Is Metro Rail not the answer for India’s urban transportation ?

 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 [email protected])



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    Sudhir Badami

    9 years ago

    In response to 17 Comments here and about 11 on the facebook, I continued with the topic in the Part II which can be read at

    I feel that I have addressed each and every comment directly or through answers to some other comment or the other. If it is felt that I have not addressed any specific argument placed in some of the comments, please reiterate them.

    Bharat Singh

    9 years ago

    You have pointed out the true issue of Urban India. It's addressing the walkability of urban India that is more crucial than HCMT. Cities need a holistic approach to urban development, i.e. the integration of transportation, land use and urban design policies to smoothly integrate all modes of travel. This way any investment in transit be it Metro, BRT, local bus or walking, there is a direct connection to the destination desired. Land use and urban design also plays a big role in encouraging non vehicular modes of travel. What is the point of putting a metro station in a location where accessing it is an issue (The IP estate station in Delhi is case in point).


    9 years ago

    Dear Sir,

    The article provides very interesting data points.
    ..i am just wondering what could be the reason for this (Stats for Mumbai)...mainly 57% population living within 3 km from their workplace & 44% people going to work by foot ...
    is it that the data includes population working in unorganised sector, contract labor, people working in small industries, self employed people running own shops or small establishments? and this segment comprises of the 57% & 44% ....
    also if you could share the year for which the data pertains & the source of the data ...


    Atif Hussain

    9 years ago

    Great diagnosis, with right research.

    very true conclusions.

    Conceptually, the most critical aspect of transport within city is last mile connectivity, which unfortunately, metro rail/etc do not serve. Look at China - it is investing huge in rail, but for inter-city only. Also investing in alternate transportation, is much more costlier than strengthening existing transport backbone; and less useful, as both still have to run on the scarce urban landscape.

    The author graduated from IIM Bangalore, with focus in public policy.
    Lived in Hyderabad, Bangalore, Delhi.

    A Rajaraman

    9 years ago

    Dear Sri Badami,

    I have read your article on the subject (and noticed that the corrected map has been put) and fully agree with you. Your article not surprisingly is well researched your being in so many high level committee and in a position to effect a policy decision.

    Metros is a high cost option for maybe low density rich countries. India being generously populated country we should have a low cost sustainable transport system such as BRTS with short distances being covered from the bus stops to work/living places by share auto/shuttle buses. It will also generate self employment avenues for the local population.

    I have another idea which I want you to ponder on and maybe impress upon the powers. Practically all our cites have overgrown its limits and any amount of facilities cannot sustain the population. India has vast land stretches of waste lands sparsely populated. With the estimated Rs 325000 crores can’t we build new towns with proper infrastructure taking care for housing for poor and migrants, in these land and convert it into prosperous areas. Only water has to transported to these areas through pipes. Even Bengaluroo in 70’s with much lesser population was crying for water and various Kavery water schemes were floated, now we do not hear of any water scarcity in Bengaluroo despite the huge increase in the size and population of the city. These towns should be away from major cities as the earlier scheme of making satellite cities have practically failed as people of satellite cities travel into the major cities for job, education and businesses. These town should not have big plots but functional clusters of houses and industrial/commercial areas so that they can be well connected with public transport or even cycle rickshaws right from the beginning.


    Yours faithfully,


    K B Patil

    9 years ago

    A thoroughly interesting article and from the comments, one can see that readers are very involved in this matter. My opinion is that BRT is feasible if only the roads are sufficiently wide as in Lutyen's Delhi. Bangalore, the city where I grew up, does not have wide enough roads and so, public opinion will be strongly against BRT. Right now, the people of Bangalore are proud of their metro and happy to use it. The only drawback is the high cost and the slow progress.

    a v moorthi besides TIHAR

    9 years ago

    not many know that today about 20 lakh user trips take place daily in Delhi Metro when it is 10 years since the first train was on rails and today it covers over 100 kms thro 7 routes which criss cross across at least thro one or more routes so in a way all 7 routes are inter connected. another important point was the first route was laid in what is generally recalled as Yamuna paar - the resettlement colony plannede by Sanjay Gandhi where the poor were shifted during emergency so that they got stay in pucca houses instead of slums where they used to live. once that route operational rest of Delhi yearned for such a facility and confident DMRC will deliver and courts didnot grant any stay when private property were acquired by DMRC because DMRC settled compensation in a transparemt manner. stations like chawri bazar is an example of what our engineers are capable of doing when they have access to latest tools for diging tunnels. stations in dwaraka section numbering over 10 are show case stations . yes resources for Metro can be raised by using space adjacent to Metro station . additionally savings in commuting time, oil bill for nation , clean environment etc are enormous and in valuable


    A Rajaraman

    In Reply to a v moorthi besides TIHAR 9 years ago

    Is Delhi Metro self sustaining?


    9 years ago

    THERE IS A WILL, THERE IS A WAY. Indian politicians and officials never bothered about the welfare of the people, becasue Indians are submissive and selfish - ready to bribe to get things done - never raise their voice even.

    Ganesh Krishnan

    9 years ago

    In Mumbai, we now have an excellent network of flyovers connecting, Thane, Borivili and Navi Mumbai to SOBO. These flyovers have not solved the problem of traffic which still moves at a snail's pace. My suggestion is that we should convert the flyovers into BRTS and allow the other traffic in the roads below. The advantage is that we can get BRTS at no additional cost and once it becomes operative, there is no incentive for private cars to be on the roads.

