Friday, November 02, 2012

Kochi Metro - From a Kochite's View..

Thanks to Rajeev P (Hon'able Rajya Sabha MP from EKM] and Hibi Eden [Hon'able MLA from EKM] for rekindling my interest in this cliched topic - Kochi Metro. 
Kochi Metro is a classic example of how governments across all parties find an orgasm kind of delight in fooling people with "Development Dreams". If you walk around Kochi, you will find at least 100 flex boards still praising leaders who "Realized Kochi Metro" and Govt. even issued first day travel tickets to selected aristocratic residents in the city. 

In reality, how far are we from Kochi Metro? The same distance between an early morning feel good dream and the day you wake up to.

why do we need the Kochi Metro?? All of us have our own answers. all of them are right. but some of them may not be rationale. that's the only difference.
Here is my take on why we need Kochi Metro?? Rather than scripting an essay, let me break it to few points.

  • Why 
    • Lot of people need to travel to Kochi every day since we have high court, kochin shipyard, kochin port, vallarpadam port, LNG Terminal, Kochin refinery, proposed petro chemical complex, some units of FACT, some units of BPCL and IOC, collectorate, Info park, proposed Info cities at kakkanad, kalamassery, proposed hardware park at amballur, transit via kochi for various tourist destinations, colleges and schools, local tourism including veegaland, and people who will come here in future for future projects. 

  • Need 
    • People should be able to commute into and out of kochi smooth without getting delayed due to traffic congestion. 
    • People should be able to live at affordable places away from kochi (as much as they can) and still commute to work every day with around 1 hour travel (each direction). Today, I live in Kochi and takes around 45-50 minutes to commute 16 km to work in a car. 

  • Cost  
    • Should be affordable to people to justify the purpose. 

  • what is an ideal scenario 
    • Consider an 80 km (50 mile) radius around Kochi. This covers
      • Beyond Thrissur to North
      • Beyond Aalapuzha to south
      • Beyond Kottayam to south east
      • Beyond thodupuzha to east
if you consider the population of these 5 districts (Ernakulam, Thrissur, Alapuzha, kottayam and idukki), its around 12 million people. if you consider, half of it coming under the metro coverage, it's around 6 million people. Now that is a sizable population. 

we need a Kochi Metro that spans an 80 km radius with well articulated rail network.the trains should run at 100 kmph average speed which is easily possible today. with that, a person can travel to Kochi from any of the farthest station in less than 1 hour. the stations should be placed such a way that it covers city suburbs than cities themselves. this will help people to stay places which are far more economical than towns still work in kochi. Consider a person who can stay in irinjalakuda or ambalapuzha or thodupuzha or kottayam suburb kind of place and working at kochi. 

Looking and thinking into future, if we Wi-Fi enable and sound proof the Metro Cars, Lot of people can start their work even when they are on commute.  

That's the power of Metro and that's the development. That will enable growth in those places as well. schools, retail shops, entertainment places etc will come up in those tier 4-5 kind of cities. That's true economic prosperity in those towns. 

we should look for such a system and not for petty political gains around the fatherhood of half baked, not useful projects. it's time we move on from this show off, communal divide oriented politics and start looking at our nation's stability and prosperity. Political Parties have almost forgotten that aspect and is just too busy filling their own pockets and to keep people divided, effectively uses the communal divide weapon at us. 

Awake, Arise and Stop not until the goal is reached!!!! -- why not we all wake up folks?? Please elect people who can really change our lives not just people from own community or so. 

Thursday, August 02, 2012

Some thoughts on education reforms we badly need in kerala

Kerala Govt. is forming a Youth Commission. I think the real challenge faced by Youth of Kerala is lack of an education system that can make them competent to leverage the opportunities of globalization. since they are incompetent (by and large), they attempt to look at Opportunities as challenges and start strikes against Globalization. so from a win-win situation like many states in India and central america, we embrace a loss-loss situation like in kerala, west bengal and many other places. All to hide our weaknesses. So to strengthen the youth of kerala, we need a radical change in our education system.. here are my suggestions. please feel to comment and add to it..

Our education should focus on creating Great citizens, Great entrepreneurs, Great Visionaries and Great Leaders. Instead today, it is creating clerks and salaried employees. This should change. here are some suggestions. 

