Oct 21, 2011

Dumba Metro

For the past few days, there's been a lot of hype in the media about Bangalore's new 'Namma Metro'. It's been covered on national TV, and the local newspapers have gone ballitsic. TOI carried a 32-page special supplement yesterday, and had another 10 pages of reports and related ads in the main newspaper and Bangalore Times. These included interviews with people who had used the NY Subway and London Tube systems while they lived in those cities, and they talked about how they didn't need to own cars to move around in those cities, and seemed to believe that Namma Metro will do the same here. In fact, there was also a lot of ink devoted to the hi-tech features of the Metro, including Wi-fi connectivity etc., some of which are going to be first-ever-in-the-world, and make Namma Metro 'the best'.

The people behind all this PR - in the govt, media and the metro management - desperately need a primer in something that most of us learn within the first couple of months on any job - expectation management. I don't believe the Namma Metro is going to make too much of a difference (and I'll explain why) in the near future, and I think people are being misled into believing otherwise. They are going to feel let down very soon.

The reason people don't need to own vehicles in cities like London and New York is that there are massive public transport systems that include rail, bus and taxi services. No matter where you are in those cities, you just need to walk a short distance to access some public transport. If you're 'downtown' or in any area with a lot of commercial activity, you're usually within walking distance (under 10 min) of a train station - and trains are significantly faster than all other modes of public transport. This is made possible by a very large network with lots of stations and lines that cross at multiple points.

Now let us look at some numbers

'Journeys' above is the total number of unique combinations of any two stations on the network. So, each combination represents two places in the city you can travel between, using the metro (in either direction). It's not an exact measure, but a good approximation for the 'extensive-ness' of the network in question.

Clearly, this is roughly proportional to the square of the number of stations, which in turn is proportional to the total km track length. Namma Metro - even after the completion of Phase 2 (for which no deadline is set yet, but it wont be before 2015, given that Phase 1 itself doesn't get completed till 2013) - will only be about one-fourth as 'extensive' as the Delhi Metro is today, and nowhere near as extensive as the London Tube or NY Subway are today, OR what the Delhi Metro and Singapore's MRT will be by 2020.

In terms of population and area, while Bangalore is not as large as Delhi or NY, it is not a tiny fraction either, and it is comparable with Singapore and London. For the city's size, the size of the Namma Metro network is a joke. It will be at least a decade before it causes a significant reduction in traffic across the city, probably longer.

Another important aspect is the actual route map. Below I present my simplified version.

The black lines and blue points represent the actual route map, as planned.
The parts in gray are proposed and are not going to happen for a while.

The places marked in red are where most of the IT-industry employees reside, work, and basically live their whole lives. All these places lie in the south-east quadrant of the city, and most of the new, huge residential apartment complexes being constructed are also concentrated here (or around the Hebbal-BIAL stretch). For all these people (this probably includes you if you live in Bangalore and are reading this blog), Namma Metro might as well not exist, because it offers no connectivity within the south-eastern quadrant of the city and only runs along its periphery.

The reasons for this are obvious. The population that lives in the south-east quadrant is transient - many of them belong to other parts of the country and are in Bangalore only for a few years - to work. A lot of these people also tend to move overseas for long periods. They are notoriously poor voters - many not registered, and even among those registered - the turnout in elections is low and voting patterns unpredictable. Also, many of them would prefer private or company vehicles over 'public transport'. Hence, the powers that be simply ignore them when making plans. That's what's happened here.

So cut all the hype and hoopla, and prepare for more arguments with annoying auto-wallas for the next 10 years at least.

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