    Sudhir Badami

    9 years ago

    Looks like I am getting plenty to explain about BRTS for Mumbai. I will await some more independent questions and then address each one. I would appreciate if the person mentions which city s/he lives in.

    The issue is not just of Transportation that the government/municipal corporations have to take care of and although money is not such a rare commodity, but when it comes to other amenities, the quantum of money getting 'eaten away' by the Metro renders it near impossible to complete.


    9 years ago

    Badami ji, with specific reference to Mumbai and in context with your article, may I add some ground realities please?

    1) Where is the space on Mumbai's existing roads to provide for a BRTS system which will have bus lanes, non-bus lanes, cycle lanes and pedestrian paths - in addition to proper bus stops?

    2) The present dispensation in Mumbai does not even have the will to provide bus connections for intermodal exchanges between airports and the rest of the city. That's a reality.

    3) Where will all these buses be parked, please, especially if they also need overnight parking bays in the city area, South Mumbai - and what are the options for a separate bus service in competition to BEST running on the same routes (like Delhi's cluster bus services).

    4) The cost of fuel as well as manpower for a larger number of buses versus the cost of power and manpower for running trains on metro rail lines.

    5) The largest issue of pollution due to emissions is not addressed, and needs be factored in, too.

    As far as the main plank of your arguments on investments are concerned, the big issue here is that it takes one honest man to head an organisation where the larger issue is not just the investment and financial closure, but also a solid rock strong control on misuse of that investment. That would be easier, given the nature of the legislations already in position for passenger transport over rail than similar over road on motor vehicles.

    Humbly submitted, but 2 million direct beneficiaries in Delhi as well as many more who benefit indirectly, would place the social benefits way above any other parameter.





    In Reply to malq 9 years ago

    I agree with Veeresh Sir. I am from Ahmedabad where the much touted BRTS is running "successfully". Let me put forth both the sides of the coin. On the plus side is the fact that since BRTS runs on dedicated corridor the distance and time factor has benefits. It has put A'bad on international platform. It has come as a huge relief to thousands of office goers upto the middle and senior executive level, who have started tavelling in brts leaving behind their scooters, bikes and car. Partly thanks to the rising costs of fuel and CNG. Also a boon to college students. Now the minus side of arguments. Anybody who has travelled in BRTS would have experienced the rash driving, the sudden pick up. I have seen so many passengers fall inside the bus when it picks up speed after leaving each terminus. This is mainly because the special corridors are empty and the buses become dangerous fast machines in the hands of young BRTS drivers. The BRTS corridors are built by expanding the existing roads. But there is a limit to which the exising roads can be expanded. So what happens is traffic chaos, long queues of traffic, honking and impatience on the narrow roads just beside the wide empty BRTS corridor. My idea of building infrastructure is "creating" infrastructure and not overcrowding the existng infrastructure. With BRTS you are creating chaos, unruly traffic mess, space mismanagement while building Metro means creating a whole new world underneath your feet. With world class engineering and political will we can create a new system of Metro trains, platforms, stations, shopping areas etc. That means that people would have the option of travelling by Metro, local trains, buses or taxis , as they wish or afford.


    9 years ago

    This is one of the most ignorant articles I've read in a decade.

    If you still cannot recognize the fact that Delhi Metro will breakeven on the basis of green credits alone by 2013 (approx. in a decade of its existence), there is no helping this author.

    The metro is the ONLY solution to megacities transport problems. Forget about the economic rate of return, I am talking strictly on the basis of social costs recovery alone. It is taking about a decade to breakeven on metro on all cities so far planned.

    The economic returns are only an additional advantage that havent even been discussed yet.

    The writer is one of the dumbest people I've had to come across in the history of humankind, including Darwin's humankind.

    surajit som

    9 years ago

    it is well known that wherever metro goes ,land price shoots up. i know because i am a beneficiary of delhi metro. i live in dwarka ,delhi. there are tens of thousands like me. why dont we develop land and then sell to finance metro ,at least in part ? roads ,railways in america were built that way.

    secondly out megacities are mega dense. where is the land to make roads ? can we blow up buildings and make roads ? probably not. there will be millions of new court cases and not even one km of road will be made.

    what about the comparative cost of maintenance of metro and road? what about the ecological benefits of metro? what about the cost of traffic jam and pollution?

    let us remember that we could have built thousands of kilometres of metro with the money we lost in CWG ,2G scam etc.

    let us not make metro the whipping boy. delhi would come to a standstill without metro.

    Jeevan Balwant

    9 years ago

    Metro Rail project is an ill-conceived idea at this stage of infrastructural development in Mumbai.
    Andheri-Kurla road is a classic example of the mess that metro rail project has created since the past 2 years.
    The govt is planning a world class metro rail but it is not concerned about improving the road below. Andheri-Kurla road has become very dangerous due to constant digging, wrongful parking of vehicles, piling up of debris, uneven paver blocks, huge craters, blind diversions and mismanaged traffic.
    Mumbai desperately needs smooth roads, proper lane demarcations, systematic parking slots, broader footpaths sans illegal stalls and squatters, visible road signs and comfortable BEST bus-stops and marked Auto/taxi stands.

    Arun Iyer

    9 years ago

    "Mumbai, Delhi, Kolkata, Bengaluru, Chennai, Hyderabad and Ahmedabad are all 40 million plus cities, with Mumbai, Delhi and Kolkata termed as mega cities."

    40 million plus cities! Wow!
    Where do you get such enviable information from?


    Sudhir Badami

    In Reply to Arun Iyer 9 years ago

    Apologies, should have been 40 lacs or 4 million.

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