Saturday, October 29, 2016

Friday, October 28, 2016

Taxed Out



I was recently on holiday in Australia. While we stayed with AirBnb for most of the trip, and cooked up our own food, occasionally, we did eat from out. There was a tonne of Asian cuisine restuarants sprinkled all over the country. But what surprised me more than the range of the food available, was the cost. It was not that expensive. Sure,it was all dollars,  and we Indians tend to convert everything to rupees…  but there were lot of options for low cost meals too. And I think the main reason the cost was low was because of low taxing.
I repeatedly kept noticing that whatever we bought, wherver we ate, the tax calculated on the service was never more than 10% ! That’s it. It was just under 10% for clothing, at restuarants, and even domestic plane tickets. Amazing !
If you eat out in India at any restuarant, the taxes will come to 20% ! The bill will nicely break up this into three different taxes. There is the 14.5 % VAT. Then 5.6 % service tax. Then the government’s swach barath and kissan cess, each of .2%.  Now the new amount is 20% more than the original bill !  For a dinner for four people, you will have to pay for an absent fifth !  Then the restuarant may charge you a service charge of 10%, and they can charge whatever they want.  And if there is any alcohol, there will be an additional 20% tax on only that.
What the hell is happening ? If a country like Australia can run itself with a 10% VAT/GST, why does India need to charge 20% tax ? This might go up to 30% too. And we have more people, and therefore more people eating out on any given day. The same goes for purchases and online services .
Surely the country has no shortage of income. What they need to fix is what they are doing with all that income.
Bon Apetit ! And Happy Diwali !

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

India Flying

 

 

I didn't believe it, when Air India got into "Breaking News" announcing they made a profit. Because that is unbelievable. But then they did it again when they set a supposed "world record" for flying the longest non-stop flight. The news was first reported on Flightradar, and everyone else has simply copied over the content and reported it verbatim. And with the Indian government's new plan to make flying cheaper and affordable to Indians under their Udaan program, the focus is back on flying and planes.

Apparently, the government plans to cap the cost of 1-hour domestic flights to a certain amount. This will make it more affordable to the commonfolk (mango-men). But then I recalled reading another article which said that India already has the lowest prices for flying domestic !

Research by Kiwi.com, an online flight comparison site, states that the average cost per 100km to fly domestic in India is 3.25 USD !! And the low cost rate is actually lesser at 2.27 USD. And yes, currently that is the cheapest in the world. The most expensive country to fly is...UAE, with a rate of 105 USD per 100 kms. That’s about 50 times costlier.

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Well this news changes everything we thought about flying in India. On one side, flyers kept complaining of hidden charges and 'convenience' fees on their flight tickets. On the other side, the airline companies complained that the cost of aviation fuel was extremely high, and that they were simply passing over that cost to the end customer, the passenger. So airline companies in India have been already providing the cheapest flights in the world in spite of these huge costs.

I hope this trend continues. India already has the cheapest telephone rates in the world, which is a mainstay of today’s living. Flying is still a distant dream for most Indians and I hope a few more of them can take to the skies, before all the Indian Airline companies get taxed to the ground.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Lounge Benefits

 

I have always seen these signs to Airport Lounges at domestic and international airports, and often heard reviews about these ‘exclusive’ places , and assumed these were for business and first class travellers. Imagine my surprise , when I figured out even coach travellers can access these lounges, if you have the right credit card. I don’t travel often, and always travel light and prepared. Airports in India are purposefully designed to confuse and make travellers wait in lines. So when I recently had to fly international, I decided to try out and airport lounge using my Priority Plus card I got from a new credit card. And I must say, it took a few problems off my plate rightaway.

There are only two lounges out of Bangalore airport, and the same service providers operate them in the domestic and international side of the airport. It is after security check (and immigration, for international flights) , and the entrances to both are next to each other. I decided to walk into the Plaza Premium lounge for my first time. They accept Mastercard, Visa , and a few other cards as well, providing complimentary service. Did not take any photos while I was there, as it was almost crowded, and felt the other patrons would not like it. And I could see why places like these are coveted.

Free Wifi, free food and soft drinks, lots of space to lounge around, and for  an additional price, alchohol, showers and spa ! For long distance and frequent travellers, its the last place to find some comfort. There was no long style buffet there, but enough food to choose from. And deserts , snacks and tea/coffee as well. I spent almost 2 hours in there without realizing how fast time went.

