Tube tales: Inspired by Delhi's success, Indian cities take the metro

Topics Metro | Metro Rail | Delhi Metro

India’s automobile sector is battling slowdown, but metro rail construction is booming. India has 650 km of metro rail lines, and the government aims to have another 600 km ready in various cities in the next five years.

India needs more metro services considering the fact that half of its population will be living in cities by 2030. Proposals to build 1,000 km are at various stages of consideration. Ten Indian cities have metro systems now, with more than half the length accounted for by Delhi-National Capital Region (NCR). Another 150 km of metro rail will debut in Nagpur, Bhopal, Indore, Ahmedabad and Pune.

Millions of people take the metro rail in cities, using a cheap, safe and convenient mode of transport that makes their bearable in otherwise barely livable urban India. More than Rs 1 trillion was invested in metro rail projects in 2018-19, and the amount is expected to peak to Rs 1.8 trillion by 2021, according to a report by India Infrastructure Research. All government-owned metro systems run as corporations and have devised business plans to generate non-fare box revenue to be financially viable. Some of them have used trains to target customers with advertisements and digital content through tie-ups with some of the biggest technology companies of the world.

Delhi Metro: Star of the tracks

At the start of the 21st century, the most common sight on Delhi’s roads was the Delhi Metro Rail Corporation (DMRC) digging up tunnels and building pillars to create a utility that would transform India’s capital from a chaotic nightmare of unruly bus drivers and roads choked by private cars to a more bearable place to live in.

DMRC started operations with a few thousand riders in 2002 and its daily ridership had touched 7 lakh a day by 2008. In 2008, there were 6 million motor vehicles on Delhi’s roads. Cut to 2018 and the number of vehicles on Delhi’s roads grew to 10 million: a majority of them two wheelers. As vehicular traffic in Delhi almost doubled, daily metro ridership grew almost three fold to touch 2.5 million a day. In June 2019, the average daily ridership on the metro was 5.5 million.

Clearly, as Delhi’s population boomed, the metro rail came as a boon for thousands of its residents. By 2021, DMRC plans to connect the whole Delhi and the wider National Capital Region (NCR)to enable 18 million people to move through 500 km of territory.

DMRC resolved last-minute connectivity hiccups by introducing feeder buses. In 2018-19, DMRC decided to monetise last-mile connectivity by launching a separate subsidiary that would operate electric buses and three wheelers to connect its stations with residential areas. As more people use the metro, DMRC’s fare box revenue collections—money earned from ticket sales—have gone up and it is also using the ‘consumer in the commuter’ to boost its non-fare box revenues, which includes earnings from rentals and advertisement.

Since 2008, DMRC’s fare-box revenues and its non-fare box revenues have grown at the same pace. In 2017-18, DMRC earned almost Rs 2600 crore in ticket sales and Rs 3600 as non-fare box revenue. DMRC created an ecosystem that has generated thousands of jobs not just in construction of railway lines but also in encouraging ancillary services around the infrastructure created over the years. DMRC’s ongoing works are valued at almost Rs 19,000 crore, and the network aims to cover the entire Delhi-NCR region by 2021. An impediment to Delhi Metro’s future could be the rise in ticket prices. When fares were hiked in 2017, ridership fell by more than two lakh the next year – the first time ever in the network's 17-year operational history. 

Mumbai’s metro ride

Metro One, India’s first public-private-partnership (PPP) project, aimed to connect Mumbai’s eastern and western flanks. Anil Ambani’s Reliance Infrastructure holds a 69 per cent stake in Mumbai Metro One. In a city where most commuters depend on depleted BEST bus fleets or the overcrowded suburban rail networks, the opening of the first 12-km line between Andheri and Ghatkopar was more than just a first step towards solving the city’s transportation woes.

In 2018, an estimated 7.5 million people used the suburban railways every day and another four million used buses in Mumbai. In the year of its launch in 2014, Mumbai’s Metro One carried an estimated 250,000 commuters a day on this short yet crucial rail link. In 2017-18, the average daily ridership had jumped to almost 400,000. 

The Mumbai metro project initially drew some controversies over its fares. Later, opposition to the project again flared up in the Aarey colony on October 4 over felling of trees. The Mumbai Metro Rail Corporation Ltd started axing trees after the Bombay High Court rejected a bunch of petitions filed by NGOs and activists against the felling of trees. 

