As the coaches imported from South Korea wait patiently at the Byappanahalli depot, last-mile construction for the Bangalore Metro has taken on a frenetic pace. Nearly 3,600 workers—of whom more than half are from neighbouring and far-off states—are working across the city.
Come April, when the first leg of Namma Metro opens for the people of Bangalore, it will be a humble start to a mass-transit system that has promised to end the city’s traffic woes. Humble because, after a four-year wait, only 6.7km of the total 42.3km planned Metro rail network will be rolled out in the first stretch.
But the route is interesting, starting from the congested, arterial Old Madras Road in the east, cutting through the city-centre MG Road, one of the busiest areas, to reach the popular Chinnaswamy cricket stadium.
When the service starts, Suman Chatterjee, 33, who lives close to where the Metro line begins on Old Madras Road, will be able to reach his MG Road office in 10 minutes, against the 40 minutes it now takes him. “It’s just a matter of weeks now after a long wait,” says Chatterjee, who works for a US-based IT services company.
While the quaint, smaller stores have died a quick death because of the Metro construction, glitzy landmarks, such as the Joyalukkas jewellery store, have come up to make the most of being along a Metro station. Photos by Aniruddha Chowdhury/Mint
With a burgeoning population of eight million and 3.5 million vehicles (with 1,000 vehicles being added daily, according to Bangalore traffic police data), the elevated Metro rail is poised to take a load off Bangalore’s choked streets. The city’s only form of public transport so far has been autorickshaws and buses. By 2012, when the Metro is expected to be fully functional, it’s expected to carry 1.02 million people every day.
“In the initial days, we expect a lot more people to travel by the Metro out of curiosity, but once that euphoria tapers, we would be able to assess how many people actually use the system on a regular basis,” says Yashavanth Chavan, chief public relations officer, Bangalore Metro Rail Corp. Ltd (BMRCL), which is implementing the project.
The Metro is already changing the city’s physical and social landscape. Like any large urban infrastructure project, the construction has taken a toll on throbbing commercial areas. Busy shopping streets and business hubs such as Chinmaya Mission Hospital Road, commonly called CMH Road, are now only a shadow of what they used to be, lined with shops with “To Let” signages. Residents of some areas were asked to relocate. Broken buildings and piles of debris have become a common sight.
On MG Road, the central business district through which most of the first Metro corridor passes, life will perhaps never be the same again.
Local non-profit organizations say several hundred commercial structures have been razed and relocated along the entire stretch. While the quaint, smaller shopping stores have died a quicker death since construction work started, the iconic three-storey Gangarams Gallery on MG Road has lost over 60% of its business in the last two years and is now moving to a new location close by. “It has been a bad time for us as people didn’t want to come to MG Road and to the stores any more because there is no place to walk or park,” says Gangarams’ owner Hema Atmaram.
The Higginbothams book store, popular with foreign tourists, is also battling dipping sales and has stopped stocking postcards since few tourists walk into the store these days.
The newly opened Joyalukkas jewellery store and the revamped 81-year-old Lakeview Milk Bar are some of the new shades in this, the city’s most frequented, area.
“Any high-speed corridor allows people to go to their destinations faster than their own vehicles, but the downside is that anything between these two points of interest is left out,” says Ashwin Mahesh, research strategist for the government of Karnataka. There is hope, though, as Mahesh adds: “...Once the Metro completes its full network of 40km or so, it would bring the city far closer to the new, outlying areas.”
Photographs by Aniruddha Chowdhury/Mint