India's crumbling cities: Bengaluru Metro eased traffic but problems remain

Topics Bangalore | Bengaluru | Metro

Known in happier times for its clement climate, Bengaluru is now synonymous with gridlock. The roads teem with 8.5 million vehicles, most of them scooters. The speed of a car on the Outer Ring Road during the rush hour slows down to around 5 km per hour – the speed of a person walking. Worse is to come. 

Over the next decade, another four million vehicles are expected to add to the traffic nightmare. The Revised Master Plan 2031 put out by the Bangalore Development Authority in 2017 said almost 12 million residents already waste 600 million man-hours in traffic jams —  a productivity loss of Rs 3,700 crore, not to mention the Rs 1,350 crore spent on fuel, only to idle in traffic.   

The bus system is pretty good with 6,600 buses on the roads. But it’s the metro that has made a difference. Bengaluru was a latecomer to the cities-with-a-metro club. The first phase of the metro, known as Namma Metro, began in 2011 and connected a short 6.7 km stretch. Since then, several more stretches have been connected. The network runs through 119 km and carries around 400,000 passengers per day. 

But in reality, the metro has the capacity to carry a much higher number of passengers. And heavily congested areas that house the ‘IT Corridors’, namely Whitefield and  ITPL, are yet to be brought into the metro network. 

“To carry more passengers, we need to add extra bogies to the current trains and also introduce more metros, elevated or underground, to expand public transport,” said traffic expert M N Sreehari. 

Even more importantly, the government, in building the metro, seems to have neglected one crucial link in the chain: last mile connectivity. Only when commuters can walk out of a metro station and find a way of reaching their homes will they leave their cars and scooters at home and opt for public transport.  

Companies such as Bounce and Vogo are trying to fill the vacuum by offering two-wheelers for rent. When they walk out of the metro, commuters can hire a scooter or a bicycle for the last bit of the journey. 

“Approximately 42 per cent of Bounce rides either originate or culminate at metro stations,” said the company. Its 13,000 dock-less scooters are currently notching up 100,000 trips in a day. 

“Public transportation cannot be flexible enough to cater to everyone’s demands but it could be a robust infrastructure to make long commutes easier and affordable. The short flexible journey that commuters need when they get out of the bus or metro station is where we come in,” said Varun Agni, co-founder and CTO at Bounce.

Another start up, Yulu, offers a network of blue bicycles and e-bikes which run between pick up and drop off areas across the city called Yulu Zones. A total of some 7,000 bicycles and e-bikes make over 30,000 rides per day in six busy neighbourhoods such as Indiranagar, Whitefield, HSR layout, Outer Ring Road, Electronic City, and Jaynagar.

“First-mile and last-mile connectivity is a big opportunity for us. It is not a fad but a need which will is there today and will be there tomorrow,” said Yulu co-founder and CEO, Amit Gupta. 

Given the huge vacuum that needs to be filled, it’s no surprise that two other companies, Loca Rides and PepRide, have also begun offering cab-sharing and e-rickshaw services exclusively for metro stations.

Even the city transport agency, the Bangalore Metropolitan Transport Corporation, is finalising tenders for an additional 56 electric buses as metro feeder buses to cover the last mile. 

Bengaluru used to be a Garden City where people enjoying walking because the weather was pleasant and there was plenty of open space. Now they avoid it because there are so few pavements. Urban planning experts estimate that over 60 per cent of Bengaluru roads are narrow and once they have been cut into two lanes, the space for people to walk virtually vanishes.

Urban planning expert Ashwin Mahesh has given the civic authorities a proposal named ‘Kaaludaari Bengaluru: A Fully Walkable City’. “Ideally, over time we should develop 1,500 roads across the city to be pedestrian-friendly,” said Mahesh in his proposal which also suggests that two metres for a proper footpath should be left whenever a new road is built. 

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