When many protestors gathered at the site to oppose the move, the Mumbai Police imposed Section 144 in the area and detained at least 84 protestors for allegedly disturbing public order and obstructing government officials from performing their duties. Of them, 29 were sent to a five-day judicial custody. On October 7, however, the Supreme Court directed the Maharashtra government to cut no more trees in the Aarey colony until October 21. The court also ordered the release of all the activists who had been arrested during protests.

Unlike the Delhi Metro, Metro One in its limited years of operation has primarily derived its revenues from fare collections. Two-thirds of its Rs 319 crore revenue in 2017-18 came from ticket sales. While Metro One is a limited operation, the government is building a bigger line connecting the city’s northern and southern parts. The Mumbai Metro Rail Corporation, like all other metros in India, is a joint venture between the central and the state governments. Expected to be operational by 2021, the new network would be thrice the size of Metro One.

Mumbai needs its metro networks to succeed. The city’s overstretched public transport has forced many people to buy their own vehicles, further choking roads. Reports suggest that in 2011 there were 20.3 million vehicles. By 2017, the number of private vehicles on the city’s roads had grown 56 per cent. With more than Rs23,000 crore expected to be pumped to execute the project, the benefits in terms of getting people off the city’s roads and onto the tube would be known only in the years to come.

Chennai, which has an extensive bus network,started metro in 2015with the state and central governments owning an equal stake. That year, Chennai had 5 million registered motor vehicles on its roads. Since its operationalization, 38 million people have travelled on the city’s expanding metro rail network.

In April this year 81,000 people used Chennai metro on an average every day. Launched during late chief minister J Jayalaithaa’s tenure, the project saw rapid progress. Metro ridership has grown four fold from 3.6 million annually in 2016 to 14 million in 2018.

In this two-year period, the number of privately owned two wheelers and motor cars have increased by just 17 per cent, indicating perhaps that the city’s people have found the Metro a better way to commute. Chennai, a vast and ever expanding metropolis, could probably end up with the second biggest metro rail network after Delhi when both phases of its planned construction are complete.

The first phase--parts of which are operational--spans 54 km and the second phase would be more than double this length. The Japanese have extensively funded the project, which after completion may cost three times more than the Mumbai metro. For the first time in 2017-18, Chennai Metro’s non-fare box revenue exceeded its fare box revenues. It earned Rs 28 crore from ticket sales and Rs 41 crore from rentals and advertisements. 

Choked Bengaluru’s metro ride

For Bengaluru Metro, commuting by road Isa nightmare. DMRC was the brains behind the IT city’s Namma metro, which got its first phase in 2017. In 2017-18, Bengaluru metro saw a daily average ridership of 1.5 lakh on both its lines clocking revenues of almost Rs 38 lakh on an average every day. From 2011 to 2017, Bengaluru’s two wheeler and car population almost doubled from 3.6 million to seven million.

Bengaluru’s residents relied on city buses butte boom in motor vehicles sales, fueled partly by rising incomes, choked the city. Bengaluru’s metro rail is part funded by Agence Francaise Development, which has extended a credit line of Euro 200 million. The European Investment Bank has given another Euro 300 million.

After fully operationalsing the first phase of operations that has led to spike in ridership, Bengaluru metro’s fare box revenues too shot up to Rs 281 crore in 2017-18 as compared to Rs 110 crore the previous year. Most of its non-fare box revenue comes from property development. 

Kochi and Lucknow hop on

As metros shrink sprawling metropolises, some smaller state cities too are investing heavily in building their own networks. Kochi and Lucknow metros are the newest networks. Both started operations in 2017-18 and have seen enthusiastic response. Kerala has one of the highest private vehicle ownership in India (361 vehicles per 1000 population), but registration of new vehicles has stagnated in Kochi in recent years.

In the very first year of its operation, the Kochi metro managed attracted over 50,000 passengers a day on an average in December 2018 according to latest figures available. DMRC prepared plans for the Kochi metro and is executing its construction. The Lucknow metro too has met with an enthusiastic response.

Reports suggest almost 60,000 people use the Lucknow metro every day. Like Delhi metro in its initial days, the Lucknow network has struggled to provide last-mile connectivity to commuters and this hasn’t led to a boom in ridership. According to its annual report, Lucknow metro has signed a contract with a Pune-based company to operate electric rickshaws and vehicles to address this issue.


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