Ok, rant time. The usual complains about Indian Airports is that they let you in only if you bring a printout of your ticket and an Id card to be let in. Or the fact thay they let you board the plane only if they see that your carry in baggage has a security screened tag.  However, my number one complaint about airports in India is the lack of affordable food options. All the food and beverage stalls on the airside price their products exorbitantly high. There are cases where those suckers charge three digit rupee values for something as simple as idli vada. Even the basic water bottle is charged in that range. During my international travels, I have never seen such a practice anywhere else: Europe, Malaysia, Australia…everywhere the prices they charge airside is the same they charge anywhere else.  But in India, it is truly extortion.  And the flights too now charge extra for f&b onboard, and even check in luggage. In most countries, passengers are allowed to bring in some kinds of home prepared meals for consumption on the plane, but this too is not allowed in India. Only exception if it is baby food.

In such a suffocated travel space, these lounges come as a breath of fresh air. I really enjoyed my meal at the lounge. During my transfer at Kuala Lumpur, again I got into Plaza Lounge there. It was a relaxing experience, and with free breakfast.

Well now that I have bitten this bait, I am hooked. Looking forward to somemore such lounge experiences in the future.

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Bigger batteries pose bigger problems

 

Samsung’s PR disaster after recalling and replacing their Galaxy Note 7’s is all over the news. The blocking of the phone by the company is going to cost it money and users. But bigger batteries have always caused these kind of issues.

The story of Boeing’s disaster with the batteries on the huge 787 planes come to mind. There was a series of battery explosions in 2013 on 787 Dreamliners . You can watch this documentary to know more.

 

Sunday, October 9, 2016

Sully soars

 

Finally got around to watching a really nice movie. Sully. Starring Tom Hanks as Captain Chesley Sullenberger, the experienced pilot who successfully landed a doomed commercial airplane onto the hudson river and saved everyone onboard. Directed by Clint Eastwood. And since its based on a highly reported real life incident, there is enough material to make an enriching movie. And that’s what this movie is.

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First, Tom Hanks is excellent in the role. There is something about his calm, confident voice and demeanor that soothes anyone in crisis. You are happy that he is in control, anybody else would freak out. And he does not overshadow anybody else. There is enough screen time for everybody who was involved in the incident that day. And the screenplay is clever. The main Miracle on the Hudson is shown via three , overlapping flashbacks, telling the same story from different people’s perspective. We get to see what the passengers saw, what the air traffic controllers heard, what the first responders and citizens saw, and finally what the two pilots were going through. Some scenes really look over scripted, like how everyone talks to Sully as if he was God. But it could have really happened, having saved so many lives that day. New York got some good news after a long time, specially involving airplanes.

This is going on my re-watch list.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Auzzie Holiday

 

G’day to you ! Finally we did it. We took our first international holiday ! And it is to Australia. Yep, that large left-to-itself country near the south pole. After spending two whole weeks on this island-country, the thought of returning now breaks our hearts. For a change, it was a pleasure living in a properly planned city again. Melbourne, mostly. But we also visited the Gold Coast. Bangalore looks like a jungle and river of debris compared to this. A few years back if somebody had asked me, I would have said India can become a superpower in the future. But now I am convinced that dream is long lost. The level of development and ease of life in Melbourne astonished us. And the people are the freindliest people I have ever met in my life. So cheery, always ready to help.

Australia is truly a world apart. They seem to live in a parallel universe with no border disputes amond neihgbouring countries, no cross border violence, and no visible refugee crisis.  They don’t care about the US elections, or Brexit, or the geo-political turmoil of any other country. Here is a nation still focussed on developing itself and taking care of its people, and wildlife. Yep, we met the famous kangaroos and koalas in rea life. We also got a glimpse of its sunny weather and relaxed lifestyle.

Random Thoughts:

