Passenger Survey Questionnaire :: Master Thesis Research Study

Passenger Survey Questionnaire

Dear readers,

Please take 5 minutes of your time to answer this questionnaire which will be used as part of my Master’s degree research study conducted in the MIT Portugal Program. I request you to read the instructions given in the questionnaire so that it will make your experience in answering the questionnaire easier.

Please forward this to your friends and/ or colleagues so as to garner maximum coverage for the survey and aid me in giving better research output.

This is the link: http://www.surveymonkey.com/s/KB38YSV

Warm Regards,
Nikhil Menon

The last moments of a dying spring

For the many thousands of immigrants who crossed over from their home continents, the European dream is rapidly falling apart. This is year 2012 and in many ways, serving right for all that the lunar calendar had foreseen or for that horror show of a movie which came out by the same name. Stories of crumbling economies, spurts in unemployment, pink slips, relocation and the like hound the headlines and quite frankly, its depressing to hear these first thing in the morning. Today, I have a few characters to acquaint you with and also their lives which as always, have some stories to say (hopefully not long enough to make you yawn, but indicative of what is happening around this part of the world) .

I start with the two guys I meet in this Indian restaurant quite regularly – Prem and Rasheed. They work in the restaurant. Prem is quite new to Lisbon, three years since he came here while Rasheed has been around for 7. Prem is a funny guy, speaks broken Hindi (he is originally from Nepal), thinks he is a stud, speaks Portuguese quite decently as well as the job involves interacting with the customers on a regular basis. He is an electronics engineer who one day hopes to study further. One of my first questions to him is the cliched Indian mentality of asking – You say you are an engineer. How did you land up in the kitchen of an Indian restaurant? To which he said that he landed up in Lisbon in the end of 2008, hoping to find a suitable work profile in Europe. Portugal because, firstly it was cheaper with easier visa processing formalities and the electronics/ telecommunications had witnessed quite a boom in the mid 2000s, along with the rest of the world. He later realized that the timing of his arrival in Lisbon coincided with the start of the global  recession and the ensuing European crisis. Ended up in a restaurant and never got out of it. He is leaving for home on Tuesday for the first time since the end of 2009 (He says he used to earn twice as much in 2008, when comparing to his salary at the present moment) saving up a little over 700 euros after 3 years of work.

Rasheed worked 11 years around Europe and was finally able to bring his wife to stay along with him, 6 months back. His kids are still in Pokhara (his wife hails from Pokhara, Nepal). Unlike Prem, he hasn’t seen the doors of university although took a loan from his step father to get into Europe in the wake of making an easy buck or two. Not a bad thought although it is strictly  reminiscent of the immigrant issues countries like Greece and United Kingdom are protesting against. Back in 2001, there was no real pressure in stemming the exodus of people towards Europe or the United States and so he survived, As things got worse concluding in the global recession and the recent eurozone crisis, he saw his salary dip to a third of what it was in 2006. He could save up a bit to ensure he went home four times in the last 11 years.

The third person Irfanuddin, the Pakistani father of 3 from Karachi runs a small supermarket in the avenue where I stay, is contemplating on going back to his motherland. His eldest son enters college this year and he couldn’t afford to put him into a good university in Pakistan despite the boy being brilliant. Even after being in Lisbon for 9 straight years, he couldn’t afford to give the boy a sum of 2500 euros to ensure his admission and the poor guy was obviously distraught when I met him last weekend. Sometimes I feel bad that I am compelled from deep down to purchase a few things from him despite them being a few cents costlier than the others. These days he says, all that he earns by keeping the store open from 0900 to 0000 is 40 euros, most of which happens by the sale of tobacco.

Most of the Indian graduates studying in the United Kingdom or majority of the European Union and United States are force – returned home as a counter measure adopted by these countries to counter the immigrant mess. The criteria for getting a work visa and/or employment in the United Kingdom is bound by a cyclic criteria, which shall eventually shut out hopes for a non – EU/ UK citizen. The stories can go on and on – be it be the Indian guy with an immobile right hand who wanted to find work in Europe returning empty handed (because nobody in his right frame of mind would engage a guy with only one hand, any work when there are countless others walking without any job at hand) to this Latin american guy I know who decided to get married to a Portuguese to make himself legal in the country.

European societies are highly multi – cultural, so there is enough scope for a cross continental wedding to save your life, if you are up for it. And I do see a lot of couples around me who are open to this, one way or another. And I belong to a country where, forget being from the same state, the partner might have to pass through the caste filter to make things legal. Anyways, that is a debate for a different day although quite note worthy of the changing notions of union and also reflective of the times that we are in, today. Coming to think of it from the point of view of the nations involved, it makes perfect sense to react the way they have been responding to the hard times by having more stringent immigrant policies. Most nations revel in bringing populist measures, which is easily anti – immigrants because they want to give higher chances for their youth, in comparison with a foreigner. And that indeed happens to be the right way to go about it.  [This was not supposed to be a rant, just in case you missed that in the midst of all this.]

