Rapid pace of urbanisation is making the need for sustainable transport an inevitable reality.
With growth taking centre-stage in the Indian economy, Metro Rail is evolving as a driver for the economic growth and urban development in some cities in India. The Metro network in India is not as well developed in Indian cities as the other modes of public transport (like buses) or private vehicles. As roads become increasingly congested, in order to save their precious time, more people will shift to this mode of transport and Metro Rail transport will ultimately become the backbone for the movement of people from one place to another within cities. The development will percolate to promote the growth of other smaller cities in India which have a large population. Eventually, each of the major cities within India should have a Metro Rail network, fed by a mix of feeder routes and other last mile connectivity measures having a tie-in to the central rail stations and the airport. This will enable the transport of passengers, which would lead to easing the congestion in some of the cities and assist in development of urban areas in India.
Metro Rail v/s Other Transport Systems
The smaller-scale, less-expensive public transport investments that include Bus Rapid Transit (BRT), trams, and commuter services involving diesel-powered, self-propelled passenger rail vehicles etc., are more cost effective and can be deployed faster. However, to serve a longer and sustained period of growing urbanisation, Metro Rail should be considered as a better option.
In fact, the execution time to implement Metro Rail project is reducing as one can see from the implementation of the various phases of the Delhi Metro Rail and Hyderabad Metro Rail Projects. Furthermore, because these projects often use existing road infrastructure, they can be deployed incrementally, in a more flexible manner.
Policy and Financing: PPP and Alternatives The challenges that are faced by the Metro Rail sector in India, and need to be overcome, start right at the policy level. Reforms are required to spell out land acquisi¼tion norms in a balanced manner, draw up a model concession agreement, define the Metro Act and the Tramway Act and clearly identify controlling authorities on both public and PPP projects. Public Private Partnership (PPP) guidelines should be dev¡eloped such as to generate interest among the private players to bid and pursue these projects. The government of India has taken a few initiatives on a couple of Metro projects (Ahmedabad and Lucknow), wherein some initial funding is secured. Though this initial funding is minuscule compared to what would actually be required for implementation of the project, it is a start in the right direction.
Central and State governments in the country are con¼tinuing to face serious challenges to finance, construct, operate and maintain the Metro Rail systems. Since the traditional sources of funding are insufficient to meet the growing infrastructure needs, Public-Private Partner¼ships (PPPs) are becoming a more acceptable practice for addressing these needs. PPP would continue to be the ideal route at this time since the capital investments are huge but the PPP model currently being used in Mumbai or Hyderabad needs to be refined. The Delhi Airport Metro Express is one model that had all the right ingredients for success. In this PPP model, the civil structures were built by the government (represented by DMRC) and the systems were installed and operated by a private partner (the concessionaire). The cost of the project was borne by both the parties but more importantly the government took the responsibi¡lity of resolving the initial issues that typically come up during the construction of a linear project. The revenue sharing model ideally compensates both the parties. The other alternative is to work out a solution where the Right of Way (RoW) is secured by the government prior to awarding it to the private player.
Smaller States would need to plan the development with sound PPP models, Central funding and under the Metro Act. The projects should be planned in smaller phases and connectivity should be increased with time. States have to make sure that major issues preventing the development of such projects like Right of Way issues, property acquisition, road widening, etc. are taken care of ahead of time as any delays due to these add up significantly to the cost of the project. Sound planning would ensure that construction is faster. The industry is going through a tough phase due to the higher costs, limited skills, and import requirements for various systems. Due to the uncertainty underlying the various elements of work, cost overruns and schedule delays are bound to occur. A proper mechanism should be established to capture these uncertainties to the extent possible, to manage the consequent risks and incorporate these in the development of the project framework.
A challenge that is currently being faced by the sector is the low ´initial´ traffic volume which restricts the ser¼vice level. This initial gestation phase can be as long as 4 to 5 years after implementation, if the routes identified for development in the initial phase are not the right ones with respect to traffic demand. A comparison can be drawn on the ridership between Mumbai and Bangalore (both being urban cities), where it is seen that the first phase implementation saw more ridership in Mumbai than in Bangalore. On one hand, the ability of the developer to recoup the costs through fare box fees alone is not possible and, on the other hand, the opportunities to attract alternative revenue sources are limited by the economic development potential of that city. The opportunities to attract alternative revenue sources (such as commercial property development along the Metro line) are also limited by the economic development potential of the area the Metro line serves. The lack of adequate private sector interest currently in this sector is another obstacle that needs to be overcome by the industry.
Smart Cities: Multi Modal and Inter-Modal Our cities, in the future, will not only need to be multi-modal, but also much more intermodal. Information should flow seamlessly from one transit system to the other and travelers should be able to select from the various transport options available that will get them from point A to Point B in a defined time. When the cities develop to this extent, Metro Rail can serve as the nodal hub, both in terms of transit and information processing.
When cities grow, they become powerhouses of economic growth and foster innovation. For large cities to maximise this potential, they need to be competitive in a global market by ensuring they are vibrant, with a high quality of life and low environmental footprint. Metro rail and other efficient modes of transport will tend to dominate urban networks with a blend of localised changes that will include the last mile connectivity. Cities will experience significant changes in their transport infrastructure over the next 10 to 25 years. Metro Rail will be one of the major flagship infrastructure projects that will be implemented, but they will have a long gestation period. Unless these projects are already on the radar with the initial studies completed, they are not likely to be implemented for at least another decade.
The Metro rail in a city will reap real benefits if the system can:
Any capital intensive project requires huge capital investments and because India is already lagging behind in implementing the Metro rail system in its major cities, making capital available for an expeditious execution on such projects will be a challenge. Once this challenge is addressed, efficient Metro rail networks can be developed using exceptional engineering tools such as state-of-the-art travel demand modeling, traffic engineering simulations, visualisations, etc., to build modern or smart cities that can respond and adapt to the changing development conditions much faster than before.