1. Industry focused syllabus Syllabus for our graduate and under graduate courses need to completely revamped to enable our youth exploit the opportunities provided to us by globalization trends. For this industry connect is very much required in the syllabus committee. Representatives from leading Industries such as IT, Manufacturing, Pharma, Service Industries etc should be invited into curriculum committee meetings and their inputs need to get incorporated to make our youth "capable" to address global challenges 

2. Examination Oriented framework Our education system is examination oriented and not knowledge oriented. the mode of higher education should change from classroom mode to experimental mode, concept demonstrations, assignment mode, project mode, interaction mode and should be relevant to challenges of today. People should be challenged with problems and issues of today rather than forcing them by heart and answer meaningless questions testing only their memory. 

3. Research and Innovation Our Post Graduate and Research sector is almost stagnant and dead. there are no great research findings coming out of our universities though we are spending millions of rupees there every year. Steps should be taken to bring a research and innovative mindset to our universities. it should not be offices for employment and time pass only. We should initiate programs with leading universities in world to enhance the research mindset of our young students who are strong in academics 

4. Integration with Society Our current youth is alienated from society. A person who studies in private institutions throughout his education is very very detached from the realities of society. he has no clue about our society, our democracy, our govt and how public business is conducted via various offices. There should be provision in our education system at Degree level to increase the interaction with community, offices and locale to ensure the students are very well aware of their society, its nature and challenges. they should be aware of democratic institutions, how they function, how to interact with them and how to get his/her things done via govt. institutions. Else, they will not develop respect for democracy and will be interested only in wealth. 

5. Enabling to do handy man jobs - Right from our high school through our graduate studies, there should be provision to learn handyman jobs such as plumbing, wiring, basic carpentry, basic electrical repair, painting etc which will be highly useful for our nuclear families. there is heavy shortage and high exploitation in this kind of jobs today. instead doing meaningless sequence works, in our Work Experience hours, students can be taught how to do these kind of jobs which can be very useful in their day to day lives. 

6. Character, Ethics and Value System - In our current education system today, the focus is only on examinations. Character formation and importance of having ethical outlook for students have taken a back seat. Counselling, Character building classes are all happening as isolated initiatives and is not a part of the curriculum yet. In modern world, the biggest challenge is from Educated Men and Women without character and values. That accelerates the corruption of society since they get to influential positions in society with their education. Our education system should give equal importance to character formation and instilling value system in our youth. it should be a continuous system and there should be trained resource pool for this. our existing teachers cannot handle this. we should have trained professionals taking classes for children to develop character and values right from young age. From waste disposal etiquette to respecting old people to cultural values to personal sensitivity, children have to be taught to be better human beings during their education. 

7. Children with Special Needs - This is a totally neglected sector today. Our education system should have provision to train children with special needs ( Autistic children for example, children with learning disabilities) and this requires highly trained teachers. today, such students if born in our country are having a cursed life and painful existence. with good training, these kids can be integrated with main stream by the time they reach 12-15 years of age. we should start main stream schools for such children where teachers are highly trained to handle such kids

8. English Mediums in Public Sector - Biggest challenge our youth is facing today is lack of proper english education and lack of communication skills in english. this creates an inferior feeling in our young men and women when they compare themselves to children from metro cities. To change this, Govt. need to focus on improving the quality of english education in our state. We should start at least 1 english medium school in Govt. sector in every Taluk. Govt. should make education a priority topic and ensure enough funds to start such schools in every taluk during this govt.s tenure

9. Foreign language training - World is becoming a global village and people with multiple language capabilities will have advantage. Our youth should be given opportunity to learn foreign languages no matter whichever college they are enrolling for graduation. the mode of education could be online, remote and via Video Conferencing classes.But provision should be made in every college to help students learn a language or 2 of their choice so that their job opportunities in travel, tourism, BPO segments are very high 

10. Optional subjects for graduation - Our graduate syllabus is boring and outdated now. we should allow students study courses of their interest (at least 50% of the total papers) no matter whichever course they are enrolling. that is how graduate classes are in foreign countries. we should allow students to choose at least 50% of the papers as optional and purely according to their choice so that they find the topic interesting to learn and will be better students than today. this way, end of graduate program the student will have varied knowledge and capabilities 

11.New Courses - Govt should review the global business scenario every 3 years to add new courses with great demand to our colleges. there are lot of courses becoming relevant in services industry and healthcare segment which can be graduate courses. many courses will enable students start internet based entrepreneurial ventures. 

12. Incubation Centers associated with Selected Premium Colleges - To help students start their careers earlier, Govt. should encourage incubation centers associated with select colleges and cities. this should be in small towns also and not just in corporations.

