Kochi: Kochi Metro, the biggest infra project in Kerala, notched up a net loss of Rs 281 crore in 2018-19, shooting up from Rs 167 crore the previous year.
As per the latest annual report of Kochi Metro Rail Limited (KMRL), the transport operator’s average daily ridership during 2018-19 was a meagre 34,588 and revenue per day Rs.11.24 lakh. On the other hand, operating expenses for the year were Rs.101.30 crore.
However, after the commissioning of the Maharajas-Thykoodam line in September 2019, average ridership per day increased to more than 80,000 with daily revenue collection improving to Rs.14.66 lakh.
These figures fall far short of projections. As per the Review of Metro Rail Policy published in 2017, ridership for Kochi Metro was projected at 2.75 lakh per day for the 18.2 km stretch from Aluva to Maharajas.
Kochi Metro commenced commercial operations for the first reach from Aluva to Palarivattom on June 19, 2017 and from Palarivattom to Maharajas on October 3, 2017.
With losses mounting, the central government’s approval for Kochi Metro’s proposed Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium-Kakkanad Infopark line is going to be harder to get.
Revenues are likely to be under greater pressure this year as repayment of loans taken from funding agencies, including a 180 million euro (Rs 1,500 cr) loan taken from French agency Agence Francaise de Developpement (AFD) in Feb 2014, will begin this year.
The KMRL has also borrowed money from the Ernakulam District Cooperative Bank and Canara Bank.
The burden of loan repayment is likely to jeopardise its second-phase expansion plans.
Considering the huge deficit between projected and achieved ridership, the Union Ministry of Urban Affairs has suggested that a mechanism be laid down to make daily ridership projections more realistic.
At the root of the problem is the low density of population in Kochi and its suburbs. The city’s population is a mere six lakhs while the urban agglomeration has only 13 lakh people
"The Metro will never break even," said Ebenezer Chullikkat, an urban transport expert and activist of Greater Cochin Development Watch. "The population is simply too low."
K J Sohan, former Kochi mayor, has submitted a memorandum to the Kerala chief minister against KMRL’s proposed Infopark line, citing its poor feasibility.
"The Infopark extension is unlikely to get the Centre’s approval and funding as it doesn’t comply with the criteria of population and average ridership specified in the Metro Rail Policy 2017," added Chullikkat.
These facts are likely to supply a basis for the Union government’s reluctance to permit expansion of metro rail projects in small cities with low ridership. While inaugurating the Kochi Metro’s Maharajas College to Thykoodam stretch in September last year, Union urban development minister Hardeep Singh Puri did press the point that the government would focus on more economically feasible, sustainable and non capital-intensive projects.
With political relations between the state and Centre not too warm right now, Kochi Metro’s expansion plans are likely to face difficulties.