Bangalore: Siddarth Shah spends 90 minutes on a bus making the 18.5-km commute to work in traffic-snarled Bangalore, India’s technology hub. Yet Shah, 29, said he believes relief is on the way.
The marketing manager at Infosys Technologies Ltd, the country’s second-largest software exporter, said a $1.5 billion (Rs6,150 crore) city Metro rail network being built will change his life.
“The Metro will be a boon for people like me,” he said. “The amount of time you spend on the roads is stressful.”
Shah may be disappointed. State-owned Bangalore Metro Rail Corp. says its central mass-transit line—25 years in the planning and only the second in India—may be overwhelmed by the time the first train leaves the station in 2011.
Snail’s pace:Traffic crawls at an average of 10km per hour during the morning and evening rush hours, says Bangalore’s transport department.
There already are three million cars, buses, trucks, motorbikes and three-wheeler taxis on the southern city’s potholed roads. Another 1,000 vehicles are added every day as the area’s growing prosperity attracts more people and gives them the money to buy cars for the first time.
By 2016, the city’s population is expected to reach eight million, putting even greater demands on an overburdened transportation system.
“We will be able to cater to 15-20% of the transportation needs of Bangalore,” said V. Madhu, managing director of Bangalore Metro. “That is not enough. We have to add more rapid-transport systems.”
Developing public transportation is a national priority for India, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said on 24 June 2006 as he laid the foundation stone for the 33-km network that will travel above and below ground.
While saying that the Karnataka government must start planning for future transportation needs, the Prime Minister had added: “I am confident that the government of Karnataka will leave no stone unturned in ensuring that the city gets a world-class Metro rail system, properly integrated with other forms of public transport. You need to invest looking at the needs two decades from now.”
Bangalore, India’s third-largest city, generated a third of the $31.6 billion in software-related services exported by the nation last fiscal year. Known as the Garden City, Bangalore hosts the Indian headquarters for Intel Corp., General Electric Co. and International Business Machines Corp.
Investment has lured professionals from throughout India as well as the state’s rural poor.
Bangalore’s population ballooned to 6.5 million last year from 4.1 million in 1991, government figures show.
In 1985, only 306,589 vehicles plied the roads, according to the state transport department. That is about a 10th of the current total.
Traffic now crawls along at an average of 10 km per hour during the morning and evening rush, the department estimates. Pedestrian crossings are rare, further slowing the flow of traffic.
Srinivas Vijay said he switched jobs two years ago to save his marriage and to protect his health.
Formerly a software engineer at Wipro Ltd, the nation’s third-largest software company, he now works during off-peak hours to avoid spending up to four hours a day commuting.
“I was angry, felt jittery while travelling and it took a big toll on my personal life,” said Vijay, 31. When he finally made it home, “I didn’t even want to talk to my wife. I straight away hit the bed.”
Yet, Vijay said he wasn’t convinced the 32-station Metro would make much difference.
Many workers who travel through the downtown area are commuting to technology hubs in the suburbs, he said.
“For Metro to succeed, it must reach where most of the software offices are located, such as International Technology Parks Ltd and Electronics City,” Vijay said.
“In their plan, I do not see that as of now.”
The first of four plans for a railway was unveiled in 1982. They eventually were abandoned by successive state governments because of a lack of financing, differences over proposed funding and regime changes, Metro’s Madhu said.
The city’s new airport suffered similar setbacks. It is due to open in 2008—17 years after construction tenders first were floated. The airport’s passenger capacity was expanded during construction to cater to more business travellers.
Delhi Metro Rail Corp., which runs India’s only other mass-transit railway, produced the Rs5,500 crore blueprint for a Metro network in Bangalore in 2003. The federal government approved it in April 2006, by which time costs had increased 16%.
In March, the engineering unit of Navayuga Group, based in Hyderabad, India, started work on the first seven-kmstretch. The state government is yet to open bids for the remaining 26 km.
The government also plans to build a $1.1 billion light railway around the city to connect peripheral regions with Metro stations, Madhu said. Planning for the 51-km project hasn’t been delayed, and work may start next year.
Infosys’ Shah said anything that promises to make his weekday commute more comfortable is a bonus.
“Can you imagine the pleasure of not driving a car in Bangalore?” he said. “Metro can achieve that.”