"Dead-end left turn"
(Assignment No.2 for DPI 671M)
"Dead-end left turn" is a common expression you hear when you ask for directions in Bangalore, my home town. It typically means you take a left turn at the end of the road where there's a 3-way 'T' intersection.
In this article, I look closely at the Road Transport department of what is easily one of the most dense and populated traffic systems on the planet - Karnataka.
Bangalore, the capital of Karnataka, is estimated to have over 10 million transport vehicles in the city. This is in comparison to the entire state of Massachusetts that has around 2 million vehicles. While this can be attributed to a rapidly expanding city with slow-growing public transportation, it is clear that transport is an incredibly important part of the everyday life of citizens. This scale extends to the wide range of services the transport department has to handle including licensing, registration, tickets and accidents to name a few.The department can benefit tremendously from automating and centralising these services. Additionally, Bangalore is the IT hub of India and typically an early adopter of technology. Activities undertaken here often serve as precedence for other states to follow.
Currently in the transport department, there are several services that have been digitised but these are scattered across different portals, suffer from a bad UI and unreliable service. Some of these portals are governed centrally while some are governed locally. The transport department is ripe for innovation. Let's take a look at the portal as it exists today.
As is visible from the image, the portal allows you to pay 'taxes, fees and fines' on the left side, allows 'learners permit and drivers permit' and 'e-Payment' on the right hand side. (This is also a little confusing in terms of jurisdiction since some fines/fees are levied by the Bangalore Traffic Police department, while some are levied by the transport department. )
On closer inspection:
Securing a Learners/Drivers License: The permit application takes you to a website that says "Online Application Data Entry". And there's no place to apply for a permit here. There is a separate link to another portal 'Sarathi-4' and this leads you to a separate central government managed portal which takes you to the actual application but it's incredible hard to navigate and often unresponsive.
Registering a new vehicle: This is typically done by the vehicle sales distributor. But there is an option via Sarathi-4 to do it yourself. From initial glance, it seems to be working fine.
Fines/Tickets: When you click on this option on the home page, it links to a confusing page that has 10 different statutes/acts to select from. Very confusing to the average citizen looking to pay for a parking violation. In fact this section only tells you different fees and the laws around them but doesn't let you pay. If you click on the e-payment button it takes you to a forbidden/unresponsive page. If you want to pay online, you have to go to the Bangalore Traffic Police page(Unresponsive) or the Karnataka One page or via PayTM - a private digital wallet company funded by SoftBank & Warren Buffet. The Bangalore Traffic Police have 3 different pages and one android application and none of them were working when I tried! I was finally able to try and pay via Bangalore One - but it asked for log-in credentials that I don't have.
What is definitely easier and more commonplace than paying your traffic fines online, is to plead with the traffic cop that asks you to pull over. If you're ready for a huge discount and no receipt of payment, you can be let off with a 100 rupee note!
As a regular user of the services of the Transport department I believe that on the one hand, user needs are definitely not being met and this is adding a lot of burden on the transport department to manually process tasks that can be easily automated. On the other hand, this need has definitely been identified by the department but it's implementation is awful.
My hypothesis is that the organisation cannot transform because :
The system is handled by the National Informatics Centre who are quite far away (Literally and practically) from the end users.
The organisation is heavily burdened by a huge volume of manual transactions.
The street-level employee, the traffic policeman, has no incentive to demand it from the organisation as he/she stands to benefit from a faulty digital service.
The end-user is evading the inconvenience by negotiating with the street-level employee. They stand to benefit from a faulty service delivery as it makes it easier to get away with breaking rules.
The digitisation and maintenance is opaque to the general public and hence there is no way to know from the outside where the problem is and who to demand information from.
There is jurisdiction confusion between the transport department and the traffic police department.
A successful transformation would look like:
A seamless integration of all different arms of the transport department and traffic police department into one digital service provider umbrella.
Moving to the cloud to handle high volume and fluctuating demand.
A simple, clear and accessible user interface available in English and Kannada over mobile technology.
Constant iteration and updates aligned to user needs.
The reason I chose this department is because it has a certain willingness to improve it's digital services and a certain inertia against it. (Reportedly, the Bangalore traffic police system has been actively increasing it's digital presence with reports of increasing it's spend to almost 3 Million USD$ on it's social media outreach. )
In either case, it stands to impact millions of citizens with the way they perceive their government's digital competence. Imagine your faith in the government when you face traffic issues for a couple of hours every single day of your life whether you're in a Mercedes or on a bicycle. Improving this service can be pivotal in restoring faith. I look forward to understanding the different moving pieces and analysing them in more detail over the next few weeks.