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...