Network Expansion: Renewed focus on creation of high quality urban transportation systems

Renewed focus on creation of high quality urban transportation systems

Over the past few years, the government has been actively supporting the uptake and implementation of urban transportation systems in different cities. New metro rail and bus rapid transit systems have been announced and existing systems are being expanded. With this, the demand for coaches and buses with advanced features for passenger comfort has increased. Advanced systems are being deployed for fare collection, signalling and telecommunications. Steps to promote private sector participation are also being taken. Indian Infrastructure presents the views of leading sector experts regarding the performance of the urban transport sector over the past year…

What have been the key developments in the urban transport sector in the past one year?

Abhay Kantak

Two developments stand out in the urban transport sector in the past year. First, the government, in order to meet the demand for building a metro in every city, irrespective of size or need, has recently proposed a light urban rail transit system – Metrolite. The new system has been proposed for smaller cities and towns that have lower ridership projections, with each Metrolite train set having three coaches and running at a restricted speed of 25 kmph. Metrolite trains can be developed at a lower cost as compared to the existing metro systems.

Second, the government has announced an outlay of Rs 100 billion for Phase II of the Faster Adoption and Manufacturing of Hybrid and Electric Vehicles (FAME) scheme to boost electric mobility and increase the number of electric vehicles in commercial fleets.

R.G. Saini

Metro rail has been key to infrastructure development in the urban transport sector. More than 200 km of metro network has become operational in the past year and over 500 km of lines are at various stages of construction. These projects are being implemented through special purpose vehicles (SPVs) with the central and state governments holding a 50 per cent share each. In the current year’s budget, the government has allocated Rs 190 billion for the development of mass rapid transit systems, nearly 23 per cent higher than last year.

Metro lines have been commissioned in various cities including Delhi, Bengaluru, Chennai, Kochi, Lucknow, Mumbai, Jaipur, Hyderabad and Gurugram. New metro rail projects are being constructed in 13 cities, at an estimated cost of Rs 680 billion. In addition to metro rail projects, development of rapid rail transit systems spanning a length of around 373 km are under planning in various cities.

What has been the progress with respect to government programmes?

Abhay Kantak

The year 1984 saw the first metro being operationalised in the city of Kolkata. The second city to see an operational metro was Delhi in 2002. In 2019, we have over 600 km of metro lines operational in about a dozen cites. Of the operational lines, about 300 km has come up in the past five years alone.

The government has taken a number of steps for the standardisation and growth of metro rail systems. The Metro Rail Policy, 2017, calls for rapid and sustainable growth of metro rail systems in the country.

The first 100 km of metro rail lines probably took 20 years to come up while the past five years have seen 300 km being built. There are about 600 km of sanctioned metro lines under construction which will be operational in the next five years and there are about 1,000 km of metro lines under planning.

The government has sanctioned 5,195 electric buses in 64 cities for intra-city operations under Phase II of the FAME scheme in order to push for clean mobility in public transportation.

R.G. Saini

Various metro rail projects have been approved by the government. The Delhi metro has received approval for the development of corridors under Phase IV of the project. New lines and corridors spanning a length of 104 km have been proposed under the project. Three priority corridors with a total length of 62 km have been approved.

The Kochi metro, Phase II, was approved by the state cabinet in May 2017. KMRL has also prepared a Non-Motorised Transport [NMT] Master Plan for the city which involves identification of priority NMT corridors in the 2 km buffer area on either side of the metro corridor.

Other projects that have been approved include the Agra metro rail, Chennai metro, Phase II, Indore metro and Bhopal metro. The Agra, Bhopal and Indore metro corridors will have multimodal integration with railway and bus rapid transit system stations and a feeder network of buses.

What are the key challenges in the sector that remain unaddressed?

Abhay Kantak

In the current environment, development of metro lines in cities is being seen as the solution for addressing urban transportation woes. Every city wants to have a metro; the needs assessment as per the Metro Policy, 2017, is probably not being undertaken.

