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The Metro may not be best answer to our urban traffic woes

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Mobility, not metro, by Himanshu Burt, Business Standard, Oct 2:

The Metro may not be best answer to our urban traffic woes

Mobility is essential to city life. So how can we make getting around easier, better and more convenient for our cities? What are the options, and what are their costs and impacts? How equitable is each? And finally, how sustainable is each option, in terms of economics, public health and the environment? The answers to such questions offer a rational counterpoint to the metro mantra being chanted by city after Indian city, and now rising to a crescendo.

A sensible infrastructure solution is one that solves the problems (and does not create new ones), costs the least, benefits the largest number of people, does the least environmental and social damage, is reversible, and has the flexibility to adjust to changing needs in the future. Of course, no solution is perfect. There are always trade-offs. But how do we weigh those trade-offs? First we must thoroughly understand the problem and its context. Then we must decide on the criteria by which we judge how well the solution — in this case, a metro system — actually meets all the various requirements. Here below are some points to address.

Non-motorised transport
Non-motorised transportation deserves closer attention. Geetam Tiwari of the Transport Research and Injury Prevention Programme at IIT Delhi has estimated that, at peak hour, 30-70 per cent of all trips in our big cities are by foot or bicycle. (Related fact: most trips in Indian cities are also under 5 km, which is bicycling distance.)

People making these trips are ‘captive users’ — they cannot afford even subsidised public transport and are forced to walk or cycle. Therefore, a sustainable transportation policy would start by making mobility easier and safer for pedestrians and bicyclists (who together have the largest share of fatalities in road accidents).

Interestingly, this would benefit all road users. Those who use motorised transport, whether personal car, suburban train or city bus, also need to walk. Encouraging walking and bicycling through design and policy makes ecological and social sense. Both have almost zero energy costs and emissions, result in very little pollution, and boost public health.

And, in case you hadn’t already guessed, catering to pedestrians and cyclists will make our cities more beautiful.

Bus kya?
Buses are perhaps the only public transport system already at work in most Indian cities. This is not surprising, since buses require much smaller investments. They are also more flexible in answering demand, and can reach every corner of a city.

The metro is a First World concept. But the bus rapid transit system (BRTS) is a concept innovated in a Third World city — Curitiba in Brazil, where it has worked well.

The essential BRTS idea is dedicated bus lanes to which other vehicles have no or limited access. Ahmedabad has a ‘closed’ BRTS which has proved to be a success.

Planning on Ahmedabad’s system began in 2005, and operations started in October 2009. The system is estimated to cost ' 1,000 crore for the full 88 km. So far it has reached 35 km, with no cost overruns. Today 85,000-90,000 passengers a day use its 41 buses, says Shivanand Swamy of the Centre for Environmental Planning and Technology, Ahmedabad, who helped design the system.

“BRTS is pertinent for India,” says Vidyadhar Phatak, a former chief planner of the Mumbai Metropolitan Regional Development Authority, “but you cannot do it half-heartedly. There is always going to be a conflict between different conditions in the case of BRTS, but it can be addressed to arrive at the best resolution.”

Phatak adds that car users in Indian cities with BRTS believe that buses are taking over their roadspace. When there is no bus in the bus lane, car drivers feel that roadspace is being wasted. They don’t recognise that a single bus carries as many people as a jamful of cars. “Unfortunately, in India people who benefit from a system like BRTS rarely raise their voice in its favour,” he says.

Clear the road
The chief attraction of a metro is that it is disengaged from the chaotic road situation. “Metro projects are often promoted by saying that the roads are so congested, we have to go over or underground to get fast public transport,” says Sujit Patwardhan of Parisar, a Pune NGO fighting for sensible urban policies. “But this makes no sense. If there is a problem on the road, solve it, don’t run away from it. People don’t cause congestion on roads, cars do.”

Patwardhan’s argument forces us to consider an awkward possibility: that even after the huge expense on metros we might still be left with congested roads. After all, convincing evidence that car users will switch to the metro is thin (see box). Unless, that is, we solve the road problem by curbing cars, since it is cars that eat up scarce public space on roads. If we can do that, we might even find that we never did need the metro!

Metros and urban form
It is well known that a metro is many times more expensive than other public transit options. Its other costs are not so widely known, including damage to urban form and public space.

Urban form is no elite concern. It matters more to the poor pedestrian than to the rich in their cars. Our sense of comfort in a city depends on its legibility. Can we make sense of our street networks, orient ourselves, remember places we are walking through? Do we feel psychologically comfortable in a space?

