Expansion Drive: Focus on improving public transport in urban areas

Focus on improving public transport in urban areas

Urban transport plays a critical role in daily mobility, and is an important component of the urban economy. An efficient and integrated urban transportation system is essential for a city’s development. Over the past few years, the government has been focusing on the urban transport sector, which has achieved significant growth. In 2021, the government has rolled out policies to increase the share of public transport in urban areas through the expansion of metro networks and city bus services. Indian Infrastructure presents the views of leading experts in the urban transport sector on the recent progress in the sector, the impact of Covid-19 and the future outlook…

What has been the progress in the urban transport sector over the past year?

Brijesh Dixit Managing Director, Maharashtra Metro Rail Corporation Limited
Brijesh Dixit Managing Director, Maharashtra Metro Rail Corporation Limited

Brijesh Dixit

The urban transport sector has made rapid strides over the past year. In fact, in the recent past, the metro industry has taken a major leap and many new projects are coming up across the country. Maha Metro Nagpur is on the verge of completion of Phase I and is awaiting the central government’s approval for the second phase. As of July 31, 2021, train services are operational on Reach-1 and Reach-3 of the Nagpur metro project. Reach-1 was inaugurated in March 2019 while Reach-3 was certified fit for operation by CMRS in September 2019. The Lokmanya Nagar to Sitabuldi section of Reach-3 was inaugurated on January 28, 2020. Reach-2 and Reach-4 are expected to be completed by December 2021. Procurement activity and land acquisition for the project have been completed and the project has achieved physical progress of 94.5 per cent and financial progress of 94.28 per cent.

Abhay Kantak Head, Urban Practice, CRISIL Risk and Infrastructure Solutions Limited
Abhay Kantak Head, Urban Practice, CRISIL Risk and Infrastructure Solutions Limited

Abhay Kantak

The union budget 2021-2020 gave a major impetus to public transportation projects. A new scheme is proposed to be launched at a cost of Rs 180 billion to facilitate the deployment of over 20,000 buses in Indian cities based on the PPP model. The union budget also allocated over Rs 880 billion to support the development of metro projects in five cities – Chennai, Kochi, Bengaluru, Nagpur and Nashik. Two new technologies, MetroLite and MetroNeo, will be introduced in Tier II cities and peripheral parts of Tier I cities to provide connectivity at a lower cost as compared to conventional metro systems.

K V B Reddy MD & CEO L&T Metro Rail (Hyderabad) LimitedK V B Reddy

Efficient and reliable urban transport systems are crucial to sustain the high economic growth of India. As part of its commitment towards the sector, in 2014, the Government of India amended the National Urban Transport Policy (NUTP), which governs India’s urban mobility policymaking. Currently, India has 702 km of operational conventional metro, while another 1,016 km of metro and regional rapid transit system (RRTS) is under construction in 27 cities.

The growth took a pause after the onslaught of the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020. Like all other sectors, the entire urban sector has undergone huge stress. The lockdowns necessitated by the Covid-19 pandemic and the subsequent slow resumption of transport and other services highlighted the need for an overhaul of transportation systems. However, we are hopeful that the situation will improve given the mammoth vaccination drive taking place across the country, and the opening up of the market. Embracing the new normal during Covid times, urban transportation is re-inventing itself, going high on digitalisation and automation, and ensuring that travel is safe and convenient for the users.

What has been the impact of the key initiatives taken by the government?

Brijesh Dixit

Considering the wide-ranging advantages of metro rail service, the government has been promoting it across the country. Various initiatives have been taken in the urban transport sector. They have led to the following outcomes:

Faster transport: Cities are providing faster, safe and comfortable modes of transport with last-mile connectivity at affordable prices.

Environmental benefits:

  • As per the detailed project report (DPR) for financial year 2022, the estimated CO2 emissions stood at 68.47 thousand tonnes.
  • As per the DPR, 48.17 thousand tonnes of fuel is saved annually.
  • All metro stations are being designed as per the IGBC guidelines and have applied for Platinum Rating.
  • So far, solar panels of 1 MWp have been installed on station rooftops and other buildings while 2 MWp is under implementation.
  • About 900,000 units have already been generated through solar power, of which more than 200,000 units have been exported.
  • The solar installations are grid connected, net metered and based on the RESCO model.
  • Enabling 70 per cent savings in the energy cost, thus substantially improving the long-term financial viability of the project.

