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For four times the distance and costs less than one-fifth and the fact that there are other amenities the government/municipality needs to finance, it is quite straight forward answer to the question “Is Metro Rail not the answer for India’s urban transportation
“India is urbanizing rapidly”, a phrase we have been hearing for some time. What does that mean in reality? It means people with low levels of civic amenities they were accustomed to in rural settings have to cope up with overloaded higher level civic amenities in urban settings. Although there are several kinds of civic amenities and services that provide better quality of life in rural settings from fulfilment of basic necessities, the aspirations of human intellect and avenues to reach them is available in urban setting. Urban setting also ensures certainty of livelihood for which people move over to urban areas from rural settings.
India has two cities with population more than 10 million (one crore) now termed as mega cities. In fact we must talk of urban agglomerates (UAs) and we have in India three UAs. There are four other UAs with population more than 4 million (40 lakh) called metro cities. Mumbai, Delhi, Kolkata, Bengaluru, Chennai, Hyderabad and Ahmedabad are all 40 lakh plus cities, with Mumbai, Delhi and Kolkata termed as mega cities. Pune is on the verge of becoming a metro city. There are several cities, almost touching 35 in number, which are a million plus. There are six UAs holding between 2 million and 4 million people.
Although travel for socializing and entertainment do exist, daily travelling or commuting to work and livelihood forms the main travel load in our cities. With physical spread along with growth in population in these cities, average travel distances do keep increasing. Commensurate with earnings of citizens of a particular city, there is a land use pattern that evolves organically to enable poorer sections to walk or cycle to work and the not-so-poor to take to motorized two wheelers (M2Ws) or public transport. Only the affluent own and use motor cars. Ordinarily, the million plus cities have 20% to 30% of its population using bicycles. M2W user and motor car user proportion is also not very small in these four million less cities because these cities do not have any public transport worth the name, or not at all, and the distances travelled daily are not unaffordable.
Liberalisation, privatisation and globalisation since 1992, no doubt has resulted in growing gross domestic product (GDP) and per capita incomes, but so has inflation in recent years not remained low either.
With growing urban sprawl, it may appear that the average travel distances would keep increasing. But the reality is non-availability of affordable housing to poorer sections of society whereby the growth of slums have taken place. Mumbai’s slum population hovers around 55% and Bengaluru’s is growing from 8% in 2001 census to about 30% in 2011 census. Transportation, too, needs to be affordable financially as well as from travel time point of view.
The ideal situation is mixed land use, but keeping hazardous and polluting industries and activities segregated from residential and commercial areas. Residential areas, too, must have adequate proportion of accommodation for the poor who serve the affluent in different ways. Most situations of Indian cities have this characteristic. This makes reasonably short average travel distances for commuting.
Take the case of Mumbai where 57% of its population lives within 3 km from their place of work; 69% within 5 km; 81% within 10 km and 89% within 15 km. There is another statistics that matches with this. 44% of people in Mumbai go to work by foot, without using any motorised or non-motorised modes. 3.1% using bicycles out number 2.8% using motor cars. 22% use the suburban railway and 16% use the road public transport. About 3.5% use the intermediate transport such as auto-rickshaws and taxis, leaving 8.5% who use motorised two wheelers.
All over India, the population of M2Ws is increasing at a phenomenal rate due to its operating competitiveness from economy and convenience point of view in comparison to the road public transport. With growing income levels and inadequate public transport, even the motor car population and usage is on the rapid rise mode.
To counter the trend as this growth of personal vehicle usage will lead to considerable air and noise pollution, the National Urban Transport Policy gives directive to improve public transport. But the aspirations of people are whetted by sleek marketing and attractive financial packages for motorised vehicles. Similarly, the aspirations of cities have been raised to wanting to proudly boast of having a Metro Rail and Monorail. Are such whetting good for the cities is the question. Let us look at the Metro Rail.
With about 20% of Metro lines underground, the average cost of Metro per kilometre is being stated to be Rs250 crore while it works out to more than Rs400 cr/km in Mumbai. If we consider that every 40 million plus city in India is having an aspiration of having a Metro Rail, that each city is about 25 x 25 kilometre, each of these metro cities will have about 50 km of Metro Rail. This would mean total length of Metro Rail will come to about 50 x 4 = 200 km. At an average cost of Rs250 cr/km, the total sum these four metro cities will come to Rs50,000 crore. Nearly 350 km of Delhi Metro, 150 km of Mumbai Metro and 300 km of Metro Rail in Mumbai Metropolitan region and similarly 150 km in Kolkata will bring the investment to the tune of Rs3,25,000 crore.
Unfortunately, for the Metro Rail line to be able to attract commuters commensurate with its carrying capacity, especially to be utilized to justify such high investment, one will have to provide a network of feeder road public transport services or intermediate public transport services and car parking spaces. If that be the case, what tangible benefits would the Metro Rail provide that a Bus Rapid Transit System cannot, is the question one would like to have an answer to? A BRTS will cost up to Rs15 cr/km and can provide capacities high enough not to be considered just a provider of feeder service to Metro Rail but be a competing transportation mode on its own right. Since cities comprise properties and accesses i.e. land and road network, it is a natural corollary to have buses run on them with priority to enable large number of people to cover larger distances; for medium distances bicycles and for short distances, walking as modes of mobility. Running buses with priority means a system of Bus Rapid Transit. Thus, even if we provide not 1,150 km in 2 million plus UAs but say 4,600 km of BRTS in all these 2 million plus UAs, it would cost just about Rs60,000 crore as against 1,150 km of Metro Rail’s Rs3,25,000 crore. And what do we get for this? We get four times the length of a bus service as that of Metro Rail length, in a way covering much larger area and there by serve larger number of people, at costs one-fifth of Metro Rail costs.
When cities get good mobility, there is bound to be economic growth. If city gets into a ‘jam’ over a long period, can there be any significant economic growth and thereby improvement in quality of life?
And let us not forget that with Metro Rail projects moving at super-snail’s pace, as we see it happening in Mumbai and Bengaluru, all that we will be dong is keep pouring money and not get any relief. Let us also realise that while India is rapidly getting urbanized, it is happening in Tier II and Tier III cities. The Government of India is seriously planning to put up a Metro Rail network in cities with more than 20 lakh (2 million plus) population. This will only raise the aspirations of these cities on the wrong track, achieve nothing for their majority inhabitants. The investment is enormous and it will be possible only at the cost of adding to the misery of rest of India.
While we have confined arguments to transportation and specifically Metro Rail, a city has to provide amenities and services such as water supply, sewage disposal, walkable footpaths, non-motorised vehicle lanes, medical infrastructure, education, playgrounds, gardens, recreation grounds, fire-fighting, public health and what have you. When large sums get spent on transportation sector, where from does one generate funds for the other amenities and services?
Does the question “Is Metro Rail not the answer for India’s Urban Transportation?” find an answer above?
(Sudhir Badami is a Civil Engineer and Transportation Analyst. He is on Government of Maharashtra’s Steering Committee on BRTS for Mumbai and Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority’s Technical Advisory Committee on BRTS for Mumbai. He is also member of Research & MIS Committee of Unified Mumbai Metropolitan Transport Authority. He was member of Bombay High Court appointed erstwhile Road Monitoring Committee (2006-07). While he has been an active campaigner against Noise for more than a decade, he is a strong believer in functioning democracy. He can be contacted on email at firstname.lastname@example.org)