In Mumbai, for instance, flyovers built in the late 1990s have chopped up each of a wonderful sequence of garden roundabouts. Chopped up, these spaces fail to register fully. The flyovers have mangled our experience of moving through. The looming concrete masses of the elevated sections of metro lines will do the same in many parts of cities like Mumbai. Remember, most metro lines in cities outside Delhi are going to be elevated.

 

What is wrong with the metro idea?

In a report titled ‘Mythologies, Metros & Future Urban Transport’, Dinesh Mohan of IIT Delhi reviews the national and international literature on the question of which public transport system is appropriate for Indian cities, and arrives at a critique of the metro. Here is a summary of his arguments.

# Metros do not carry the largest percentage of all trips in any city in the world. The largest shares are in cities that got public transport systems in the first half of the 20th century, when other options were not available. In such cities, like London, New York and Paris, the metro does not absorb more than 20 per cent of all trips. Tokyo and Hong Kong are exceptions. In Tokyo, 40 per cent of trips are on the metro; but car ownership is discouraged by limited parking and roadspace.

# Metros only work well in cities that have large concentrations of jobs in central business districts. London, Paris and New York meet this condition. Indian cities, which generally have a polynucleated character and no single business district, do not.

# A large population does not guarantee ridership. Shanghai compares with Mexico City but has just half the latter’s ridership. The Delhi Metro Rail Corporation claims that any city with over 3 million people needs a metro. Density and the nature of spread of a city are, however, as relevant as the population.

# It is not easy to wean car users away from their cars. It is difficult to beat the door-to-door travel time of a car, if you include time taken to reach the metro station, walk in the station and wait for a train.

# A study of 210 transport infrastructure projects worldwide has shown that costs are significantly underestimated and benefits exaggerated. (This is generally true of big-ticket projects, because they benefit the officials who commission them as well as the consultants and contractors who execute them.) We can take consolation from this: we are not alone in our misery.

# A properly designed BRTS does better on many criteria than any rail-based system.

The full report is available at www.iitd.ac.in/tripp

Comments

silkboard's picture

lets join in for the BRT lobbying project

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Great, look fwd to more people joining the developing BRT lobby project. Lets push for BRT, its needed. I am coming in from its needed to augment other modes (Metro etc), you or others may come in from I hate Metro angle :). But join in for BRT, lets lobby hard.

Naveen's picture

Metro - Do we have other options ?

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For any city, BRT would of course be considered ahead of Metro due to it's flexibility & low cost, but this does not mean that Metro has no role in urban transport in India.

I think conclusions are being drawn with frivolous arguments & without due regard to or recognition of realities in Indian cities - BRT is being claimed as the mother of all choices, whilst Metro's role is being wholly negated.

I have great respect for Mr Dinesh Mohan for his efforts for planning BRT in Delhi, but I beg to differ with him about his views here :

# Metros do not carry the largest percentage of all trips in any city in the world. The largest shares are in cities that got public transport systems in the first half of the 20th century, when other options were not available. In such cities, like London, New York and Paris, the metro does not absorb more than 20 per cent of all trips. Tokyo and Hong Kong are exceptions. In Tokyo, 40 per cent of trips are on the metro; but car ownership is discouraged by limited parking and roadspace.

So with BRT, which also does not carry the largest percentage of all trips in any city in the world. In fact, Metro typically carries higher share than BRT in those cities that have both. Also, Metros in developing cities (mostly in Asia & S.America) carried about 11 billion journeys in 2000 - more than twice the ridership of commuter rail & over four times the ridership of LRT systems.

# Metros only work well in cities that have large concentrations of jobs in central business districts. London, Paris and New York meet this condition. Indian cities, which generally have a polynucleated character and no single business district, do not.

However true this might be, merely making such blanket assertions to substantiate the unsuitability of Metro for India isn't good enough. The more difficult question/s have remained unanswered :

What other option can be considered for Indian cities that are all known to have very narrow streets where planning BRT is practically impossible ?

Isn't it better to position elevated urban Metros now & then increase FSI along the tracks to accommodate the anticipated future urban growth beside Metro routes rather than continue with "polynuclearization" ?

# A large population does not guarantee ridership. Shanghai compares with Mexico City but has just half the latter’s ridership. The Delhi Metro Rail Corporation claims that any city with over 3 million people needs a metro. Density and the nature of spread of a city are, however, as relevant as the population.