Social benefits:

  • As per the DPR for the year 2022, the annual time saved by metro passengers is 3.32 hours.
  • Employment is generated in the secondary and tertiary sectors during the construction and operation phases. Currently, about 500 engineers and architects, and 40,000 skilled and unskilled labourers are involved in the construction and operation phases of the project.
  • There is a reduction in congestion in urban areas. As per the DPR, a 30 per cent shift from various modes of transport to metro is envisaged, thereby also reducing the need for parking area.

Abhay Kantak

The Government of India’s impetus has meant that solving the public transportation woes only requires an infrastructural push. A total of 702 km of conventional metro lines are in operation and 1,016 km of conventional metro and RRTS lines are under construction in 27 cities.

The potential burden of financing metro projects and limited feasibility in a few large cities has led to the government coming out with a calibrated approach. The government has also issued standard specifications for the light urban rail transit system called MetroLite to cater to the mobility needs of smaller cities with lower ridership. Standard specifications have been issued for rail guided, rubber-tyred electric coaches powered by an overhead traction system called MetroNeo. It is suitable for smaller cities with a lower projection of ridership.

K V B Reddy

An efficient transport system is crucial for the overall socio-economic development of any country. With the growth of urbanisation, transportation has also evolved based on the necessities and future outlook. With its pace, the country is all set to transform its urban transport mobility in 5-10 years down the line.

In the modern era of urbanisation, we have witnessed for the first time that private players are being invited to run the rail services. The focus is on technology adoption, upgradation, and making rail sector cleaner, faster, and greener. Recent advancements include the end-to-end railway electrification plan, automatic block signalling with traffic management systems, high-density networks, highly utilised network and focus on the overall safety of systems. The adoption of smart mobility technologies and advanced solutions is changing the entire ecosystem of urban transport.

On the metro front, we saw the introduction of some of the key metro projects in Kochi, Jaipur, Chennai, Hyderabad, Bengaluru, Ahmedabad, Pune, Nagpur and Lucknow, while metro routes in Delhi, Mumbai and Kolkata were further expanded. The government has also taken up metro rail feasibility studies across over 2 million cities. As a sustainable mode of urban transportation, there is thrust on the adoption of new technologies in metro rail projects, right from the concept stage to commissioning.

“Being a high priority of the government, the future outlook for the urban transportation sector in India
remains bright.”K V B Reddy

What has been the impact of Covid-19 on the sector? What has been your organisation’s response to the pandemic?

Brijesh Dixit

The onset of Covid-19 has been nothing short of a disaster for many sectors. The pandemic spared none and has had a disastrous impact on the Indian economy. The crisis was bound to affect the metro segment too and so it did. It delayed the project completion deadlines and affected metro train ridership in an adverse manner. The unprecedented global pandemic has slowed down the progress of metro projects across the country including the Nagpur and Pune metro rail projects.

Covid-19 first impacted construction work during the first nation-wide lockdown announced in March 2020. Work came to a standstill and the labour force of about 14,000 (Nagpur and Pune metro projects) was confined to labour camps. During the relaxation of the lockdown in May 2020, more than 2,000 labourers migrated to their native place. In June 2020, the contractors started establishing links with the migrant labourers and persuaded them to come back to worksites by offering various incentives. Maha Metro wrote letters to district administrations, particularly in the states of West Bengal, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh, to assist in arranging travel passes for the migrant labour force to come back to Nagpur and Pune. Rail tickets, bus tickets and even air tickets were arranged by the contractors for the workers, as well as transport from their villages to the nearest railway station from where the trains originated. The labour strength for the Nagpur project stood at 2,200 as of July 9, 2020. Due to the Covid situation, it is feared that the projects may take a hit of a minimum six to eight months depending on the labour remobilisation.

Efforts initiated to restart the construction work

The Government of India issued an advisory to consider the Covid-19 pandemic situation as force majeure resulting from natural calamity. It suggested the return of proportionate mobile station advance bank guarantee, extension of intermediate key dates and final competition dates, prompt payment of dues to enable the payment of wages and other statutory dues by the contractors. Further, Maha Metro has cleared the backlog amount payable to the contractors till June 2020.

