Mumbai commuters tweet their way out of traffic jams this monsoon

Till about a month ago, AbdulsalamShaikh felt he must be the only one to get caught in traffic jams daily on the Western Express Highway. Now, Shaikh tweets his woes to fellow commuters to get some sympathy and also alternative travel routes for his daily drive from Mira Road to Lokhandwala.

"Through Twitter, I found another road that helps me avoid the endless wait at signals," says Shaikh, the director of an event management company. Plus, it's comforting for him to know that he is not alone. As monsoon continues to throw travel plans out of gear, there is quite a bit of social media traffic driven by Mumbaikars posting travel tips or venting their ire at civic agencies.

"Things haven't changed much but it is a relief to plan my journey," says 35-year-old Shaikh. Nisarg Mehta from Andheri uses social media to simplify his commute, which could, involve a ride in an auto, bus or Metro before he boards a local train to reach his office in Lower Parel. "If there is a jam, I ditch the rickshaw for a Metro ride to the nearest suburban station," says the 27-year-old graphic designer.

Once the planning is done, it is time to tweet. Unless the messages are informative or insanely funny, not many endorsements via retweets happen, especially if there are too many cuss words and exclamation points. Timely tweets like "Traf****ed link road Santacruz-Khar..heavyyy rainfall!!" get shared with mildly acerbic ones like, "Spotting a tiger in wildlife is far more easier than spotting an empty #rickshaw in #Andheri".

In fact, on the days when it rained heavily in July, Twitter handles of traffic app developers got more complaints and suggestions about clogged roads and potholes. "On an average we get about 100 reactions, including retweets and mentions, on our Twitter handle. But on the days when it rains during the rush hour, we get 10 to 15 times more," says Raxit Sheth, founder of SmartMumbaikar, which offers a carpooling service. On July 15 and 31, exceptionally rainy days, the activity around @smartmumbaikar handle went up by 80 times.

It is the volume of chatter that prompted Birds Eye Systems, which is behind the real-time traffic information website Traffline, to have a timeline on their mobile phone app. "The timeline integrates updates from the app users, social media, and the traffic police control room," says Ameya Kolambekar, head of marketing and digital media. The Twitter handle @trafflinemum, which started a year ago, has now become an important tool to crowdsource information about accidents and jams. "People like to talk about traffic. When you crib on social media, chances are there will be others cribbing with you," says Kolambekar.

It's not all empty chatter as some of these interactions have positive effects. According to a US study, inefficient and long commutes increases stress levels. But it is possible to feel upbeat when you are connected to a community of travelers and is in better control of your journey.

The bigger high for these Mumbaikars is in knowing that they help others, even offline. Mehta guides a cousin, who drives from Andheri to his office in Vashi, as he is not a "Twitter person". Shaikh tweets to radio jockeys about the details of a snarl so they could announce it. He also halts at signals to warn traffic wardens about pile-ups ahead. Talk about killing two birds with some tweets.

5 APPS TO HELP WITH YOUR DAILY COMMUTE

From bus schedules to traffic updates, here are a few applications that can help ease your traffic woes

TRAFFLINE: If you travel by road and often find yourself infuriated with the those tiresome traffic snarls that make commuting so tough, it would be a good idea for you to check out the traffic conditions on Traffline before you step out. This app also lets you check for alternate routes that are traffic-free.

Caught in a traffic jam? Cellphone app at hand

MUMBAI: The next time you get caught in a traffic snarl or witness an accident requiring immediate intervention, a cellphone app could help you out.

Launched last week by a tech start-up, Traffline enables motorists to report traffic-related information and look up for best possible routes to drive. A later version of the app will incorporate the facility to report violations against auto- rickshaw drivers or cabbies who refuse to ply.

The app's web-based version appears as a link on the Mumbai traffic police's website and provides real-time details on road congestion.

"Traffline aims at helping motorists save on time wasted in traffic jams. Users can look up information like vehicular movement aro-und the area they are based, estimated travel time between two locations, choice of best route available and a call centre for help. The information is in the form of a map, text and audio," said Brijraj Vaghani, founder of the start-up.

Later, users can report accidents, morchas, snarls, stalled vehicles and processions and they will get points for contributing correct information. The points will be redeemable with various schemes later only for registered users. With the click of a button, users can dial the traffic police's helpline. Users can share their location on social media or instant messengers, which will help if they feel unsafe.