Friday, February 03, 2012

Kochi Metro - A layman's view..part2

I thought of writing about some of the must routes in part2. however, some of the responses I got for part 1, seeded other thoughts and perspectives. So let me try to explain some more things about the viability of this kind of projects. Off late, any difference of opinion about these coveted projects are termed retarding, anti developmental and even anti progressiveness by most of us. Somehow in a heavily left inclined state, development is getting synonymous with huge infrastructure development, heavy private investment and subsequent real estate price increase in the surrounding areas. Good and recent example, is the smart city and allied discussions. There is hardly any studies, analysis, open discussions based on facts rather than political stands anywhere. In Kerala, Visual Media attention these days are heavily focused on 2 categories of people -- Politicians and Celebrities. That's how certain leaders with tongue in cheek and no respect for any civic courtesies shot to fame in our state. So are some Celebs who shot to glory with their accent, so called I don't care attitude and power of wallet and most important of all, the media management skills. The latest trend is people who give just, right and appropriate responses and thoughts in various civic issues are giving no air time by visual media or print space by lead dailies. While Visual Media wants either controversies or provoking statements that can spur debates in subsequent hours and days, Print is focusing on giving page3 twist to all kind of news giving less importance to actual data, facts and realities.

All I want to highlight is these trends mentioned above have heavily influenced our thinking and responses.

So, to avoid getting anti development guy tag, let me start with 2 things. First, a vision I have about Metro and  then a case study on a current situation. That, I think, might help some of you to appreciate the ideas am trying to put forth and its relevance in developmental perspective (again, never overlook the fact that its all about a layman's view).

A Vision on Metro

I don't think metro is for someone who lives in palarivattom or kakkanad or thripunithura to go to marine drive.  Mr. Sarath, my youth icon,works in one of the SEZ in infopark premises. If we are to believe the projections by state govt, very soon, around 100,000 opportunities get generated in those SEZ s in coming years. He wishes to live near cherthalai in a serene backwater shored village. that's around 50 kms from where he work. Early Morning around, 7.30 am, he leaves his home, rides his two wheeler to the nearest Metro Station around 3 kms from where he lives. He takes around 6-8 minutes to arrive at the station. He has monthly parking pass for parking at Metro Covered Parking. His entry to station is using a smart card via an automated passenger access gate. At 7.45 am, he boards the Metro train towards Ernakulam. In the peak hours between 6.00 am to 10.00 am, the train frequency is around 3 minutes. The air conditioned coaches with amazing suspensions gives you a great ride free of bumps and jerks. The rail car assumes a peak speed of 150 kmph. His Journey of around 45 kms is for 30 minutes. This time, he can spent on reading newspaper of the day, working on his emails if he has a data connection (the Metro guys will ensure there is seamless wireless broadband experience throughout the metro routes in alliance with service providers to make travel more productive, effective and interesting), read a book if he has a taste for it, listen to FM radio station antics or take a quick nap as most of the other passengers love to. He arrives at SEZ Park Station at 8.15, boards a park shuttle, which is a volvo bus making constant loops in the park area. its a short 10 minute ride for him and he arrives at the gate of his work at 8.25 am. In the evenings, the same thing happens in reverse direction. he leaves his work at 6.15pm, take the 6.30pm train, reaches cherthala at 7.00 pm, reaches home by 7.15 pm.

Now substitute Cherthala for any other town in a 50 km radius around Kochi, the economic hub. People can live 50 km away in much affordable places and still commute without hazzle, time loss and tiredness to their work everyday, most importantly during any time of the day.

Now its not just about the travel. To cater to Sharath's need, Cherthala will have better housing facilities, better schools, better healthcare facilities, better retail shops, better entertainment avenues, better supply chains to get things to cherthala everyday for community requirements. That's real development. Development is not about making one place as expensive as possible so that people who make an investment there make huge fortunes and thereby widen the alarming gap between rich and needy. It's about distributing the economic activity and growth throughout the state so that people can have great affordable life styles yet can work in best possible firms.

I consider this as better development rather than concentrating everything within 10-20 kms of an already crowded, highly expensive town.

Now, a case study on how things are done today and could be improved drastically through simple measures at no phenomenal cost.