To prevent the spread of Covid-19 and raise general awareness among passengers, the Jan Andolan campaign has been launched at the MAHA Metro Rail Corporation premises, laying special emphasis on wearing masks, social distancing and maintaining hygiene. The various measures implemented in the Maha Metro system are:

  • Advisory boards and display of information
  • Announcement floor stickers, que managers and staff placed for maintaining and ensuring social distancing at metro stations as well as in metro trains
  • Temperature scanning of passengers
  • All staff members being provided with personnal protective equipment
  • One station facilitation staff deployed in every train to ensure social distancing and safe passenger boarding/deboarding
  • Trains are being disinfected at terminals during turn back movement after every trip on main line
  • Cashless transactions (UPI/BHIM QR code) being adopted for the purchase of tickets/ Maha Cards
  • A separate isolated cash box provided at the ticket office machine counter for passengers to drop off cash which is disinfected later
  • Providing oximeters at each station.

Abhay Kantak

Covid-19 has brought unforeseen challenges to the fore. The requirement of work-from-home and the need to maintain social distancing has either led to a shutdown of metro operations or reduced services. This has impacted the cash flows of public transit services and has given rise to new operational complexities.

“Public transportation services need to be seen as a merit good and a transparent subsidy mechanism
needs to be put in place.” Abhay Kantak

K V B Reddy

The Covid-19 pandemic has hit the long-term sustainability of mass transit system operators due to decreased or zero ridership and thus zero revenues. The pandemic has also slowed down the pace of ongoing and planned projects in the sector due to dismal funds, reduced labour and affected supply chains. Talking of Hyderabad Metro Rail, we have seen the bleakest hour with 169 days of total shutdown of metro services in Hyderabad. Even after Unlock-4, once we resumed metro rail services after the government’s nod, we had a tough time in the initial months with ridership at the lowest level. The lack of ridership hit fare-box revenues, further widening the revenue gap and increasing the debt repayment obligations in the lockdown period. This was an unprecedented time for everyone, but we presented metro as the safest option of city travel to the commuters.

We resumed metro operations in a calibrated manner. Our complete focus was on the safety of passengers and staff. Continuous sanitisation, temperature checks, enforcement of masking and social distancing became the new normal at all 57 metro stations. The new norms were made mandatory, and we ensured that metro services ran as per the government’s safety guidelines. We run massive awareness campaigns on the metro stations and inside rail compartments through social and digital platforms to keep sensitising the commuters and visitors of metro rail. We were hit by the second wave of Covid-19 during April-June 2021, when Telangana decided to impose phased lockdowns and night curfews. This time, however, we continued our operations as per governmental guidelines in a truncated manner. On certain days we operated even for two hours. We continued to put service on top priority and kept operating the metro despite dismal revenue and continued losses.

Hyderabad Metro Rail has always been high on technology and passenger convenience. Our propriety mobile app, Tsavaari, has come in handy for our commuters during Covid times. This app has empowered commuters to buy/ recharge metro cards online and acts as a contactless integrated transportation solution. Apart from this app, we collaborated with other popular payment mobile apps namely Paytm, PhonePe, MakeMyTrip and GoIbibo for passengers to purchase mobile QR tickets. The digital mode of ticket booking provides both safety and convenience to passengers. Currently, we are handling close to 250,000 daily passenger journeys with all Covid-19 safety protocols in place.

“The metro industry has taken a major leap and many new projects are coming up across the country.”Brijesh Dixit

What are the sector’s key challenges that remain unaddressed?

Brijesh Dixit

Urban transportation projects are highly resource and time sensitive, by and large managed with huge government (public) funding. Private players are expected to deliver on time with strict conformance to quality specifications as every project is a major business opportunity for them. Government investments, advanced technology and rapid execution necessitate private involvement.

Abhay Kantak

Indian cities need a credible plan for improving public transportation services. The plan should be integrated with the current statutory planning process. Given the fragmented institutional structure, a congruence of efforts can be achieved only if a single credible plan is followed by all the relevant agencies. It is ironical that metro projects that require considerable funding are relatively easier to come by. In contrast, bus services, which can be very effective, but require considerable institutional efforts for addressing decades of neglect, come with considerably less funding. In many Indian cities, the institutional frameworks for providing city bus services, which are either archaic or weak, need considerable strengthening. For instance, the city bus service and the intercity bus service need to be decoupled. Public transportation services need to be seen as a merit good and a transparent subsidy mechanism needs to be put in place. Infrastructure push is not enough. The spending should be preceded by formulating appropriate planning frameworks and institutional reform.

