Is Metro Rail the answer to Pune's Traffic Woes?

Traffic and Transport Scenario and its impact on the city

Pune's traffic has the following characteristics:

  • Unprecedented growth of Personal Auto Vehicles

  • Growing traffic congestion

  • Ever growing air pollution

High cost paid by citizens for the imported petroleum products

Growing pressure on open spaces, green areas and heritage structures due to ever increasing  demand for roads and parking spaces

The recognized solution to all these woes is radical improvement in Public Transport systems, improved Non Motorized Transport (NMT) facilities and disincentives on the use of Personal Auto Vehicles.

When Public Transport systems and Non Motorized modes (walking and cycling) are made robust, not only do they tend to improve mobility and access to transport modes, but also often help to improve

city's livability by increasing public/open spaces, green areas, safeguarding natural assets and man-made historical, cultural and architectural structures and improving the safety of streets.

However if this is to happen, selection, planning and execution of the Public Transport mode becomes a crucial component of the new vision that's free from car dominated thinking.

What criteria should the chosen modes satisfy and does a Metro Rail system fit well in this scenario? For effective performance the public transport modes need to be:

  • Adequate (in physical capacity)

  • Reliable (frequency of service)

  • Affordable ( to majority of its users)

Offer connectivity across major areas of the city and Fit well within the mix of Public Transport modes operating in the city.

There are also other conditions that need to be satisfied by the Public Transport mode before it is chosen by the city – such as impact on city's urban form and its continuing financial health as also the time it takes to become operational and the extent to which its construction and execution adversely affects the already precarious condition of Traffic and Transport operating in the city.

In terms of these prerequisites which Public Transport systems will best serve our city and what role if any a Metro Rail system is likely to play in achieving this will be of fundamental importance.

Metro Rail system is the most expensive of all Public Transport systems

Its infrastructure also takes the longest time to build (compared to a bus based system for example), and in most cases, with the exception of systems built more than 100 years back in cities like London and Paris – due to cost and dislocations/disruptions caused to city life, they are developed in only a few corridors in the city due to which they fail to substantially contribute much to mobility and access needs of majority of the citizens. Even in London, the oldest and most extensive underground rail system in the world, the number of travelers carried by the city's bus system far exceeds the numbers carried by underground rail.

For cities in developing countries like India, Mexico, and other cities in South America, the Metro Rail systems put a huge financial burden on cities already reeling under heavy financial constraints. The Mexico City Metro Rail started around 1968 for its Olympic Games was inaugurated with much fanfare but the city found it difficult to meet its maintenance and expansion costs and the system has grown in fits and starts over these last forty years.

Metro Rail a toy each city wants – but for free.
In Pune as in many other cities in India the Metro Rail project has become an arena for scoring political points. When money is to come from Central and State Governments the local authority has nothing

to lose by using it merely as a carrot to be dangled before the citizens facing excruciating conditions of daily commute.

Without carrying out proper traffic studies and analysis of its own, the PMC in 2010 approved a proposal to build a metro rail system based on a detailed project report (DPR) prepared by the Delhi Metro Rain

Corporation (DMRC) which incidentally was also the entity selected to construct the system – thus creating a situation of potential conflict of interest.

This DPR although severely criticized by NGOs, Traffic Experts, and City Planners on diverse counts ranging on choice of the gauge, (standard gauge versus broad gauge) financial burden sharing by citizens

of Pune, impact of elevated metro on city's heritage, skyline, impact of arbitrary decision to grant 4 FSI along the entire metro corridor without a detailed study of its likely impact on city plan, mobility,

unnecessary infrastructure and without understanding its implications under the concept of “Transport

Oriented Development” recommended by the Ministry of Urban Development under National Urban

Transport Policy and JnNURM guidelines, was adopted by PMC without any serious independent analysis

to answer any of the doubts and objections raised from time to time by different groups. Neither was there a genuine attempt at public consultation and public participation before finalizing the plan for metro rail. PMC's response to all questions was to mention that since DMRC were proven experts there was no question of any critical review by an independent committee.

Without going into the technical details of numerous objections filed by NGOs, experts, and individuals let us try and explore if the major problems in Traffic and Transport scenario set out at the beginning of this article are likely to be solved or reduced by the Metro Rail project as approved by PMC.

Unprecedented growth of personal auto vehicles and growing Traffic Congestion and Pollution.
Worldwide experience shows that merely putting in place a high capacity mass transport system doesn’t by itself reduce road congestion as it is mainly created by the ever increasing number of personal auto vehicle being brought on the roads each day – unless provisions are also put in place to discourage personal auto vehicle use, through a wide range of options ranging from – reserved “bus only” lanes (as in case of BRT), control of parking spaces and steeply increasing parking charges for personal auto vehicles, congestion charging or pollution tax as well as many other options that work in favour of public transport and NMT modes and discourage use of personal auto vehicle use for ones daily commute.

Metro Rail by erecting independent infrastructure for itself rarely confronts this problem as personal auto vehicles continue to use road space wastefully and exclusively for their own needs while at the same time users of personal auto vehicles vocally support the metro as it does nothing to prevent people from continuing to use personal vehicles – even where (as in Pune) majority of commuter trips are within a distance of 7 to 9 Kms per trip.

Lack of city wide network

An efficient and adequate public transport bus system can easily provide a city-wide connectivity and at a much lower cost than a metro rail system which even after the long gestation period will offer

connectivity only to limited areas of the city as the cost of expanding the metro rail network across the whole city will be way beyond the financial capacity of the city even if assisted by the State or Central funding.

High Capacity will thus not generate high demand of ridership (along the limited corridors) but in all likelihood lead to much lower ridership than projected as in the case of Delhi Metro which was initially built for 30 lakh passengers per day but carries only about 15 lakh passengers in spite of the extremely high level of investment. Today the much discredited PMPML bus system carries around 11 lakh passengers and if it is taken more seriously by the local corporations this figure can be increased to over

25 lakh without too much extra financial burden on the city.

In conclusion What our city really needs is an efficient public transport system that is quick to put in place, affordable to build and operate and also affordable to its users. A well run bus based system can fully meet this  need.

Coupled with this, the city also needs excellent NMT (walking and cycling) facilities as majority of public transport is accessed by foot and journeys of up to 7 Km can easily be made on a bicycle if there are safe and well built cycle tracks on arterial roads and traffic calming and strictly enforced speed limits on narrower roads on which cyclists can safely share the roads space with cars and two wheelers. The money saved from choosing a less expensive public transport mode can be well utilized for creating public spaces, auto-vehicle-free areas, green areas and creating a more livable city for all citizens.

Note By:-
                                                                                                                          Sujit Patwardhan
Sujit Patwardhan is a Designer and Printer by profession. Graduated from the London College of Printing and Graphic Arts, London, UK in 1968. Runs his own printing company Mudra.He is Founder Member and Trustee of Parisar, a citizens' group working in the field of Environmental Awareness, Education and Action in Pune since 1982. He has been involved in Urban Environmental Issues such as the Development Plan, Heritage Conservation, and Urban Traffic etc.

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