Case Study - JNNRUM Volvo Buses in Kochi

Kochi got its shares of Volvo buses destined to change the public transport arena of our town. Issues between Corporation and KSRTC about the ownership and management of buses was the first glitch in an appalling story of how bureaucracy and politics try to deny people the amenities govt committed. Somewhere I read that of the buses allotted to kochi, only a fraction of them are taken to roads (and looks like they are operating in loss).
At Infopark, there are around 15,000 employees today. Also consider the people working in collectorate, allied govt offices and CSEZ will easily add another 12,000. If you take into account people living in these areas and working in other places such as city, there are easily 50,000 people. This locality would have been an ideal place to implement the Volvo buses, connecting this area to Ernakulam, Aluva, Paravur, Muvattupuzha, Thripunithura and Edapally & Kalamassery. even if only 25% of the people use buses, there is around 12,000 people which is a significant size. However, Volvo buses are poorly implemented in this area where people will not hesitate to use buses if its convenient and comfortable. Come and take a look at how things are today. Infront of Infopark, every evening there is a huge gathering of people waiting for the bus. frequency is once in an hour. there is no waiting area, bus station or bus stop. out of the 500 odd acres taken by govt for IT development (which later got as development and then as real estate development by foreign investors), there is no bus plaza. that should have been the first thing that came there. if there is a bus plaza in info park area that caters to inbound/outbound traffic from this locality, the way people commute will change significantly. you have to wait in sun, rain and darkness. there are not even any ample lighting in this area in the evening. so that's the current implementation. very recently as day before y'day, a loop service started from info park to kakkanad. thats not enough.

It would have been great if following measures are implemented in kochi

1. Increase the frequency of Volvo buses to one in 5 minutes to Kakkanad/from Kakkanad during peak hours

2. Create a bus bay at info park area to centralize operations. From there cater to all directions so that people staying at a distance can avail them. run them in a 20 km radius.

3. Provide bus waiting areas which are clean, covered and litup. most importantly maintain it. if needed, give it to private companies as ad space with provision to maintain it.

4. Provide adequate information at bus stops. it doesn't take much to implement GPS assisted travel in these buses and then make smart waiting areas which will tell you when is the next bus coming there

5. Create an SMS facility where you can send your stop number and desired bus number and get the timings for next 3 hours.

Analysis of target population using public transport

People are broadly divided into
  • People who use public transport
  • People who use 2 wheelers
  • People who use 4 wheelers
  • People who use hired private transport
we can safely assume people who use public transport will switch to Metro. well, this switch is possible only if Metro is convenient for them. The way city buses are given permit today, you don't have to get down from a bus till your final desitnation no matter from where to where you are travelling within city limits. In other words, today, people don't have to change buses for their daily commute in most cases. In ernakulam, it's most likely that you have a bus stop within a kilometer of your house. Experiments with Volvo buses prove that most of the people prefer cheaper ticket to convenient travel. Except for few routes and some time of the day, Volvo buses are not utilized by masses (well, the routes too matter). Metro is anyways going to be expensive than city buses. so the number of people switching from buses to Metro won't be a big number if all buses are allowed to continue (which could be the case given the current political power bus owners enjoy)

People travelling 4 wheelers are potential class to shift to metro service. many of them who regularly commute some 20-50 kms a day will find metro very useful and economical. here are some challenges I thought of  in getting some of them onto to Metro

Factors that impact Passenger Strength in Metro (current implementation plan)

1. Frequency at which Metro services are there. In Delhi, you get a train in 150 seconds. will we have such a frequency? if you have to wait more than 10 minutes, most people might return to their cars.

2. Monsoon!!! Thats the biggest challenge I can think of. With the kind of roads we have during monsoon I don't think lot many 4 wheeler owners take the pain of walking through the muddy sewage to the nearest metro station. if Metro stations have ample parking space, this can change. however in phase1, I don't think there is any provision for parking since it's coming right through the heart of kochi.

3. Proximity to Metro Station - Most of the people who travel in car won't prefer to walk a lot or take an auto to reach the Metro station if the distance from home to station is more than 1/2 a km or so. same applies to their destination from the nearest station.

4. Tariff - What would be the minimum fare for Metro? that will decide whether people will get attracted to or not. there is not much scope for a daily pass since Metro isn't going through any places of tourist importance. have they connected it with Island, Marine Drive, Fort Kochi, the tourist usage would have been huge. I guess they overlooked or ignored or downplayed that for obvious other reasons.

I think its a long post. I just wanted to highlight the way I wish to look at development projects hence took a little more space than usual to scribble my thoughts.

I hope to hear from you on this post too..

In next edition, I will cover my view of Metro routes and areas to be covered.

Happy Weekend to all of you...

