April 17, 2006

All for the best

Bombay's BEST is the best bus service in this country, I've always felt, and in many ways one of the best in the world. Few are the streets in this great city on which you won't see one of those red beasts chugging through, you're never more than a few minutes walk from a bus stop and you rarely have to wait longer than 15 minutes for a bus. In recent months, BEST has even largely replaced its bus fleet with several newer, more spacious and efficient models.

So given all that, you'd think BEST would have produced a good bus route map, one that will tell you how to get from here to elsewhere. And you'd be correct. Three years ago, somebody gifted me the official BEST route map, actually two maps ("City" and "Suburbs") priced at an excellent Rs 20 each.

And how do you use these maps?

Well, a few days ago I wanted to find out how to get from Thakurdwar to Versova. Here's how this went, following the instructions printed in the maps.

1) Locate the bus stop closest to your starting point. Every stop in the city is marked on the map with a red dot, and given a number. So I found a bus stop in the heart of Thakurdwar in the "City" map, #1622 of a total of 1760. (The numbers are assigned after listing the bus stops alphabetically).

2) Consult the list of bus stops and find your bus stop, #1622 in this case. This list is printed on the reverse of the map. Only, there's not enough space on the reverse to list all stops, so in this case #1622 is listed on the reverse of, not the "City" map, but the "Suburbs" map. Even though #1622, in Thakurdwar, is smack in the middle of the "City" map. You'd think the obvious thing would be to list the stops that are on a given map on the reverse of that map, but no.

3) Listed against your bus stop are the bus route numbers that halt there. In this case: 41, 59, 61, 65, 66, 66EXT, 68, 69, 88, 103, 107, 121, 126, 127, 132, 133.

4) Repeat steps 1, 2 and 3 with your destination. In my case, this was a stop in Versova in the "Suburbs" map, #831, listed on the reverse of the "City" map, with these route numbers that halt there: 200, 210LTD, 222, 236, 250, 252, 255LTD, 328, 330LTD, 425EXP.

5) Now find the route numbers that are common to the source and destination lists. Those are the buses that you can take from source to destination.

In this case: None. (Check for yourself).

That's it. There's no way to find out about changing buses to travel the route want, nothing. All my route maps have told me is that there is no direct bus from Thakurdwar to Versova.

They were excellent at giving me this bit of information that is of no help to me.

Now perhaps you don't quite believe me, perhaps you think I'm not using the maps properly?

Well, here are the instructions as printed on the map, verbatim:
    Guide to reading the City Map

    The starting point and the destination of the passenger should be related to the nearest bus stop by referring to the map and the bus stop number. A list of stops in alphabetical order with their nos & all the routes passing through a stop are given overleaf. The passenger should select the route(s) which are common in the list of routes passing through the starting stop and destination stop e.g. a passenger wanting to travel from Ballard Pier (Stop No. 136) to Khodadad Circle (Stop No. 762) would notice that these stops are located in square D13 & B10 respectively of the map & route Nos 66 & 43 are common routes passing through bus stops No. 136 (Ballard Pier) & No 762 (Khodadad Circle). Therefore by taking either of these two routes he would be able to reach his destination.


Anonymous said...

try mumbai navigator, http://www.cse.iitb.ac.in/navigator/index.html

Vikrum said...


Nice article. The Indian Railways official timetable book isn't the most user friendly either. Are you familiar with it?

Rahul Siddharthan said...

It is a combinatorial problem: by your reckoning ("you're never more than a few minutes' walk from a bus stop") I suppose there are at least a thousand bus stops in the city, perhaps many more. That means a million possible "from this stop to that stop" routes, if one were to include changes of bus. There's no way one can list every possible such change in a printed book.

I'm not very familiar with Mumbai, but bus routes in most cities are somewhat hub-and-spoke, so it would be fairly obvious what changes to look for if you're familiar with the city. (In Chennai, given where I live, usually Adyar or Thiruvanmiyur are where I'd change.) The route map should perhaps have a map showing the major hubs and some of the more important bus routes connecting those hubs.

Dilip D'Souza said...

Anonymous, that navigator is excellent. I'm still browsing through it. Who was responsible for it?

Vik, the Railways timetable is much better thought through than this one. I've used it for years.

Rahul, there are in fact over 1700 stops according to these maps alone. So yeah, perhaps 3 million possible routes, you can't have them all listed. But all I'm asking for is a suggestion on what to do next if you draw a blank, as I did. For example, like your Adyar/T'miyur example, Mahim is a big bus station, so perhaps the map can suggest that you check routes starting/terminating there as a second step.

Also, is it too much to ask that the bus stop you find on one map has its route listing on the back of the same map?

IdeaSmith said...

I didn't even know there were bus maps available. A similar situation prevails on the train lines too....how does one figure out the best way to go from station A to station B? And does anyone recall every single station and which line it falls on?

Anonymous said...

The Navigator has been around for a long time now. 4-5 years atleast.

Anonymous said...

Dilip, there were a number of people responsible for the navigator. I know one for sure: Prof. Abhiram Ranade. His homepage has a link to a paper on the navigator (a nice cute algorithm), and a scanned image of an article about the navigator.

Anonymous said...

The original navigator was written (way back) in 1998 by Mayur Datar and Prof Abhiram Ranade at the CSE Dept at IITB. I don't remember all the details, but I think it was some kind of a dynamic programming approach. The paper in Prof Ranade's website should have more details.

Anonymous said...

Ok, this is a bit late but for anyone who stumbles on this blog, the nearest railway station is a good place to look for a change in buses/routes.

There are a lot of feeder routes to the railway stations, so you can simply use those as hubs,

TravelCultureG said...

is there an online map that lets you do this, not the BEST website though, their map is not that great at all. email me at sumit_feb78@hotmail.com