"You can also receive 'push' notifications or real-time updates whenever there are problems on your route," Vaghani said. A 'push' notification is a message sent to a user's phone that has Traffline installed. The app need not be kept running all the time to receive updates on major accidents on your route.

The app is available for download on iPhones, and Android and Blackberry cell phones.

How it works

  • Download app and key in destination
  • will tell you which is best route to take and time it will take
  • You will be told which are congested routes to be avoided
  • Registered users will get live text messages for routes if there is a problem

Study shows best times to travel by road

MUMBAI: A little planning and some smart rescheduling of travel plans can help you beat Mumbai's notorious traffic jam. Here's how: A study of vehicular movement on seven arterial city roads has shown the best time to drive on these stretches and the time when they should be avoided. The study relied on data sourced from thousands of vehicles fitted with global positioning systems (GPS).

For instance, south-bound motorists would take an agonizing hour and 11 minutes to reach Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus (CST) from Sion on Ambedkar Road on Thursday at 11am. But the 14-km stretch could be covered in 21 minutes on Saturday at 9am. Consider the Western Express Highway, and the fastest that a vehicle could travel from Borivli to Bandra was 49kmph on Tuesday at 4pm. It was a different story at 9am the same day: a speed of 18kmph, the lowest for this stretch.

A tech start-up's web product appears as a link on the Mumbai traffic police's site and has been providing real-time details on road congestion. Traffline, which has tied up with public transport vehicles in three metros, sources data from them. Information on traffic conditions is then plotted on a digital map on real-time basis.

The seven roads studied were the Andheri-Ghatkopar Link Road (Chakala to Ghatkopar), Western Express Highway (Borivli to Bandra), Dharavi-Sion Link Road (Bandra to Sion), Eastern Express Highway (Sion to Mulund), Ambedkar Road (Sion to CST), Eastern Express Highway (Sion to Vashi) and Jogeshwari-Vikhroli Link Road (Jogeshwari to Kanjur Marg).

"We went through our storage bank of data on moving vehicles, compiled between 9am and 8pm, for a week. We extracted information for each of the seven roads, time- and day-wise, for the study," said Brijraj Vaghani, a founder of Traffline. "The results were stunning," he added. A vehicle would crawl on the Andheri-Ghatkopar Link Road at 8 pm on Friday, covering the 7.15km stretch in 1.01 hour. The situation was starkly opposite at 11am on Tuesday, when the vehicle would zip across in 16 minutes.

Activist A V Shenoy of the Mumbai Vikas Samiti said results of the study can be studied by the traffic authorities and alternative routes can be announced, wherever stretches are clogged.

"Cars essentially cause road congestion. We must be harsh on car users and pump in more public transport. Environmental pollution also must be kept in mind, so we have no option," says transport professional Sudhir Badami.

Traffline (www.traffline.com) is also available as a mobile app.

Soon, check traffic updates online

MUMBAI: A week from now, motorists will be able to view traffic congestion spots along the route of their journey simply by visiting the traffic police's official website. This will be possible through a product called Traffline, which sources data from public transport vehicles moving across city streets. The information is then overlaid on a digital map or provided in text format to users. Motorists can also receive free SMS and email alerts if they subscribe to the service.

"At present, most motorists rely on information available through radio channels for congestion spots. But this information is limited and gets outdated very soon. The advantage with Traffline is that it offers real-time updates. As of now, we are providing information on an area basis and are working towards including major landmarks as well. Smartphone applications for Android and iPhones will be launched by October," said Brijraj Waghani, one of the founders of the product.

The system relies on getting data from GPS-based locational devices fitted onto public transport vehicles. The data is then filtered and real-time information is provided on road traffic. A link to access Traffline is likely to be uploaded onto the traffic police's website.

Additional commissioner Brijesh Singh, who is spearheading the project, said the system will help the traffic police to plan better and chart out alternate routes in instances such as VIP route movements or excavation of roads by the civic body.

Traffline, which is still evolving, also aims at providing information on accidents and events by sourcing details from the traffic police control room. "In future, we could add more features to Traffline and make it more interactive," said Singh. The product is being launched by its founders in Delhi, Mumbai and Bangalore at present.