy.
~Ashutosh
(geekgawd(at)yahoo(dot)com)

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Re: Linux rides pillion on Mumbai city buses

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 59.165.2.238] on May 27, 2008 07:46 AM
The smart card has been recently launched for Mumbai local trains too.

Regards
Suhit Kelkar.

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Linux rides pillion on Mumbai city buses

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 219.64.114.211] on May 19, 2008 08:43 AM
this is so ifomative .. linux going w.i.l.d

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