Bengaluru is a city which has far oustripped its original population for which it was designed. From a population of approximately 15 lakhs in the 1970s, to an estimated 110 lakhs today (source: Draft Revised Master Plan 2018), the city’s population has burgeoned beyond limits, and stands at the cusp of further explosive growth to 210 lakh plus by 2031 (the end year of RMP 2031). Transport planning for such a huge population is very important, and cannot depend on piecemeal solutions. That’s where elevated corridors come into picture.
Modal shares and extrapolation
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Many conflicting numbers are being passed around in terms of the Modal share at present of various transportation modes in the city of Bengaluru. However, the well-documented study authored by Directorate of Urban Land Transport (DULT) on modal shares in the city available here on page 15, pegs modal shares as below at present:
Public Transport – 34 %
Private Transport – 31 %
Non Motorized (Cycle, Walk) – 35 %
From this level, the practitioners of Mass-Transportation cite their oft-expressed desire to move the modal share to a more acceptable level. So if we move from the “Present level” to a “Desired level”, the numbers that even Public Transport activists are talking about is reflected in the Desired Level column of the Modal Share table.
|MODE||PRESENT LEVEL – 2018||DESIRED LEVEL – 2031|
But when we apply the percentage levels to the population levels and arrive at absolute numbers then we find ourselves on much shakier ground.
For instance, virtually the only modes of Public Transport today are the Bangalore Metropolitan Transport Corporation (BMTC) buses and the Metro. The BMTC ridership is today 45 lakh trips a day and the Metro Phase 1 has a ridership of 4 lacs a day. Private vehicle ridership estimated by working backwards from the Modal shares outlined constitute around 45 lakh trips a day at present.
If we do a simple mathematical estimate of Ridership in 2031 = Ridership today x [Modal share in 2031/ Modal share in 2018] x [Population in 2031/ Population in 2018] we find ourselves with the following numbers.
RIDERSHIP NUMBERS in Lakhs
|2018 NOW||2031 DESIRED|
Leave aside for a moment the Private Vehicle numbers which by themselves are slated to go up 22 % ! When we analyse the Public Transportation numbers, we come up with the following known non- road modes for Public Transportation by 2031.
- Metro — Phase 1, 2 and 3 (which in the best case scenario is all that can be completed by 2031) — Ridership 30 lakh. Angry voices aside, Delhi Metro today has a line network greater than Phase 1 and 2 & 3 planned phases combined. And it is not going beyond 26 to 27 lakh rides a day.
- Commuter Rail: The Commuter Rail projects being planned are supposed to do the equivalent of 25 lakh rides a day. The problem here is that a great percentage of commuter rail rides will involve the last mile being done by some other form of transport (either Public or Private) and much of this will involve road-based transport anyway. Let us be charitable for a minute and assume that by some magical intervention, all users of commuter rail will just walk to their destinations without further demands on the road.
Taking out the 30 lac and 25 lac rides, that still leaves 83 lakh rides on buses. Compared to 45 lac today. The stark situation is exemplified in the table below:
ROAD BASED TRANSPORT IN TRIPS (Figures in Lacs)
|2018 – NOW||PROJECTED – 2031||% Increase|
Road space availability, augmentation possibilities
Having addressed the modal projections, we should now come to the question of roads. According to the India Mobility Final Report by the Global Mobility Monitor Network, the road density in Bangalore is only 8.2 km per sq km. This is just 1/3 of the road density in say, Delhi.
We don’t really need studies to tell us that Bengaluru’s roads are badly clogged. They are bad, as any commuter in the city will tell you. And can anyone argue with a straight face that the existing roads can take 84 % more buses and 22 % more cars and 2-wheelers?
Augmentation possibilities exist along the X-Y Space and along the Z axis (Elevated construction or tunnels).
1. Surface level augmentation, such as road widening, is a process marred with multiple problems. For instance it exacts a tremendous price on people whose property is located along the sides of the road, dispossessing them of houses and offices. The prices of property in Bengaluru have also touched levels where the costs are so prohibitive that acquisition of land paying market prices have been virtually ruled out. With prices in excess of 12000 per sft all over the Bengaluru Metro region, acquisition through compensation does not appear to be a feasible approach.
The other solution of issuing TDR (Transferable Development Rights) has run its course and has been exposed as an ineffective instrument that does not give any good value to the holder of that piece of paper. This has led to land owners refusing to part with property in exchange for TDR and that in turn has led to court litigation – examples being the recent Sarjapur Road widening proposals which have all been stymied by court stays.