K V B Reddy

India needs efficient multimodal integration, involving the integration of public, intermediate para transit and personal vehicles with non-motorised modes of transport. This would lead to seamless travel and increase in ridership with safety and convenience for people at large. To address the transport challenges in cities and ensure effective coordination among stakeholders, the Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs under the NUTP selected around 10 cities in India to introduce the Unified Metropolitan Transport Authority, which will serve as a common platform to implement proposals for improving the city’s urban mobility.

Last-mile connectivity is another big challenge that the urban transportation system in India is facing. Taking Hyderabad Metro Rail as an example, although we are covering 69.2 km in the heart of the city, when it comes to first- and last-mile connectivity, there is a shortfall. Non-motorised and intermediate public transit systems like autos and e-rickshaws play a crucial role in last-mile connectivity to mass transit hubs in Indian cities. There is an urgent need to integrate and organise these transport modes, and explore better and convenient options to achieve both first- and last-mile connectivity. Walking and cycling are energy efficient modes of transport.

While the government prioritised the PPP model through its National Metro Rail Policy of 2017, it should take cognizance of the macroeconomic crises and help the private bodies to make the projects worth the investment. There must be a transparent risk-sharing mechanism to ensure that there are no unviable time and cost escalations. Another perennial issue that private operators face is getting right of way (RoW). In the absence of timely RoW, the project cost gets inflated multifold, compromising the feasibility of the project itself. Here, the government-operated projects are much better off. Line integration is another issue that needs to be addressed so that there is a seamless connect among multiple modes of transportation.

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

Brijesh Dixit

The sector is set to grow at a fast pace in the coming years, with metro projects coming up in many Tier I and Tier II cities. Maha Metro has also been tasked with many such projects, which are in the pipeline and are targeted to achieve progress in the next one to two years.

  • Nagpur Metro PhaseII: The DPR for the Nagpur Metro Rail Project Phase II was submitted to the Government of India on March 19, 2020 by the Government of Maharashtra. It comprises a 43.8 km stretch considering future extension of the North-South and East-West corridor (all reaches). The estimated investment for Phase II is Rs 67.08 billion. The project was approved by the PIB on March 24, 2021. The remarks on PIB clarification were submitted by the Maharashtra government to the Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs (MoHUA) on May 14, 2021. The sanction of funds is awaited.
  • Navi Mumbai project: The City and Industrial Development Corporation (CIDCO), the agency in charge of the Navi Mumbai Metro project, has appointed Maha Metro for running services on Line 1 of the project for a period of 10 years. Maha Metro is already executing the balance work on this line. In February 2021, CIDCO entered into an agreement with Maha Metro for completing the balance work of the Navi Mumbai Metro Line 1. This line is from Belapur to Pendhar and consists of 11 stations, an 11 km track, a depot for maintenance at Taloja and two traction substations, at Panchanand and Kharghar. Work on this line is going on in full swing and is expected to be completed in 2022.
  • Nasik Metro Neo project: The project was approved by the PIB on March 24, 2021. The final remarks were submitted to MoHUA on May 14, 2021. The sanction letter is awaited. The length of the project stands at 33 km with 30 stations. The project entails an investment of Rs 20.92 billion.

Abhay Kantak

Given the importance of public transportation in growing urban areas, the sector will continue to see a considerable fund flow. The direction of the funding, the institutional strengthening efforts that should precede it and the development of a unified approach in planning will decide if there is an extrapolation of the past or a serious turnaround of the sector.

K V B Reddy

Population and economic growth have fostered urbanisation in India. The growth is expected to continue in the years to come, and India needs to step up its game to catch up with this kind of change. While this makes the prospects for the urban transport sector very optimistic, the limited transportation infrastructure is going to be stressed by this demand. We will be soon witnes the advent of two new technologies – MetroLite and MetroNeo – to provide metro rail systems at a much lower cost with the same experience, convenience and safety in Tier II cities and peripheral areas of Tier I cities.  Another revolution in the offing is the regional rapid transit system. This modern transit facility will enhance connectivity and boost economic development along the corridors and the adjacent regions. Being a high priority of the government, the future outlook for the urban transportation sector in India remains bright.