Nation Other News 03 May 2017 Metro Rail: Burden o ...

Metro Rail: Burden or blessing?

Published May 3, 2017, 12:55 am IST
Updated May 3, 2017, 7:07 am IST
Most metro rails in Indian cities have become liabilities, not assets. Will Kochi Metro be different?
Kochi Metro Rail Ltd
 Kochi Metro Rail Ltd

Various studies on the adequacy of public transport recommend a comprehensive approach to improving public transport from the user’s perspective, and this should cover Affordability, Availability, Accessibility and Acceptability ( four A’s).   Among these four factors, affordability is the most important factor.   It depends mainly on the paying capacity of the individual and the amount spent for making a trip. Availability of transport refers to route coverage and timing.

Considering the weather and other conditions in the country, the area within 500 metres on either side of the metro line has been found to be the influence zone of the metro.   To serve areas beyond this zone, the feeder system needs to be provided.   Transfer requires a good coordinated scheduling of the main and feeder services, combined or suitable ticketing system and minimal waiting time. Accessibility pertains to ease with which passengers can have access to the metro.


Acceptability depends on the quality of transport services such as overcrowding, availability of seat, comfort and environment.    All these are directly related to the standards of the trip maker. The modern system with very good environment and comfort equivalent to international standards, though generally appreciated, is beyond the pocket of a traveller with an average income in the city.

With a view to keep the fares low to achieve higher patronage, the government has given various incentives and subsidies for the introduction and operation of metro rail.    In Chennai Metro Rail Limited, which was completed in 2016, these included 30 percent of the capital cost as contribution, 60 percent in the form of a long term loan with a low interest rate and a ten-year moratorium, exemption of taxes and revenues constituting 15 to 20 percent of the project cost and development rights over real estate along with exemption of property tax and capital gains tax.    In spite of all this support, the average fare of the Chennai Metro is Rs 10 – 40 per trip, as against the bus fare of Rs  3 – 14.   The fare structure of the metro is beyond the reach of the low income people in Chennai, who account for a sizeable population of the city.  These people generally walk and cycle, which do not have a direct cost.   But they do travel by bus to perform certain essential trips such as work trips of longer travel distance.


The upper and middle strata of the middle income people in the city own motorised two-wheelers, which account for about 60 percent of motor vehicles in the city.  They spend only about Rs. 1.50 per kilometre of travel.   Those, who do not own motorised two-wheelers, travel by bus, share auto, auto-rickshaw and other modes.  Only a part of the middle income people are attracted to travel by metro rail. Those in the high income bracket in the city depend on personalised transport and hire vehicles.   Considering the increasing congestion and operational cost of vehicles, the shift in ridership to the metro can happen.   But the experience in the country has shown that under such conditions, the metro system attracts no more than a small share of private motor vehicle users.   With the emerging modern communication system, the ridership of commercial passenger transport vehicles such as Ola taxi, Fast taxi and Ola auto-rickshaw is likely to increase.


As the economic and social benefits to commuters are higher for using the high capacity metro rail system, it is generally suggested that stringent steps should be taken to reduce the number of private vehicles on the road.   Such a step is possible only if the metro network and the feeder system are well developed to provide adequate, efficient and economical transport to the people.  At the same time, suitable alternative transport systems should also be developed to meet any eventualities. In a few cities such as Kochi, prohibiting the operation of private bus operators plying on the metro corridor is being contemplated.    It will help the metro rail to have a captive market, but such a step will result in considerable financial burden on the community.    To make the metro system more sustainable, authorities suggest that the density of development along the rail corridor on either side be increased.   This may help metro rail, property owners and traders to gain monetarily, but, more importantly, it will increase the demand on other infrastructure such as water supply, sanitation, electricity and road, which are already saturated.   Such a move will be cost intensive and detrimental to society.


Chennai had two extremes in terms of socio-economic groups, viz. car owners and slum dwellers.   In between are sandwiched two other groups, viz. one using motorised two-wheelers and para- transit (auto-rickshaws, share autos etc.) and the others using mass transport.   Planning for such a mixed society was a challenging task. According to the planning policy of the government and the World Bank’s recommendation, urban transport should take care of the needs of the poor.  In such a case, fares of the metro system need to be brought down considerably with heavy subsidy, but this will financially affect the operation of the metro, which is already running at a loss.  In view of the above, the authorities and people need to understand and appreciate that this high capacity and high cost transport system, though helpful in meeting the demand of transport, can serve only a certain income group.   Efforts should be made to improve the operational efficiency and service quality of the system by proper planning and integration with other modes.


Complaining about any issue is very common in our society.   Seldom do authorities and people work together and take serious steps to tackle the problem.    For years, it has been suggested to set up a unified transport authority in cities that coordinates all modes of transport, but no tangible steps have been taken. In this connection, the experience gained in cities such as London and Hamburg is of paramount importance.   The creation of an integrated transport authority in London and its effective functioning has become a global model.   This model has been successfully adopted in Sydney, Auckland and other cities.  


It is to be understood that the metro rail system will be able to meet the travel demands of certain categories of the population only.   In order to get the maximum output from the metro there is an urgent need to integrate all modes of transportation.   The need of the hour is to follow the Transport for London (TFL) or any other suitable model and successfully effect coordination of various modes of transport. The experience here has shown that metros in Indian cities have become liabilities but not assets, and they are faced with heavy financial constraints.   Moreover there are many limitations in the metro system.   In view of the above, while tackling the transport problems of the second level cities, it is desirable as a first step to minimise and control travel demand by proper urban planning and then provide a medium capacity transport system.


(Author is former head of NATPAC)

Location: India, Kerala