Tuesday, December 26, 2006

AutoGas problem

This one would make a good interview question at Microsoft:
How many auto gas stations are needed in Bangalore?

Most of the auto-rickshaws in Bangalore are run on gas (LPG/CNG). With the boom in population, and need for transportation, the auto-rickshaw population has exploded (currently ~2,50,000). Unfortunately, the autoGas filling stations have not. There are only a handful (~20) of those stations in the city. Due to this acute shortage, one sees autos lining up (see pic above) for upto 1.5 hrs just to fill gas!

So, here is the question in more detail:
Assuming that there are 2,50,000 autos in Bangalore, and
the gas mileage of an auto is about 20 Km/litre, and
the tank capacity is 12 litres, and
an average auto driver does about 50 Km/day,
how many autoGas filling stations are needed in order to reduce the wait time for filling to zero?

Phew, that was a mouthful.

Let me know when you find the answer, and in the meanwhile, I will be working on it too.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Movie challenge

I was reminded of Mark Cuban's challenge, asking for ideas to attract people into movie theaters, when I visited the PVR Gold Class movie theater.

I had the privilege to go watch a movie at the PVR Gold Class theater at the Forum Mall in Bangalore. My friend with whom I went had to make advance reservations in order to get into it. At Rs. 500 a pop, it is commendable that they run full house. To compare, movie tickets in India start at around Rs. 30 and run up to Rs. 75 or Rs. 80 for balcony tickets. I agree, the demographics of movie goers in India is totally different. But still, being able to charge more than a 10x premium AND getting it, is a model worth looking into.

For those who haven't heard about or experienced the Gold Class, it is a typical movie theater with a big screen and great sound system. Where it stands apart is the 'experience'. As soon as you walk in, you are greeted into a lounge area (check this for a rendition of one such lounges). One can order drinks and snacks at the bar and relax in this plush lounge. A few minutes prior to the start of the movie, you are ushered into the theater. This again, is another area where Gold Class stands apart. The theater consists of 32 plush individual recliners with lots of leg room to spare. The recliners are operated using an electric switch and can literally get into a sleeping position. A switch on the recliner summons a steward who serves you a variety of drinks and food. You can stretch out, relax, enjoy the movie while experiencing the great service. Their Ad promises to treat you like a star, which it does deliver.

I think this unique experience is what draws crowds even at such exorbitant prices. What is lacking is the service and unique experience in the US movie theaters.

With today's Plasma HDTVs, movie projectors and state-of-art sound systems in people's homes, the theaters need to offer something much more compelling than just a big screen and a good sound system.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Road rules

I recently traveled on the new highway SH-17 between Bangalore and Mysore. It is a road on which one can easily do 100Kmph+. But, the average speed turns out to be 60Kmph. When I first saw the road from the train, I was excited to see smooth 4 lane road with a beautiful median full of flowers in full bloom.

I took the super deluxe Volvo bus between Bangalore and Mysore, and it was a comfortable bus. In order to get a good view of the road and the surroundings, I took the first seat up front. Every minute of the journey I was pitying the driver (His name was Ram). He had to slow down the bus ad nauseam, in order to avoid:

- People crossing the highway (who wants to climb the overpass, when you can jay walk!)
- Domestic animals crossin
- Vehicles entering the road without regard to the bus' right of way
- Vehicles riding on the lane divider
- Slower vehicles (mopeds, bicycles) traveling on the high speed lane
- Farm equipment on the road (tractors pulling load, bullock carts, etc.)
- and so on ...

The list goes on. People do not have the sense of road etiquette. Vehicles entering the road seem to have the right of way, and no one uses their rear view mirrors (if present!).

This is an interesting problem for the City/State to solve, if they want to streamline traffic flow between cities.

The first thing that came to my mind is: drivers Ed. and re-issuance of driving licenses.

This idea fails miserably because of the fact that a large number of those on the road do not know how to read, and a minority of the vehicles do not need licenses to operate (bullock cart).

Strict adherence of the road rules (with penalties) also fails for the same reason.

The only plausible solution (which Karnataka is already implementing) is to build separate roads: one for the local/farm traffic, and another for fast intercity traffic. The fast roads need to be toll ways, and should have restrictions on the type and size of vehicles that can get on them (no mopeds, bullock carts, bicycles, etc.).

Hopefully this new toll road between Bangalore and Mysore is going to make life a lot easier for drivers like Ram.