But what is sad is when talented professionals are given no choice but to become the Prems of tomorrow, having to do something in order to ensure there is sustenance. I can authoritatively say that almost 80% of the new recruits are not happy with their current job profiles, but nobody wants to throw it away because you are not sure, when can you land up on a more suitable profile for work. So, for the next 4-5 years, we might very well be witness to MBA’s working in the kitchens of McDonald’s to make a quick buck, of more and more people turning into academia as a means of surviving the rough seas (most academic positions ensure you get a stipend, deemed fit enough to survive), Africans and Latinos marrying Europeans and Americans and vice versa for getting the documents which make them legal  [not the most apt, but indicative enough to get the hang of what is meant] and more of these kind of questions by eager individuals trying to survive the grind. The optimist will always push the individual showing light 5 years ahead of him which shall or shall not be necessarily true, the pessimist will conclude the world will end on 21/12/2012 and the realist will concur that there sure was a spring, (which will explain the exodus) and that it doesn’t exist anymore.

PS: Reading into a lot of conspiracy theories lately, it gives me a feeling that our existence and these tough times right now are part of a major conspiracy theory boiling over.  Major major conspiracy theory!

On food and other stuff…

As far as I know, the Portuguese and most other European societies are physically very fit people.  They enjoy a nice climate all year round, are curled up to the confines of  home for six months (until the beginning of July or so, when people start hitting the beaches for holidays), eat three lunches a day 3 times a week, are very much a dine out culture and yet they manage to stick on a pencil frame.

Add to all these indulgences, these night long snack bars/ take away places –  which are open all night long just like the one below my apartment. And if you think they have a lean business, well congratulations. Absolutely wrong. By the time I am done jogging (yeah, new habit. desperate times.. desperate measures.. likewise..), the queue to hog a midnight snack reaches outside towards the sidewalk.

And I stand there bewildered looking down. I see these 100 pound women (they might struggle to get a grip if the cyclonic storms strike right now) walking into the shack and off it grabbing a piece of their favourite hamburger. And then I look at myself. Midnight snacks are sure delightful. But I feel, I put on weight even when I drink water.

Research Review – Transport Related Social Exclusion

The idea here is to engage in an exploratory analysis assessing the impacts of accessibility to transport systems towards the concept of social exclusion. Social exclusion according to Litman (2003)¹ is defined as follows:

Social exclusion refers to constraints that prevent people from participating adequately in society, including education, employment, public services and activities. Inadequate transport sometimes contributes to social exclusion, particularly for people who live in an automobile dependent community and are physically disabled, low income or unable to own and drive a personal automobile.

Expected results on this line of research include the identification of areas which have been affected by social exclusion in relation to transport, statistical determination of the impact of accessibility as a major factor towards social exclusion, overview of at risk groups towards social exclusion in relation to transport (category approach) , extent of improvement in the social exclusion parameters – possible through the introduction of virtual mobility through the advent of the internet amongst others.

Methodology to be adopted will involve large amounts of data collection – both on trip information (attractions and generations) and demographic data (age, sex, income, educational details of the road users).  Identification of indicators which play a crucial factor in social exclusion (both region specific as well as conventional) and modelling to get the desired results.   

Significance of work on this realm is expectantly high since sustainable development is a buzz word for anything and everything of today’s world. More often, when we go towards sustainability, stress is always on the environmental and economic realms of it, hardly focussing on the social impacts. Particularly in transport, where it is a general feeling that the non performance or deficiency of it ends up playing a very major role in excluding a certain section of the people for no fault of theirs.

Inspiration for this came up when I went on randomly reading some prior research done in the MIT Portugal Program, CTIS Master’s programme by a good friend John Pritchard. His work dealt with the assessment of the role played by accessibility as a major factor in social exclusion. Case Study was Lisbon, Portugal – the data of which were adopted from the SCUSSE project and the surveys conducted in the years 1994 (revised: 2009) among others. _______________________________________________________________________________

1 – Litman 2003. Social Inclusion As A Transport Planning Issue in Canada. Full Report

Safety on trains cannot wait

I was trying to imagine the ill fate of those 32 who perished in the Tamil Nadu Express fire today morning. What wrong could they have done, to have found themselves on the S11 coach of the train? The scenes of the fire were rather gory, pictures seen across the media houses of the country over the course of this day. Many more have been injured, some miraculously escaped through the skin of their teeth and the rest were not lucky enough to get through this. For a railway network, which focusses on new trains to the home state of the railway minister amongst other states and some other measures, safety could be one of the core issues which might require an urgent look in and addressed in the truest of senses.
This is not an attempt to point fingers at the Railway Ministry or the officials in the Railways or even the government over their usually callous attitude to everything that happens around them. But this incident could have happened in a general compartment next door (since S11 should be presumably next to the general compartment, in a 24 coach train such as the Tamil Nadu Express) instead and it could have been catastrophic. I believe, that at any point in time, there are atleast 150 people, if not less travelling in these general compartments. That is no way a justification that something like this could happen in a sleeper compartment and we be mum over the issue.
I had read a couple of months ago, at the prospect of introducing fire proof coaches in the mails and express trains of the Indian Railways. Tamil Nadu Express, being a priority train for the government (Yes, there are always trains from a state which have higher priorities over the others. For ex: 12623/24 Trivandrum – Chennai Mail has a priority over every other train running in that section) should have been one of the first beneficiaries of this, had the implementation been properly executed on the ground. And maybe, this article may have never even come up here. Railway authorities may point out that the number of accidents have decreased – as they have tried to show here right after the accident, but there still is room for making sure this issue of safety completely foolproof to a very good degree.