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July 11, 1997


Dial for a detour

Salil Murthy in Bombay

The medium: India's airwaves. The message: community service. BPL Mobile, the cell phone service providers, today launched India's first commuter information service in Bombay.

The island's harassed commuters can now pick up free news on train delays and traffic jams by punching into their car phones or by dialling from a fixed line.

'Trafficall' will provide Bombay's estimated five million commuters data on traffic conditions and local railway schedules for the entire duration of the monsoons. All for the price of a telephone call.

Madhuri Sapru, senior manager, marketing, BPL Mobile, told Rediff On The Net that the charge would only be for users of the government-owned Mahanagar Telephones Nigam Limited's service. "For BPL Mobile phone users, this service is free," she said.

BPL Mobile subscribers can avail of this facility by dialling 730 on their cell phones. Everyone else in the city can access the service by dialling 98210-99730 to get the latest on traffic-choked roads, flooded areas and cancelled trains.

To provide this service, BPL uses an 'integrated voice response' system with three staff employed to mother it. The data is collated by the Bombay traffic police which liases with the railways to track schedules.

The information will be available daily between 8 am and 8 pm. Updates will follow every hour. During peak commuting time, information would be reviewed every 30 minutes.

Sangeeta Naik, a public relations officer told Rediff "Only major delays in the scheduling of trains will be reported on the service and only the Central and Western suburban train lines are to be covered."

When pressed to define 'major', she retorted "Maybe half an hour. We won't bother with 10-minute delays, but if it hampers the commuters' journey, we will inform them."

However, on the first day of the service it appeared to be teething. To get to the information you are asked to jab a button on your keypad. What the well-modulated voice fails to inform you though is that your telephone should be in the 'tone' mode, achieved simply by pressing the 'asterisk' button.

Sapru concedes that they had not thought of this. "We will have to look into this problem. I'm afraid I can't give a solution right now, but we'll fix this," she promised.

BPL Mobile subscribers also seem to be unaware of the scheme. Shaheen Mulla-Firoz, a long standing subscriber, when contacted, expressed surprise about the service. "This is the first I'm hearing about it. BPL certainly hasn't told me." MTNL users were also clueless about the existence of Trafficall.

Sapru, however, says that the media campaign is in place. "We will be putting up hoardings all over Bombay starting tomorrow and will also be taking out radio slots. This is for all residents of Bombay, but we'll certainly be informing our subscribers too. It may take a week or two for that."

"We believe that our services should be extended to benefit the community at large, whenever possible," she said.

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