  1. The range of weather is as large as the country itself. While it is still chilly and raining in Melbourne, being in Gold Coast felt like Miami. It is much more sunny and warmer there, but without the humidity. And I have been told there are places here that still get snow !
  2. There are more chinese than auzzies in Australia. Specially in Melbourne. At first I thought they too were tourists like us. But then I saw them working and running their own shops. There were moments when we felt we were walking through Beijing instead of Melbourne. China is slowly taking over the country. But I am sure they comprise people from Korea, Japan and other Asian countries as well. And of course, Indians , Lankans and Banglas are also here, but not in that much numbers.
  3. Auzzies are always apoligizing. Most of the time, for no reason. If you run into them in a queue or step on their feet in a crowded tram, it is your fault. But always, they apoligize. “Sorry”, they say. I think this is too courteous. You don’t have to apologize if it is not your fault.  However, I like this culture. A few days of living among them has made me more courteous !
  4. Its raining Asian cousine all over the country. Seriously, I found more Asian themed restuarants than bars on the streets. Whatever be your preferred : Indian, Chinese, Korean, or just spicy Nando’s, you can find one in a two block radius from where you are standing in the city. And there are vegetarian and vegan options available too.
  5. This is the first time we are staying with AirBnb network.  We had some reservations about this in the beginning, but now we wonder why this idea did not take off earlier. It a fantastic way for budget consious travellers to stay and travel around new countries, while still being able to use the kitchen and make their own food. And did I mention it is much more cheaper ? But we did spoil ourselves a little by staying at a grander hotel for 3 days while in Gold Coast. We are thankful our hosts were very cool and trusted us completely, and we in turn tried not to mess up during our stay . Three cheers for AirBnB !
  6. There is free WiFi all over the city, beginning with the airport. Various establishments in the city have put up free to use Wifi which anyone can use to call, chat or check maps. I found it at muliple supermarkets, near restuarants, tram stations and even on the skybus. It was amazing how we were always able to get  an IP and the speed was fast too.
  7. Google has made travelling soooo much more easier ! Gone are the days of paying a travel agent to arrange and manage an itinerary for you. All the information you need to plan a trip is available on the internet. And the best way to get around in a city is via google maps. No more carrying a large foldeable mutlilayered paper map in the rain and sun. With google maps, you can navigate around the city via trams and buses, and it even points out restuarants in the area. We also found that google would read our e-mail and alert us about upcoming flights we are booked on, and our AirBnb bookings too ! Now ain’t that useful ? There wont’t be any travel agents in a decade from now.
  8. We Indians are addicted to selifes. But it looks like the selfie culture is yet to bite Auzzies. We looked everywhere we went in the city and gold coast, there were auzzies taking pictures of their friends and families, but no one was selfie hooked. In fact, while were trying to get a selfie ourselves, we go multiple offers of help from auzzies, offering to take our picture for us on our phone ! Again, respect. And courteous. We can learn something from them.

 

Thank you , Australia. We will be back soon.

Very soon.

 

 

 

Monday, October 3, 2016

Bengaluru Is Worse Off Than Even China’s 13th Largest City

 

 

At the dawn of the millennium, when the IT revolution was scripting the dreams and aspirations of Bengalureans, the city was getting ready to enter the big league. Bengalureans were promised a city that would mirror some of China’s burgeoning metros, particularly, the glitzy Shanghai.

The reality, however, highlights the disparity between what was promised and what was delivered: When it comes to dependence on public transport and commuting, Bengaluru pales in comparison even with Xi’an, the 13th largest city in China. This is the finding of a research project by T.V. Ramachandra of the Indian Institute of Science, who co-ordinated with researchers in Chang’an University in Xi’an as well as from University of Melbourne, Australia.

Long commute

Xi’an and Bengaluru have much in common. Both are among the fastest-growing metros in their countries. Both started as research and development hubs and witnessed massive urbanisation. The car population is similar: Xi’an has one million cars while Bengaluru has 1.4 million light motor vehicles and a further 3 million two-wheelers. Travel within the Central Business District is painful, with average speeds lower than 15 kmph.

However, the similarities end there. Xi’an has a better developed public transport system while planning has ensured that it is a compact city. In contrast, Bengalureans continue to depend on personal vehicles while haphazard planning has put the average commute to work at 7.09 km, nearly twice that of Xi’an (3.8 km).

More importantly, in Xi’an, the top one-fifth of commuters (primarily, those who travel by car and long distances) contribute to 78 per cent of the emissions while in Bengaluru the top 20 per cent contribute 56 per cent. What this implies is that a majority of commuters rely on metro and buses at Xi’an while in Bengaluru, they depend on cars and two-wheelers.

“This is a bad sign, and will not improve until we make our public transport more attractive for commuting,” said Mr. Ramachandra.

Bengaluru buses far more polluting

Travelling by bus in Bengaluru contributes more than four times the carbon dioxide emissions than in Xi’an.

Though the Chinese city has 3,000 buses more than Bengaluru, the adoption of eco-friendly fuel (CNG, electric) as well as traffic decongestion methods have seen their emissions drop. The result is that an average trip in a bus in Xi’an results in emission of 0.087 kg of CO2 while it is nearly 0.3 kg in Bengaluru.

“In Xi’an, dedicated bus lanes see discipline and punctuality. Here, the bus system is unreliable in its timings while roads are so bad that emissions increase. Moreover, buses here run on profit. It becomes easier to travel in groups in autos and cabs rather than take a bus,” said Mr. Ramachandra.

While major investment had been made in the bus system there, BMTC’s grand plans of procuring CNG, electric buses or even use of bio-diesel fuels had hit financial roadblocks.

Science needed in planning

Research on commuting and transport systems in Bengaluru is aplenty. But is anyone listening?

T.V. Ramachandra, Associate Faculty at the Centre for infrastructure, Sustainable Transportation and Urban Planning (CiSTUP) in IISc., says his Chinese collaborators will use the findings of the study for decision-making while the findings will remain unheard in Bengaluru.

“They have managed to get science into decisions about running a city. Here, our politicians don’t want science at all,” he said.