Mobility Solutions: Expansion of urban mass transit systems

Expansion of urban mass transit systems

An efficient and integrated urban transportation system is critical to a city’s development plans. At present, about 34 per cent of the country’s population resides in urban areas. Traffic congestion is the most pervasive transport problem plaguing cities across the country. Another issue is the inadequacy of public transport, which gives rise to the increased use of private vehicles. This in turn has led to higher levels of air pollution.

However, the urban transport landscape in the country is undergoing a change. During the past few years, there has been some momentum in the development of public transport networks. The sector has received greater attention from both the central and state governments. This has primarily been driven by increasing demand, rising urban population, growing dependence on private modes of transport, increasing congestion, and rising pollution levels.

In the past few years, several metro rail and bus rapid transit (BRT) projects have been conceptualised and implemented. Several initiatives have been taken by the government to attract private players in the sector. In August 2017, the government approved the new Metro Rail Policy, 2017. This policy aims to facilitate innovative financing, revive private investment by encouraging public-private partnerships (PPPs), promote transit-oriented development, provide last-mile connectivity, and improve project appraisal procedures. In another key step taken in April 2017, the government introduced norms to procure at least 75 per cent of railcars and 25 per cent of critical equipment locally under the Make in India initiative. The government has also standardised norms for rolling stock and signalling equipment applicable to over 90 per cent of the present imports. Following the norms on local acquisition, in October 2018, Indian Railways (IR) decided to manufacture metro rail coaches for the first time at its Rae Bareli facility. To this end, IR has received approval for the development of two metro coaches for the Maharashtra government. Reportedly, the coaches will be made using robots and will cost about Rs 80 million each. This will be about Rs 40 million cheaper than the imported Chinese coaches. To facilitate this, IR is expanding its modern coach factory at an investment of Rs 4.8 billion, and this expansion is expected to be completed by December 2018.

These steps are a significant departure from the past and will help in the development of a well-connected and integrated urban transport system in the country.

Key trends

  • The country’s current operational network of urban rail systems is over 515 km. At present, metro rail projects are operational in Delhi, Bengaluru, Kolkata, Gurugram, Jaipur, Chennai, Lucknow, Kochi and Mumbai. The average daily ridership on rail-based systems has been consistently rising, keeping pace with the growth in the operational network. It increased from about 0.9 million in 2006 to over 4 million in 2017. There are several metro rail projects under implementation as well. These include those in Kanpur, Vijayawada, Varanasi, Chennai, Patna, Kozhikode, Bhopal, Ahmedabad, Nagpur, Guwahati, Pune and Indore. Between January 2017 and March 2018, about 160 km of metro network was commissioned or completed. The highest addition of 56.44 km was on account of the commissioning of three stretches and the completion of two stretches under Delhi metro, Phase III (Magenta Line).
  • To promote the development of metro rail projects, the government provides financial support in the form of grants to the states up to 10 per cent of the project cost, in the form 50:50 equity sharing with the state governments, or viability gap funding to the extent of 20 per cent of the capital cost of public transport projects (under the PPP model). Between 2015-16 and 2018-19 (till September 2018), the Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs released a total of Rs 460.22 billion to various metro rail projects, with the maximum released during 2016-17 (Rs 152.99 billion).
  • Besides conventional metro rail systems, alternative mass transit systems such as personal rapid transit systems (PRTS), regional rapid transit system, hyperloop, etc., are being explored by the government. While there is no operational light rail transit (LRT) system in the country, there are a total of nine such projects, spanning a length of 351.77 km, that are planned to be developed at an estimated investment of Rs 645.81 billion. These systems will be developed in the cities of Bengaluru in Karnataka, Bhopal and Indore in Madhya Pradesh, Dehradun-Haridwar-Rishikesh in Uttarakhand, Kozhikode and Thiruvananthapuram in Kerala, Vijayawada and Visakhapatnam in Andhra Pradesh, and Ranchi in Jharkhand. Meanwhile, the National Highways Authority of India has also proposed the development of a tram rail/LRT system along the Dwarka Expressway in Delhi as a pilot project.
  • In March 2018, the cabinet approved the constitution of I-Metros, an association of all Indian metro rail corporations. The association is expected to provide a forum for the exchange of ideas, pooling of knowledge, and sharing experiences, best practices, innovations, etc., among the metro rail corporations to nurture excellence in performance. This society will be registered under Society Registration Act, 1860.
  • Further, BRT systems have been operation-alised in 11 cities in the country, covering a total length of more than 280 km. The first BRT system, spanning a total length of 14.8 km, was operationalised in 2006 in Pune. Since then, about 273.4 km of BRT network has been operationalised in Ahmedabad, Amritsar, Bhopal, Indore, Jaipur, Naya Raipur, Pimpri-Chinchwad, Rajkot, Surat and Vijayawada.
  • Advanced technologies are being experimented with for fare collection, signalling and telecommunications. The metro systems are steadily moving from semi-automatic to un-attended/driverless train operations. In December 2017, Phase I of Delhi metro’s Magenta Line (Botanical Garden-Kalkaji Mandir) was inaugurated, making it the country’s first driverless train operation. In May 2018, this line was further expanded to the Janakpuri West section. Besides, most of the upcoming systems have plans to deploy the highest grades of signalling such as communications-based train control systems. Several systems are also exploring the deployment of advanced fare payment systems such as open-loop ticketing and bank cards.
  • With regard to private sector experience, the PPP mode for funding metro projects has met with limited success. The preferred mode remains central and state government funds as well as financing from multilateral agencies. So far, a total of five PPP urban rail transit projects have been taken up in the country. While Mumbai Metro, Phase 2, was terminated before commencement of operations, the Delhi Metro Airport Line was terminated after being operationalised. Besides, there are four operational PPP projects, one each in Mumbai and Hyderabad and two in Gurugram.
  • The country’s first monorail began operations in end-2017 in Mumbai (Phase I). However, it was suspended for nine months, following a major fire breakout. Services were started again in September 2018. Phase II of the project is expected to commence operations early next year.

Sector outlook and the way forward

The operational urban mass transit systems are currently being expanded and new systems are on the anvil too. The sector offers a lucrative pipeline of about 60 corridors/stretches. These projects cover more than 1,900 km and entail an investment of over Rs 4.1 trillion. After the completion of these projects that are in the pipeline and are at different stages of development, around 1,203 km will be added to the operational metro network, 284 km to the current BRT system, about 310 km to the light rail network, 62 km to the monorail network and about 72 km to the PRTS.

With the rising number of urban centres and growing population, the urban mass transport sector will continue to remain in the spotlight. However, greater investments will be needed to fund the development of metro rail and monorail projects, procurement of rolling stock (bus and rail), development of BRTS- and bus-related infrastructure and the deployment of advanced technology to meet the demand. As budgetary support for the sector has started to witness a decline, alternative funding sources such as property development (including advertising and rentals) need to be explored. While government funds are limited, private investment has so far been limited in this space. Going forward, the scenario is expected to change gradually with the approval of the Metro Rail Policy, 2017, which promotes PPPs in the sector.