Friday, October 31, 2014

Parking, cash back and why I dispair

Often I despair at the state of life in India. Really, how much has to be done just to bring us up to some standard. On the one hand we have PM Modi speaking about clean drinking water, toilets cleaning the streets and on the other hand we have the fact [or fiction] of going to Mars [at cut price].

When in England this time, I experienced an instance of how different everything is in India. This was to do with something as ordinary and commonplace as airport parking. Also, this time I realised, after having seen it happen so many times in the past, how utterly wrapped up in needless regulation and repression we really are. This was an equally mundane matter, cash back or cash out.

Call me sentimental, call me pessimistic, call me foolish or idealist or accuse me of making a mountain out of a molehill, but, both these instances did leave me more than shaken, they filled me with despair on how we will ever progress. It left me questioning how we approach customers, how negative and unhelpful, arrogant and officious we are as Indians.

Public parking, in malls, airports and so on is becoming more and more common in India. As you enter you take a ticket or token of some sort and find your parking spot. When you finish and leave you insert the ticket into a machine or hand over your token to an attendant, hand out money, you are told to provide change as the attendant has none, you struggle a bit, ask your co-passengers, struggle some more, honk angrily if you are behind someone doing this, and finally, the task is over and you can leave. There is always at least one attendant, if not more, and, often one `security’ man doing the job of parking attendant. Is this not typical? Is this not something you see at every toll both?

Anyway, this is not what I am upset about. My point is have you seen either the fine print on the token or a paper badly scrawled stuck on the booth telling you that if you have lost your token you have to pay maximum charge? That is my problem. Why should I have to pay maximum charge?

Let me tell you how they do this in the UK.

When you enter a public parking zone like an airport [which is when I saw this in operation] or a shopping mall or a supermarket, on entry, you get a token. At the same time the camera records your car number and obviously the entry time. Then, when leaving, you walk to a payment booth before getting into your car, insert your ticket and the machine tells you how much to pay. The machine has change, so you pay the required amount, get your change, collect your ticket recording payment and get into your car. You drive up to the exit gate; insert your paid ticket and leave. No humans, no change hassle, no traffic hold up, no honking, nothing. Now the question is what happens if you have been foolish enough, like our driver was, to lose the paid ticket in the short interval between payment and driving out. Obviously, you cannot exit. Do you have notices like in India – pay maximum charge. No. Of course not. All you do is speak to an operator at the exit thru the machine. They check their computers and match the ticket, car number and paid ticket and let you go. That is it. No aggression, no back chat from the attendants, simple painless and pleasurable. No talking to rude Biharis at the exit absolutely nothing.

Is any of this rocket science? Is any of this technology or electronics horribly expensive? Do we not have Infosys, TCS WIPRO and hundred other companies that have developed this system for the malls in the UK and elsewhere? Why can we not have this? Every new parking facility that comes up can and should have this? Why does it not? Why why why?

Cash back or cash out. We know this as something totally different in India. In India cash back is a facility offered by either, or, a combination of (i) the credit card issuer, say, Citibank (ii) the retail outlet, say, Croma and (iii) the manufacturer, say, Apple. So the way it works is that if you buy an Iphone from Croma using a Citibank Card you will get some money loaded onto your card, which is in effect a discount.

Across Europe this works differently, albeit, I must state here, on only Debit Cards. If you walk into a supermarket, Tesco, Sainsbury etc and buy goods worth say £ 15.95 and hand over your Debit card to pay, the cashier will invariably ask you if you want some cash out/back. If you say yes £ 20 please, your Debit card will be swiped for £ 15.95 + £ 20 = £ 35.95 and you will be handed £ 20 in cash. To put it simply, this works like an ATM without having to go and visit one. It makes no difference to you because it is your money, not credit money. You are saved the bother of trudging to an ATM to get the money out. The retailer is saved the bother of having surplus cash on hand, everybody is happy, all needs are satisfied and there is convenience for all.

Can you even imagine this in India. Big Bazaar or Hypercity giving you cash. Unthinkable my friend. The RBI will have a fucking cardiac arrest, Raghuram Rajan will need a defibrillator. Big Bazaar will say its sales have increased by 95% craftily including the Cash backs/outs it has done. Someone will say FDI rules are being violated. What about a banking license? The Banking Regulation Act will be contravened. There will be a fraud committed by an Indian Mujahedeen operative in conjunction with a cashier! Somewhere along the long line of mishaps will be ICICI Bank who will issue denials! Basically India will implode, the retailer will vaporize, all hell will break loose and the dogs of war will be let lose.

Now do you still believe I am nuts?

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