Bengaluru already has multiple modes of mass rapid transport like metro, bus, suburban rail and cabs and autos, but they don't seem to have had any impact on the traffic congestion on the city's streets. The BBMP is now thinking of adding the hi-tech Pod Taxi to the mix which is expected to complement the Metro. Though the BBMP has cited an IISc study to back its move, the study actually warns the Palike of the pitfalls of the project and asks it to tick all the boxes in the to-do list, like evolving a pricing strategy and ridership estimates, before taking the leap. Ranjani Madhavan reports.
Bengaluru Development Minister K.J. George recently announced that the BBMP is looking at introducing the futuristic Pod Taxis, as the premiere Indian Institute of Science has given the green signal. But researchers at the institute who did the basic feasibility study warn that their recommendation was conditional.
Dr J.M Chandra Kishen, Professor, Department of Civil Engineering, Chairman of the Centre for Infrastructure, Sustainable Transportation and Urban Planning (STUP), and one of the experts who conducted the structural aspect of the study, pointed out that there is a lot that the government should look into before taking the leap.
"There has been a misinterpretation that the IISc has recommended Pod Taxis. As stated in the study's summary, while we recommend the implementation of the public rapid transit (PRT) system on a pilot basis, it is important to consider and thoroughly evaluate the mobility and structural, geotechnical and safety aspects, which have been identified in the report," he said.
The report includes an exhaustive to-do list, none of which seems to have been finalised by the government. Also, officials have failed to put out the report into the public forum in the form of a Detailed Project Report.
"Pricing strategy, ridership estimates, spatial and temporal distribution of passenger demand, assessing the benefits in terms of increasing Metro ridership and decreasing road congestion, cost and space requirements, maintenance yard and details of accessibility to the pods," are the factors that need to be considered, states an extract of the report summary, which was accessed by Deccan Chronicle.
The detailed safety aspects mentioned by the IISc include managing crowd movement at boarding and alighting stations to avoid the risk of stampede. Accordingly, the provisions have to be made to increase the width of PRT guideways, which will have a bearing on the cost.
"The routes identified by BBMP are feasible, but PRT may require some circular routes. It should form a grid network or loop, optimising the routes. There should be no clash in the computerised operations," Prof Kishen advised.
Citing an example, he said that if the pods began at the Airport, passed through Jakkur and ended at Hebbal, where there is extremely high demand, then new passengers at the Airport must not be left stranded waiting for all the pods to return.
"Implementing the pod system requires Artificial Intelligence, analytics, computerisation and central monitoring system, which is entirely programmed and not manual, to come into play. Also, on what energy will the BBMP run the pods on," he asked.
There are three options, going by what has been done in foreign countries - electric energy in a battery, solar power captured by panels and electromagnetic levitation, where the pod does not touch the tracks.
Expertise of the three bidders - skyTran, headquartered at the NASA Ames Research Centre, Actis Infrastructure, JPods Inc's subsidiary in India, and Ultra Fairwood, the company under the Fairwood Group - should also be judged by the BBMP, he said. Ultra Fairwood designed the pods at London's Heathrow Airport and has implemented other pod taxi projects on a larger scale.
Pod Taxis may not be cost effective
With a choice of transport options available already, what deters an average citizen from leaving behind his vehicle and taking the bus or a Metro? How will Pods make things any different?
Tara Krishnaswamy, an organiser at Citizens for Bengaluru, believes that pods will be just a blip on the radar. "Bengaluru has only 6,000 public transport buses and 70 lakh private vehicles on the roads. Another Mass Rapid Transit system will only take away the little space we have left on congested roads," she said.
Tara is one of many who commutes from the city centre and struggles to reach her office in Whitefield. "To have 100 cars to move 100 people is ridiculous. Random solutions will not work. The government must ask itself how to move a large number of people, faster without congestion and pollution," she said. "Pods taxis will neither be affordable to the commuter, nor will the system serve the objective of mass public transport," she opined.
Experts also pointed out to the asymmetry between the investment and utility. For Pod Taxi, Rs 50 crore is needed for every kilometre, while the carrying capacity is 4-6 people per pod. In comparison, one bogey of Namma Metro carries 54 times the number of people in one Pod, which is 324 people per bogey.
Though the locations selected are tentative and open to change, a benefit highlighted is the Pod's reach to interior location, not accessible by large Metro rail or BMTC buses, given the narrow, pothole-filled roads.
Trinity Circle (ideally connected to the Metro station going to Leela Palace on Old Airport Road - 6 km), Leela Palace to Marathahalli junction - 6 km, Marathahalli to EPIP Graphite India Road - 6.5 km, Trinity to Koramangala, HSR Layout - 7.1 km, Jayanagar 4th Block to J.P. Nagar 6th Phase - 5.3 km and Sony Signal to Indiranagar Metro station - 6.7 km.
IISc’s to do list for BBMP
- Pricing strategy
- Ridership estimates, spatial and temporal distribution of passenger demand
- Assess the benefits in terms of increasing metro ridership and decreasing road congestion
- Cost and space requirements, maintenance yard
- Details of accessibility to the pods
- Safety aspects- managing crowd movement at boarding, alighting stations to avoid risk of stampede
- Circular routes or loops for a grid/ network
Tentative PodLines list
- Trinity Circle (ideally connected to the metro station) going to Leela Palace on Old Airport Road (6 km)
- Leela Palace to Marathahalli junction (6 km)
- Marathahalli to EPIP Graphite India Road (6.5 km)
- Trinity to Koramangala, HSR Layout ( 7.1 km)
- Jayanagar 4th block to J.P. Nagar 6th phase ( 5.3 km)
- Koramangala Sony Signal to Indiranagar metro station (6.7 km)