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BMRCL is considering increasing the frequency of its services from eight minutes to every six minutes on the 18-km-long Purple Line. Photo: Aniruddha Chowdhury/Mint
BMRCL is considering increasing the frequency of its services from eight minutes to every six minutes on the 18-km-long Purple Line. Photo: Aniruddha Chowdhury/Mint

Can the metro solve Bengaluru’s traffic problem?

The metro's limited connectivity and high project costs may do little to tackle traffic problems of the city bursting at its seams, say experts

Bengaluru: The Bangalore Metropolitan Rail Corp. Ltd (BMRCL), which runs Namma Metro, is considering increasing the frequency of its services from every eight minutes to every six minutes on the 18-km-long Purple Line (from Byappanahalli to Mysore Road), heeding calls to accommodate more passengers during peak hours.

The higher frequency will help increase the number of passengers taking the metro to around 150,000 per day. To put that in perspective, that is only 1.5% of the over 10 million population of the city, raising questions whether the metro is the answer to Bengaluru’s mass rapid transport problem and whether it can ease the traffic situation.

Pradeep Singh Kharola, managing director of BMRCL, said that at the end of Phase II, which will take the total length to 72 km, the metro will be able to connect 10-15% of the city. But Phase II is not expected to be completed anytime before 2019.

And by the time Phase II is completed, the city would have added another 1.5 million people, said urban infrastructure expert Ashwin Mahesh. He and other urban infrastructure experts say the metro is a very large investment to cater to a small fraction of the total population. The low reach is due to lack of adequate route planning and limited connectivity. Also, the high cost of development of the project will always weigh on the metro, the experts said.

While Kharola said the metro will be developed to make it the backbone of the public transport system, with city buses supporting it, the fact is that buses in Bengaluru transport over four million people every day or 40% of the city’s population.

“Metro does not fit into the scheme of things," said V. Ravichandar, urban infrastructure consultant and member of Bangalore Agenda Task Force (BATF), while referring to the lack of investment into improving bus services and road network.

The cost of Phase I of the metro, which started over a decade ago, had to be revised from 8,158 crore to 13,845 crore due to delays. About 55% of the Phase II costs will be funded by the state and Central governments and the remaining will be raised through borrowing. When completed, Phases I and II would have cost a huge 40,000 crore, which explains why other mediums of public transport have been neglected.

Metro plans are also hampering the commuter rail service. Sanjeev Dyamnavar of Praja RAAG, an advocacy group for local issues, said over 400 km of track is lying idle around the city but the government is not serious about commuter rail, which has the ability to carry over 5,000 people as against metro’s capacity of under 1,000 (three coaches).

“Commuter rail will cost 10 crore per km, while the metro costs at least 400 crore per km," he added.

Currently, the metro gives a miss to high-density areas like Koramangala, HSR Layout, BTM Layout, Yelahanka, Kengeri and Whitefield, among other localities where population has spiked in recent times.

For example, the Outer Ring Road, a 60-km circle through the city, has most offices and large residential areas along it, but is not connected by the metro. R.K. Mishra, founder-director of the Centre for Smart Cities, a body to help design and manage smart cities, said that companies with offices along the Outer Ring Road are losing about 2-3 hours of productivity due to traffic issues which is likely to impact the city’s claim to being a business destination.

BMRCL is trying to salvage its lack of adequate planning by building extensions on existing lines. To be sure, Bengaluru has expanded by 500 sq. km, from 300 sq. km in 2007 to 800 sq. km now, but the expansion is largely unplanned.

According to Rame Gowda, Bengaluru’s commissioner for transport and road safety, there are over 6 million vehicles in the city and their density is growing by 9% per year. While 500,000 new vehicles were registered in 2014-15, around 1,400 new vehicles are added every day, he said.

Though Mishra believes the metro is only solution to the traffic problem, he has proposed alternatives like Metrino Taxi Pods, capsules which carry people on dedicated lines, on these stretches to complement the metro in many localities.

“I would suggest that these (Metrino) be considered for such corridors which do not have the metro planned in Phase II. If at all, Phase III comes, it may take another 10 years and by then Bengaluru may not remain liveable," Mishra says.

But metro has already become a very large commitment, one that the state government may not be able to ignore. Experts forecast that by 2025, metro will be a $10 billion investment and all other infrastructure will have to support this system. As Ravichandar puts it, “You have built a beast and you will have to keep feeding it."

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