Shanghai has very wide roads & as a result, car usage is larger, whereas Mexico city is congested with increased riders on Metro. An extensive BRT system might have been preferable in Shanghai, but they opted for Metro /Light rail - it's their choice !

Density & nature of spread are important no doubt, but packed & fully built up urban /CBD areas cannot be brought down to widen roads to position BRT - costs of compensation & the disruption caused would be higher than construction of Metro, perhaps.

# It is not easy to wean car users away from their cars. It is difficult to beat the door-to-door travel time of a car, if you include time taken to reach the metro station, walk in the station and wait for a train.

So with BRT ! & all other forms of public transport. Why single out Metro alone for this ???

# A study of 210 transport infrastructure projects worldwide has shown that costs are significantly underestimated and benefits exaggerated. (This is generally true of big-ticket projects, because they benefit the officials who commission them as well as the consultants and contractors who execute them.) We can take consolation from this: we are not alone in our misery.

Are BRT systems bereft of such practices ? Kick-backs for contracts & lobbying by parties for projects that benefit them is common in almost every sector. So, why claim this as a negative only against Metro ???

# A properly designed BRTS does better on many criteria than any rail-based system.

This is too generic. Metro systems generally have much higher carrying capacities than all other forms of mass transport systems & have speeds equivalent to the best BRTs (in fact, most BRTs have lesser speeds than Metros). So, what are the many "criteria" in which BRT does better ???

rackstar's picture

already there

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Metro is already there in Bangalore, whats the point of debating if it is necessary? So Bus-Rapid-Transit can work as complimentary survice or a feeder service. Say metro doesnt have ring route, so ORR is good candidate for BRT. But BRT in inner ring road is waste because north-south and east-west underground metro line already serves that target audience. Also no use of BRT in raidial direction as metro will cater to them already.

Public Agenda's picture

Metro a band or a bandwagon

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DMRC wanted to have a Metro Rail  in Bangalore not because it was needed but it was the dream, of the consultant and  MD to see it run here 

The way the CM sanctioned Metro and a later CM the HSRL against all the advice from even Abide to extend the Metro to BIAL also shows the same dying dreams to screw Bangalore.

and the reasons to  have a BRT at least now is to prevent the COSTLIEST MISTAKE of we the citizens ending up spending 30000 crores of loans and grants to line the pockets of heavy engineering public or private sector companies

Its amazing how the pro-infrastructure lobby would want the public to spend, take a loan, and perpetually subidise the heavy engineering white elephants which are thrust on the common man for whims of worldclass, PT 

In fact no money shd be spent on the Metro ph II instead we shd have a pro Bus Gandhigiri lobby which will help restructure the city in the poshest areas by pulling down unnecessary commercial complexes like malls  along the bus corridors and there shd be no blanket or harsh criticism 

letus retrofit all buses used by the common man instead of expensive volvos

EXCHANGE THE SUSPENSIONS

let us have volvo, or mercedes suspensions on the normal blue and white buses and let the volvo buses get the blue & white ones

 


silkboard's picture

Agenda and rhetoric

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Well, Public Agenda sir, your usual ideological talk can at least be defended as your word against mine, its a free country and all that. But try keep off from technical rhetoric like ...

letus retrofit all buses used by the common man instead of expensive volvos EXCHANGE THE SUSPENSIONS

... unless you have examples or idea of costs involved in build/maintenance of custom retrofit jobs. Plus, you don't know that common man wants Volvos (Or Benzs or whatever). But you don't, and that is why you don't win elections here :)

Pro-Infrastructure lobby, (!!!) loved that phrase too. Have the guts? Then stand in an election today with a public statement in your manifesto against those who want more infrastruture.

Specialists in "this or that" debate need to upgrade themselves to "this and that" solution discusions.

But yeah, as long as you are camping for BRT in some form or shape, you are good (enough). Who cares what angle you are coming from :)

abidpqa's picture

Metro is worth

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There are at least two benefits of metro. One, new technology is being used. This makes the city more interesting with more modes of travel. No other technology can give the feeling of travelling in a train inside the city. I dont want to miss that thrilling experience.We can discuss the new technologies and praja.in also becomes more interesting :).

Two, Lot of land has been added to the public space. It creates more open space. When the need for alternative for metro comes we can use it.

