Swinging his hand in disapproval, Biju Dominic, a behaviour architect and the chief executive officer (CEO) and co-founder of a consulting firm FinalMile, is quick to dismiss claims that suburban railway commuters are unaware of the risks of trespassing on railway tracks.
Seated in his office in a nine-storey building in Kalina, 48-year-old Dominic, who in the past has been associated with the suburban railways in a project to reduce trespassing deaths, says reducing risks is not the best option.
“Though one should not interpret it that drivers should not wear a seat belt, while studying road safety we found that drivers tend to speed more when they are wearing a seat belt and therefore wearing seat belts is not the only way to prevent road accidents,” he says.
On his LinkedIn profile, Dominic describes himself as a behaviour architect. “Behaviour architecture combines two powerful sciences of cognitive neuroscience and behavioural economics. It is about finding practical, real-world applications of these sciences,” he says.
Dominic founded FinalMile in 2008, almost 10 years after he started to professionally inquire into the techniques of marketing.
“The classical economics theory talks about a consumer being a rational human being. Most of the communication that takes place between the buyer and the seller is based on this assumption. However, I felt this theory was not working. I began reading about human behaviour and it was somewhere in the beginning of the decade that it struck me that the organ that controls behaviour is the brain and that is what one should target to convey a message,” he says.
It is his different outlook to common problems that prompted him to dismiss Foot Over Bridges for railway commuters and seat belts for drivers as the only solution to safety.
In the Wadala experiment in 2009 that he did pro bono, Dominic suggested painting of sleepers to help commuters correctly gauge the speed and the distance of the train. Besides, “W” signs were put in mid-section of the railway tracks, 120 metres away from prominent trespass locations to remind the motorman to honk and warn commuters.
“When the train is 120 metres away, a trespasser is more likely to react to the honking and refrain from crossing,” he says. Yet another idea was to put up photographs of a man, seconds before he is hit by the train. “Instead of showing a dead man, we showed the fear that a man experiences seconds before being run over since the brain is able to sense the fear and refrain from taking a risk. This is specially for veteran trespassers who often tend to take more risks as compared to new trespassers.”
Dominic says he had to come up with different solutions as “trespassing in suburban railways can never be stopped”.
“The railways in Mumbai cuts through the city, with slums on both sides. In Wadala, I found that in a day, 45,000 people trespassed tracks. After the initial three weeks of inspection, I went back to the administration and told them it was impossible to do away with trespassing. However, I decided to work towards reducing deaths,” he says.
Over the next few months, Dominic and his team observed the behaviour of commuters. “I realised that almost everyone knew the risk they were taking while crossing tracks. Interestingly, I saw the warning given by fellow commuters often saved many lives.”
Apart from the railways, Dominic and his team have also worked on road safety projects in different states and are presently involved in one that spans across the country.
Without divulging much, he says road signages and the way they are used needs to be changed to improve the communication. “A single signage of speed restriction on a highway does not help as much as three such signages put in a row, at a short interval from each other,” he says.
FinalMile is also working on a project for the Delhi Metro which requires taking measures to help people switch over from private transport to public transport.