2. Vertical Augmentation – elevated roads and tunnels – are probably the only realistic road augmentation proposal still left. The costs of these road augmentation proposals by elevated structures although steep at Rs 150 crore a kilometre offer the city its best chance to augment capacity. The cost is not going to get any cheaper and there is a real danger that policy paralysis will lead to the cost ballooning further in the form of steep escalations if nothing is done.
Addressing the key critiques of the elevated roads
The Commissars of the Anti-Elevated Road movement have aimed a series of arguments over the years at the elevated roads, some contradictory to each other. Some of them are addressed here.
- They do not work/ elevated roads result in no benefit in travelling time compared to staying on the grade: There is a serious problem with that argument. It just isn’t true. There are real savings in time for projects like the Electronic City Elevated Expressway where the time saving is between 20 minutes to a half hour each way. It is even higher for instance in a foreign location like Bangkok where the morning commutes between downtown Bangkok to for example Don Muang Airport with or without the elevated expressway system amount to almost an hour difference in time.
Consider for a moment the absurdity of this argument. There are people queuing up daily to pay toll at the Electronic City Tollgate. They won’t be paying unless they are seeing a benefit, right?
- It’s a waste of money: This is the argument designed to cater to middle class sensibilities – it costs Rs 150 crore a kilometre. Guess what, let’s count what the benefits are to a commuter. Let’s take an IT professional commuting to Electronic City. She saves 45 minutes a day. She commutes 250 days a year. So that translates into 187 hours a year saved. A techie getting Rs 1 lakh a month is worth Rs 600 per hour on a flat calculation basis. Her time saved in a year is worth Rs 1.12 lacs per year. Multiply by the huge number of people using it. Isn’t that a huge economic boost ? What is the value of that time ?
And many of these elevated roads will be tolled and so the real cost isn’t anywhere near the Rs 150 crore a km people are talking about either.
- It does not give space for public transport: This argument says that everything must be multi-modal. Meaning invest in all forms of transport. Just consider for a minute:
a) Taking private vehicles or public long distance vehicles off the roads frees up space for public transport on the grade level.
b) The space freed up can be used to provide NMT facilities including cycling tracks.
Multi-modal doesn’t mean that every investment should be multi-modal. It only means that the basket of investments in transport should be multi-modal (just as it is absurd to state that just because your diet should be balanced, you should balance every mouthful).
- It is ‘elitist’: You will know that someone has lost an argument when the class warfare argument is pulled out. This is patently absurd. For one, the users of these elevated expressways are paying for their usage explicitly through tolls and implicitly through high vehicle taxes collected by the government. The taxes being paid are being used to fund, among other things, subsidised public transport.
- ‘Transport people not vehicles’ aka people per km per crore invested: Much popular among the arguments arsenal, this trots out an ad-hoc metric vide which if applied logically, all airports would need to be closed down, all upper class bogies in the railways need to be shut, air conditioned buses need to be retired etc. That policy died long back everywhere else, but it looks like making a comeback here in Namma Bengaluru.
- ‘Induced Demand’ theory: The “Induced Demand” theory holds that putting up nice shiny infrastructure results in an increase in traffic that will fill the infrastructure so created. There are several problems with that logic too.
a) First, let us start from the fact that induced demand itself is a concept that has not been borne out universally by studies. Some impact has been found in some and very little impact in others.
b) Second, this concept has been pulled in from foreign cities where the populations have stabilised and therefore it is possible to have a direct correlation between traffic increase and infrastructure addition. In our city, population growth is galloping. There will be a huge increase in traffic anyway with or without any induced demand in the equation.
c) The logic of exploding populations dictate that there will be an explosive growth of traffic too, How much is population induced, how much is prosperity induced and how much is infrastructure induced is not a question that can easily be answered.
“Sustainability” is the mantra invoked finally as the Brahmastra when all else fails. What exactly is sustainable about trying to pack more and more traffic into the same roads? What is sustainable about pretending a problem doesn’t exist? What is sustainable about talking about pollution but not recognising that automotive pollution from idling vehicles is the highest contributor?
One can object to the way the government has been undertaking certain projects. But the concept itself is however one that should receive a cautious welcome.
Note: The opinion expressed in this article is author’s own.