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Kochi Metro - a layman's view..Part 1

I started this year with a resolution. This year, I will spend time on reading, writing and speeches. Those are certain things that make my life more meaningful and happier. After 3 years, I returned to public speaking last week and addressed around 200 teenagers on the possible choices they can make today to build a tomorrow.
Now its time to write a bit and I thought I will start this year with a take on some thing that almost everyone in my town discuss these days..Kochi Metro..

Kochi Metro hit headlines couple of weeks back for wrong reasons. It looked like Kerala Govt while saying they trust Shreedharan, the rail man of this country, wanted to silently oust him out of this project so that it can be given to some preferred people for obvious reasons. Protests loomed large and CM made a face saving announcement that it's DMRC who will run the project to completion on behalf of govt of kerala. I thought its worthwhile to take a look at this topic from a layman's view rather than swallowing the views of govt, politicians or media in this regard.

Delhi has a metro, Mumbai and Chennai has suburban trains. Bangalore recently started phase1 of Metro Service. Delhi has a population of ~17 million, Mumbai around 17 million, Chennai has 7.3 million and Bangalore has around 8.5 million. (I just relied on the figures that came up in wiki).

Kochi has a population of only 0.6 million. if we consider the 1/2 the population of ernakulam dist, we have 1.6 million people. So when compared to leading cities in India with Suburban rail system, Our Metro has only 1/5th of the people the nearest city has. when compared to the biggest cities, we are only 1/10th of the population. so cost per person to build a metro rail in kochi is somewhere around 10 times the cost per person in delhi. Hope you are getting things in right scale now.

Now, over to our plan. various reports suggest the cost of phase 1 around 800 million. This will have a line from Alwaye to Ekm to Tripunithura. if we take the population in these areas, i.e. corporation of kochi, alwaye municipality, kalamassery municipality and Tripunithura municipality --- it will be below a million. first and foremost question that will arise is do we really require a metro system to serve a population of 1 million. if we consider the whole of Kochi Metropolitan area, it has an estimated population of around 2 million. so when Metro is fully developed it will serve a population of 2 million. Do we really need a very expensive transportation system serving just 2 million people???
Can't we first think of renovating our existing infrastructure to fine tune the traffic in this area?? we have immense scope for inland water navigation in this area and we haven't done anything to explore the feasibility of such a possibility. why??. Every Modern city in world has flyovers. Look at the number of flyovers that came up in Bangalore and Chennai in last 5 years. It should be easily between 15-25. why aren't our town planners not thinking of constructing flyovers before thinking of introducing a metro rail. Doesn't it sound a bit strange ???

So a rational approach to Kochi Metro based on population and comparison with other cities in the country will portrait a very different picture to us. It almost tells us explicitly that its not a Metro Rail Project that we need as priority 1. Instead we should first look at constructing few flyovers in the city to ease out bottle necks, widen few roads to make it easy for traffic, explore the immense possibilities for mass transport our water bodies present us.

Kochi Metro is a  classic example of how government, media and political parties try to fool people under the pretext of development. Pro development arguments are just noises but not clear vision or plans based on studies and research. For an average keralite, development is wide roads, high rise buildings, higher land prices (very important), more commercial space availability for retail business plus announcement of big projects be it smart city, LNG terminal, Vallarpadom project, new airports in every 100 kms. he is taught to think so. Higher yield from agriculture, good facilities for education and research, better connectivity with other parts of the country, Improved median social indices, Opportunities for employment around your home town, access to high quality health care doesn't figure in his development perspective.

I am not arguing that Kochi Metro is not required. My view is if we treat the subject based on data available and analyze the way traffic is in this area, Metro Rail is not the priority 1 solution. there are quite a few less burdening yet highly effective infrastructural changes which are the need of the hour before we hop into a metro rail car.
As an inhabitant of this city, I have following suggestions for consideration of govt

1. Flyover at Palarivattom, Vytilla, Kakkanad and Edapally
2. Elevated road to Smart City area from palarivattom
3. More Rail Over Bridges within the city
4. Widening of main roads within the city
5. Exploration of water routes from Marine Drive to various places such as Munambam, Kakkanad, Thripunithura, aroor, Cherthala,Vaikom, Alleppey etc

I don't know how many of you are in agreement. I hope you will carefully look into the population data, cost and associated challenges before taking a side. what we really lack today is data driven, vision inspired views. Ours is mostly a emotional take and that emotion is highly political and partly ignorance..

Next :  Metro route suggestions