‘लक्ष्मी चंचल होती है’, they say. Roughly translates to — ‘Money slips between your fingers’. Especially here in Bangalore. No I’m not talking about the café-pubs-uber-landlord loot culture here. This write-up is a tangent to my earlier post regarding the state of the State. If you haven’t already read it, you can over here.
Today I travelled by the metro.
I recently got this lovely house on rent — primarily because the owner was not Bangalorean enough to charge ₹4 lakhs from me as security deposit. It also happens to be quite close to the metro train station. We decided to take a detour from the usual morning coffee at MTR, Indiranagar to the Indian Coffee house at MG Road.
From home till MG Road the ticket price for one is ₹18. So for two, ₹36. For the onwards ticket, the vendor behind the counter didn’t have ₹4 change when I handed him ₹40. So I dug in my wallet, and found ₹6 of coins for him and tendered exact change. (There is no concept of a return ticket in Bangalore metro, #justsaying.) It was 8:15 in the morning and the guy seems to have already run out of change. Anyway, I let that pass as I read big signs everywhere in the ticketing area, commanding those who don’t have change to opt for smart cards. (We’ll come to this solution in a bit.)
For the return back home, a woman ticketing vendor — “No change”, she said, opening up the drawer and displaying to me smart cards in an arrogant manner perhaps born out of helplessness. It was 10:15 on a Sunday morning, and if a public ticketing booth is already out of coins, it is definitely the worst management. I realise that there’s no point fighting with her, I asked her for the suggestion box. On hearing that, she now removed all the notes and started showing me the ₹100 and ₹500 notes everyone had been giving her. To re-iterate, I was giving ₹40, she just had to give back ₹4.
I decided to take this fight up.
I travel once in 6 months, so showing me a smart card won’t work. Showing me a BHIM, UPI, vending machine, card machine or even our PM’s favourite PayTM could have worked.
This seemingly simple daily issue is far too complex. For the ₹18 ticket, why am I expected to carry ₹8 (at least 3 coins) while she could have just returned ₹2 (1 coin). Also, if I pay ₹20 and forgo my ₹2, would she discount that amount from the next short-changed customer? No? She’s keeping my money, isn’t she? How much money do they earn on the side in this manner?
As of August 2018, the number of people using the metro is 4,10,000 per day. About 70% of the travellers pay by cash. That is about 2.8 lakh people possibly forgoing ₹2-₹5 per transaction, that is anywhere between ₹6-₹15 lakh per day going unaccounted, across the ticket vendors employed by the metro. Had this money been managed in a systemic fashion, the metro corp (BMRCL) could possibly even increase the salaries of these very ticket vendors, and spend it judiciously for cleanliness and other basic purposes. Remember, this is a daily recurring income which is only going to increase as more and more metro lines come up and more passengers use the service. The same thing happens in all the BMTC bus service. FYI, Bus fare from the city to the airport is ₹244.
Such leakages are where unaccounted money is accumulated, turning black.
This ‘train’ of thought led me to this — why can cities not learn from each other? Yes, I’m dropping the B-word, Bombay. The obvious solution is to have the fare in multiples of ₹5.
₹5 is a nice midway. Both the parties in this transaction have equal to lose, and hence both will try to bring coins and meet halfway. (This applies to the broker ecosystem too in Mumbai, unlike in Bangalore where only the tenants pay the brokerage, but again, more on that later.)
I’m unable to find any weighted counter arguments against having fares in multiples of ₹5. People who stay at the first stop within the bracket from where the price increases may find it unjust as the fares increase by ₹5 for their one extra stop. But this argument doesn’t hold weight considering that the queues move much faster, less commotion, less abusing, and the money doesn’t go unaccounted easily.
(P.S. You can even buy a Mumbai local ticket via an app, or even at a paanwala outside the station! Legally!)
A second tangential question that I was pondering on is, where does the money go? Ironical things happen to coins in circulation — they are hoarded by children in their piggy banks, and they are molten to form razor blades! Transacting in coins is really a pain, ATMs do not dispense coins. People do not like to carry bulky wallets in their back pockets causing back problems. The solution is not to expect people to carry coins of all denominations but easy payment, which is having tickets in the multiples of ₹5, and/or allowing payment via UPI, cards, vending machines and so on.