The nature of interventions should emerge from the comprehensive urban mobility plan for a city rather than a preconceived need for developing a metro line. It is not feasible for every city to want a metro project.

Metrolite projects in smaller towns are expected to limit the fiscal burden on the exchequer rather than providing a holistic solution to the urban transportation woes of Indian cities.

On the other hand, we seemed to have missed the bus – both figuratively and literally. While governments have no hesitation in granting funds for metro lines, bus transport is struggling for a sustainable institutional and financing framework. A working city bus services financing model in Mumbai has been jeopardised due to misgivings with respect to cross-subsidising the bus operations deficit by the surplus generated from electricity sales.

It also has to be remembered that funding the procurement of buses under the Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission stemmed from the need to stimulate the economy with orders for bus manufacturers rather than meeting the mobility requirements of cities.

The silver lining in the bus procurement process was that cities had to mandatorily set up SPVs to provide bus services. However, the SPVs have tended to be thinly staffed with no commensurate skills to oversee city bus operations. Indore and Bhopal are possible exceptions only because the leadership in these cities took a personal interest in making bus operations more effective. For city bus operations, institutional strengthening is still inadequate and development of a sustainable financing framework remains unfinished and they are yet to figure on the national and state agenda.

R.G. Saini

The sector needs to resolve various challenges for successful completion of projects. The acquisition of land and the subsequent resettlement and rehabilitation is a big challenge. The other major issue is the limited private participation in the sector. It is very difficult to get private investors for PPP projects due to the high cost of metro projects and other bureaucratic challenges such as the absence of single-window government clearances.

The government should participate through equity or meet the viability gap funding after detailed evaluation. For metros, the government should provide the infrastructure but the operating cost and cost of rolling stock must be met by users and beneficiaries as metros are known to serve the urban built-up areas where normal traffic poses the greatest challenges. Moreover, metros are known to provide travel at a very affordable cost.

There is a lack of sector experts for works such as signalling, telecommunications and overhead equipment. Further, new technologies and ideas need to be adopted. While the domestic manufacturing of locomotives and rolling stock has started, standardisation of projects is a challenge. Further, political issues related to fixing of alignments have delayed floating of tenders. Revenue generation for SPVs is getting stuck due to issues with fare fixation.

What is the sector outlook for the next one or two years?

Abhay Kantak

Metro projects (along with Metrolite) will continue to dominate the urban transport landscape. Metro projects are likely to suffer from the risk of being major infrastructure projects rather than being outcomes of an extensive urban transportation and land use planning exercise. Once metro projects are developed, there will be a need for densifying metro corridors or having feeder bus services to increase metro ridership, which in the absence of proper planning and feasibility assessment is anyway going to be low. This is a classic case of the tail wagging the dog.

The developed world is relooking at city mobility and exploring avenues for car-free cities or at least reducing the dependence on cars for mobility requirements. Before embarking on its metro building journey, India needs to pause and review its urban mobility requirements systematically. We do have the right policy prescriptions but implementation remains the key.

It is also important that the feasibility of developing a metro project should be assessed by an agency that has no interest in metro project development and construction.

R.G. Saini

The sector will witness significant progress in the coming years as new projects get implemented. The Kochi metro is set to implement the integrated water-metro project at a cost of Rs 7.47 billion with financial assistance from the German Development Bank. Further, to provide seamless connectivity, the Delhi metro Phase III project will be connected to the upcoming Delhi-Ghaziabad-Meerut regional rapid transit system corridor. The government is also promoting the development of light rail especially in smaller cities due to the high cost of metro projects. Cities such as Visakhapatnam and Vijayawada in Andhra Pradesh are considering light rail projects. However, the lack of a standard design as is available in the case of metro rail is a major hindrance in project planning.

“Before it embarks on its metro building journey, India needs to pause and review its urban mobility requirements systematically.”

Abhay Kantak, Director, Urban Practice, CRISIL


“More than 200 km of metro network has become operational in the past year and over 500 km is under various stages of construction.”

R.G. Saini, Director, Megametro Engineering Private Limited