Those two are worth all the cost. I am so happy the metro went through the MG road which had been shut off (a part) for buses. The bidding for metro should have been more competetive. If any bidder ask for cost escalation all there should be new bidding.

 

Public Agenda's picture

did you miss the point again SB ji

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I think the joke is on all of us who were sitting ducks for a pro-infrastrcure lobby, and it seems that a first person was born with no ideology to discern that. I point to the decision making process which commits 1000s of crs to such dreams. 

clearly a lack of ideology will allow anyone to gloss over all this without criticism.

and any statement becomes rheotric when it is repeated ad nauseum like our use of the old ruler / joke HARSH CRITICISM NOT ALLOWED, IDEOLOGY NO ENTRY  that was reduced to rhetoric long ago but recently a title of blog used that too

When I write about the need to retrofit the blue and white or other buses they number 1000 + and other buses + 2000 obviously a few mercs and volvos cannot give the no of suspensions reqd if someone does the math.

this is more required again not because the masses want it but need it

try travel in a volvo used on the Blr - MLr route after 10 years in the rains on the shiradi ghats and then see if it does not need a retro fit 


silkboard's picture

yes I missed it

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I simply asked you to mention costs of retro-fitting suspensions (amount required to retro-fit, and then maintain? If this is a workable thing, come, let us go and make BMTC do it), and you have taken this from Metro to Blr-Mlr routes. When will you descend down on the ground and talk in concrete language!?

To this:

I point to the decision making process which commits 1000s of crs to such dreams.

That decision making process is called election :) Cribbing about not getting involved in Metro decisions is called sour grapes :) Suggest your alternate decision making process, you may just win the next election. But needless whining here will neither win you any elections, nor make anyone else lose one.

My Ideology? Its kind of simple - Either learn to live with what majority wants. Or produce fact-based concrete arguments to educate or convert them. Some call it democracy :)

rackstar's picture

Air Pollution

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Metro reduces air pollution in city, as it uses electric power and regenerative braking. And yes, reduced noise pollution is another thing. And fewer bus accidents.

We already got metro, so move on. Metro phase 2 should be taken up little late (start after 2015 or so), but still, phase 2 will cheaper than alternatives like BRT because synergy of phase 1 will be already running.

Naveen's picture

Synergy ? Already running ?

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phase 2 will cheaper than alternatives like BRT because synergy of phase 1 will be already running

How will synergies of ph.1 & ph.2 help reduce construction costs ? Even if costs can be reduced (through experience /local expertise /locally manufactured BEML coaches & components, etc), Metro costs can never compete with BRT, which costs a mere one-twentieth of Metro construction costs.

srinidhi's picture

PT on high density routes..

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 wonder if the metro nay-sayers here have ever traveled on the high density trunk routes in Blr...I travel on the Mysore road everyday and most times its around busses which are hopelessly stuck in traffic..mind it that one can find mostly busses on the mysore road till sirsi circle during peak hours..

sometime wonder if the farmer from Kumbalgodu or Kollegala in those busses would be cursing us bad cos its no fault of theirs that they are stuck!

Hence its imperative that we have high capacity PT carriers which are clean and fast (read metro) on all such trunk routes!

However I am still not convinced why the monorail plan of being a feeder to metro is making it from HSR layout to Majestic..which I feel is most redundant plan!

Naveen's picture

"Public Agenda" what ?

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Mr Public Agenda,

You said Metro was not reqd for the city at all & then you say CM should have taken the advise of ABIDe for Metro to airport instead of HSRL

You said expensive volvo & merc bus suspensions must be retrofitted on common man's blue & white buses & then you say Blr-Mlr volvo buses have horrible suspensions

 

I can't help but wonder what your idea of "Public Agenda" is all about - can you throw some light & clarify ???

idontspam's picture

 There is a real danger that

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 There is a real danger that 'Transmilenio' will stagnate as its popularity declines and as demands for a metro increase

From Bogotá's BRT 'warts and all'

Public Agenda's picture

sbji ideology is now clear

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 he he

nimmage prajapbhutva iddre ildeidre bari INFRASTRUCUTRE PROJECT CONTINUE madabeku anta aase

bere yennu bekagilla

maatukelidike dhanyavadgalu

namaskara


silkboard's picture

who said - bere yennu bekagilla?

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Respected Public Agenda sir, absolutely incorrect! From what I have seen of you so far, you don't come up with concrete things as far as "bere" is concerned. Sumne people-people talk is good to hear and discuss, but once or twice put up concrete proposals appa. Aamele nodi, some guys will run with you on the projects to lobby for your bere bere proposals!

