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