Indian Visas and Queueing Theory

chris (2007-11-26 15:21:10)
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I needed an Indian visa. All travel agencies in London stated that they couldn't guarantee a visa application would return within two weeks, so I was lumped with the task of going in person and experiencing the famous queue at the Indian High Commission on Aldych.

My alarm screamed at me at 4:30am and I was out of the door by 4:45. The tubes at South Kensington were totally TFL'd, so after 30 minutes of waiting on the platform, I was told to find alternative means of transport. Anybody who has heard the rumours of the famous Indian visa queue will know that suspended train services do not bode well for the Indian visa applicant. I dialled a taxi.

By 5.50 I was stood in the queue. There were 50 people ahead of me. They had probably arrived an hour or more before. The street was dark, cold and devoid of coffee vendors. Devoid of any sense of humour, I left my queue neighbours in a holding pattern and went in search of breakfast. On returning, I started to formulate the basic principals of queue theory. Material for the finishing sections was added as the morning progressed.

Queuing Theory Section 1. The Pre-queue queue.

The queue evolves prematurely. Doors close to new applicants at 10am each day. This means the late-arriver might just miss the day's allowance despite waiting in the freezing cold for two and a half hours. In order not to miss their chance, applicants arrive progressively earlier. Currently the queue starts to form around 4.30am. In a month from now, that start time will creep forward to 4am and so on. The queue becomes not a queue, but a battle of wills whereby applicants arrive as early as possible and the entire day's capacity for the visa department is already fully present by 6:30am. They just have to stand motionless for a further two hours before the doors open at 8:30.

Queuing Theory Section 2. The two-queue queue.

Around 7:30am a local genius of Indian origin declares the formation of a new queue. He does so by standing alone to one side of the now kilometre-long line, insisting that there should be one queue for Indian affairs and another for visa applications. A few partisan supporters join the new queue, which trickles out to the left of the main queue for a distance of 12 or so people.


Queuing Theory Section 3. The few-queue queue

Meanwhile, a third queue is forming to the right. This queue consists mostly of people who can't be bothered to walk all the way to the back of the main queue. Their strategy is to pretend that they haven't noticed the six or seven hundred people stacked along Aldych and to nonchalantly sidle up to an entry point say 60 or 70 people up from the front. Tensions start to rise, people step forward a couple of places and all three queues thicken somewhat resulting in Queue Solidification (section 4)

Queuing Theory Section 4. Queue Solidification and Dissipation

As queuing parties vie to establish their queue as the primary line, they step forward a couple of paces, loosing their guaranteed positions and sharing paving stones with queuing cohorts and contestants. The result is the thickening of their own queues and thinning, (or dissipation), of the queues from which people migrate. Think electrons jumping from a high-potential surface to one of low potential. In queuing theory, the opposite occurs.

Queing Theory Section 5. The loop-n-merge

A trick. High-risk, but high potential benefit. This involves working with queuing cohorts to curl the back end of your queue round to meet with another queue (usually the primary, or most highly 'solidified', preventing your queue from growing any longer, but also keeping options open to un-merge the smaller from the larger, should it eventually emerge as the actual primary queue. Meanwhile the other two queues continue to grow in length, which also helps to reduce the risk of further queue solidification later on as the queues mature.

Queuing Theory Section 6. The surge

Finally the door opens and all three queues push forward to create a single mass of people with no clear queue designations. The initial 'primary' queue provides the stem of the basic flow of population, the second queue remains static, stoically holding their ground in protest of the majority and continuing to believe that their queue will become recognised by an official before the end of the century. Queue number three fights to merge with the primary, exacerbating queue solidification, raising tempers, but ultimately succeeding in its theory of anti-queue queuing.

Queuing Theory Section 7. Disect and dispatch

A flustered official hands out queue-cards to crowd members - half of them yellow and half of them white, hence dividing the three queues into two whole new queues; this time with sequential queue position numbers to maintain order for the next three minutes, after which the queue position indicator breaks down and a whole new chapter of queuing theory is opened.

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