Some of us are planning to bat for Bus priority lanes/systems, beyond discussions. Want to join!? Or is this also infrastructure so you will say no?

It seems like you don't want anything, infrastructure or bere. If that is the case, dhanyavaada for leaving us alone. If that is not the case, come, lets meet and plan bus priority for Bengaluru.

Animosity apart, enjoyed debating with you. Your ideology is certainly better. Just add implementation proposals, and you will win arguments (which you anyway do!) as well as followers.

cheers,

SB aka Pranav

silkboard's picture

Biz standard - DMRC not doing well

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Business standard carrried one more article yesterday (Oct 12) on DMRC's financial health.

Refer Delhi Metro's tunnel without a light: from Sharmistha Mukherjee

Today, DMRC runs 2,300 trips on its 153-km network, with an average daily ridership of 1.4 million. Even after the remaining segments on Phase-II are commissioned, ridership is not expected to go beyond 2.0 million, which is barely 60 per cent of the original traffic projections for Phase-I.

Article uses the word integration only once. That's sad, because poor integration would be a key reason for low riderships, the point isn't getting highlighted enough:

Integration is vital if Delhi metro is to prove a viable rapid transit option rather than an expensive white elephant. According to a data with Delhi Integrated Multi-Modal Transport System in 2007-08, overall daily trips in Delhi were 14.46 million. Of this, 41.5 per cent (6 million) trips were made by bus and a mere 4.1 per cent (0.60 million) made on the metro. Metro ridership is expected to increase to 3.38 million by 2021.

Earning operational profit, but:

Though DMRC’s operational revenues are projected to touch Rs 390 crore in 2009-10, over 25 per cent more than in 2008-09, its operational profit is set to decline by nearly 60 per cent in the current financial year. The corporation estimates it earned Rs 40 crore in operational profits in 2009-10, against the Rs 92 crore profits it made in the previous fiscal.

And the dark tunnel prdiction:

Between 2006-07 and 2008-09, the Delhi metro’s operational costs have increased by nearly 80 per cent. DMRC forked out Rs 213 crore in 2008-09 in operational expenses, against Rs 128.76 crore in 2006-07. That figure is expected to touch Rs 987 crore in 2010-11. Clearly, as far as finances go, Delhi metro is hurtling into a tunnel without light at the end of it.

Numbers do have their own story about Metro in Delhi.

silkboard's picture

The conclusion - perhaps missed by these articles

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The headline's will be better if they go "Metro alone is not enough". Metro bashing is like looking in the rear view mirror. Analyzing low ridership will point to failure of multi-modal integration, and lack of commensurate and systematic investment in other modes as Metro alone is not enough.

Hope to see business-standard carry a detaled article on importance of multi-mode integration and its impact on success of Metro in Delhi or Bangalore.

Naveen's picture

DMRC - Dismal ridership numbers

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I think the planners & the media should focus on the lines of -- "Building Metro isn't enough, PT needs a complete revamp once Metro is built". I think Delhi's has been a case of a total disconnect between modes of PTs.

Along with integration, a complete redesign of the whole public transport system is needed. After investing so hugely for a Metro system, there really is no need to ply buses across the city from each end to the other where Metro routes exist. If the focus for bus routing is oriented around feeding the Metro + cross-city routes minimized to only those that are essential /not covered by Metro, the whole PT system will work far more efficiently since Metro ridership will automatically increase, thus justifying the mammoth expenditure.

Besides, there are benefits of reduction in road congestion & also lesser carbon emmision (due to lesser number of across-city buses). Further benefits are increased frequency of both, Metro trains & feeder bus services.

For Bangalore, I think there are lessons - BMTC need not run the several hundred buses between Vijayanagar /Banashankari /JPNagar /BTM, etc to ITPL /EC /Peenya once Metro has been extended to these job hubs. If their focus shifts squarely to feeding the Metro at stations at the catchment /debarking stations, it will help commuters with faster /easier commutes by feeder buses & Metro working in tandem.

srinidhi's picture

TTMC plans have gone awry..

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 The lack of integration is already visible in blr also for ph1 of metro..

TTMC's are being built with no integration plans of any type..its different to say that we will have frequent busses from these TTMC's to the metro stations than having the TTMC itself in a metro station..

Very unfortunate but true!

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