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Part I: Monorail

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About 60 kms of Monorail /Light rail has been recommended in the CTTP report on various potentially high-growth corridors (Western portion of ORR & Bannerghatta road) in the CTTP report.

An article by Lloyd Wright published in ITDP magazine highlights that Monorail systems suffer from significant operational and financial difficulties, & performance levels have rarely lived up to the image. The reality is that Monorails have failed to match promises. Excluding amusement parks and zoos, there are currently only 13 Monorail systems in operation in the world (Jacksonville, Las Vegas, Seattle, Sydney, Qiongquing, Osaka, Tokyo, Tama, Hiroshima, Naha, Kokura, Chiba City & Kuala Lumpur). None of these existing systems have actual rider-ship levels greater than 5,000 passengers per hour per direction, & most of them outside Japan are facing financial problems. In Japan, Monorails have been financially viable because ticket pricing is set very high, & is still affordable due to very high incomes.

A new Monorail system by Scomi claims a capacity of 106 passengers per car. A 6–coach vehicle will thus be able to carry 636 passengers, & with headway of 3 minutes, the capacity would be 12,720 passengers per hour. This is still lesser than 1/3rd the capacity of a Metro system & less than ½ that of a Light rail system. For costs at $12–40 million per km (Rs.50–160 crores per km), the capacity is on the low side when compared to a Metro system & this implies that ticket pricing will need to be higher than Metro-rail on commercial considerations. Thus, the value of this system to the middle & lower income groups is questionable as it might not be cost-efficient for people with limited resources & may not match up to economics of scale, particularly in India with very low ticket pricing. If subsidies or rider-ship guarantees are being considered to private parties who may meet costs for installing the system, then again, the cost to the city (& tax-payers) may be on the high side. In any case, Monorail technology is yet to be tested in Indian conditions with very low ticket pricing, when compared to monorail systems overseas. Thus, there appear to be financial risks & capacity concerns with these systems.

If commuters are channeled to use public mass transits instead of private vehicles (as needs to be done), there is the possibility that capacities with Monorail may fall short of the city’s requirements along the planned corridors at about 2025, or may be even earlier with unforeseen induced growth with improvements in transportation networks & increased FSI. All indicators point to rapid urbanization & high growth cities, like Bangalore will obviously see very large expansion with job creation & outsiders pouring into them from all parts of the country, as before. The presumption that ‘capacities would suffice’ has already been tested & has repeatedly failed with growth rates exceeding projections each time – capacities of widened roads, flyovers & the airport/s have been falling short within a few years. Surely, the city cannot afford such errors with hugely expensive mass transit projects & provisions for capacity expansion must be in place.

Compared to Monorail, if Metro-rail or Light rail is used along the same corridors, with an initial capacity about the same as Monorail by reducing rolling stock & increasing headway times to about 10 minutes, installation costs may be around the same or lesser than Monorail since all these corridors allow for elevated sections. This has the advantage of capacity increases speedily & economically as & when required in the future by merely adding rolling stock & reducing headway times, & could be a financially viable permanent solution to transport problems along these high growth routes.

Given these facts, Monorail may not really be justified, particularly with dubious records of performance & implementation elsewhere in the world. comment guidelines

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