The decision of Bengaluru Metro Rail Corporation Limited (BMRCL) to relocate the Cantonment Metro station has drawn flak from citizens. Why has this become such a big issue? The answer is something every urban transport planner will appreciate, every concerned citizen will appreciate, and every visionary will appreciate. Those who don’t, will appreciate it the moment they become aware of its implications in their daily lives. The answer is, integration.
What went wrong?
Metro is here for the next several decades from now–our next few generations will use the Metro to move around this sprawling, ever-expanding city. If Metro is isolated, is made without proper public consultation, without transparency, they will suffer, and probably wonder what we were up to! The Phase I with all its issues is completed and done, as far as BMRCL is concerned. But Phase-II has not yet really started. Do we repeat mistakes, or learn from them, and correct ourselves?
Suddenly, in mid-June 2017, media reports stated that BMRCL, a joint venture special purpose vehicle of the State and Union governments, decided to shift the Cantonment Metro Station from its approved location to a playground in Bamboo Bazaar near Shivajinagar, citing the delay in getting land from the railways and the availability of the playground from BBMP free of cost, as the reasons. This came as a rude shock to citizens, who had to grope in the dark without much detail put out in public.
The reasons and their validity
After media reports, the South Western Railway (SWR) came out with a press release on 24 June 2017, that said they were ready to co-operate for integration with Metro. After this, BMRCL stopped blaming the Railways, but came out with a new line–the shift was only 250m! Anybody who knows the locality will straight-away reject this. Using Google maps, we found that the distance was not 250 metres, as claimed repeatedly by BMRCL, but 1.5kms to go to the playground from Cantonment Railway Station Main Entrance and 1.8kms to return.
When this was highlighted, BMRCL came out with another angle–the distance was not by road, but by a skywalk they intend to make from the playground to the railway Station. Even this was a lie. Again, Google showed a straight line (which is the shortest distance between two points) from the centre of the playground to the centre of the length of the platform was 800 metres. So, where did the 250m come from?
Now, BMRCL said the distance is from the playground to the nearest end of the platform, not the centre. Even that turned out to be almost 500m.
What’s wrong with distance?
Let us remember, the train stops on the platform along its length, and people will have to still add the length of the platform from their coach to the end of the platform, and the platform itself is 600m long!
One thing has now become crystal clear–a commuter who gets off at the Metro opposite the Cantonment Railway Station, will have to walk an average distance of only 80 metres to get to the train coach, whereas if the metro station is shifted to the playground, the minimum walk will be 800 metres.
When these were highlighted by the media, BMRCL came up with a clutch of new techno-commercial reasons for the shift. The length of the alignment, the curvature, the depth, the cost and the travel time would all come down, and that is why they have decided to shift the Cantonment Metro Station.
These are all untenable reasons. World-over, metros try to do whatever possible to integrate with other modes of transport. The curvature and depth they are talking about are already being done globally, and BMRCL has enough resources and experience to handle these aspects.
Also, showing reduction in cost and travel time by reducing length of the alignment is no big deal. This is like converting a 100m race into an 80m race–absolute lack of sportsmanship. The integration with railways brings in benefits which are not easily quantifiable.
Also, what about the additional capital and operational expenditures to make a skywalk or a tunnel with travelator as claimed by BMRCL? What about the average 15 minutes spent by every single commuter to move between the two stations by any means? What matters the most – the man-hours lost on account of this shift, or the one minute per train saved in travel time between Gottigere and Nagavara? The same time of one minute can be easily saved by increasing the speed of the Metro trains by just 2 kmph.
What about the cost to every commuter who decides to move between the two stations by road, by auto, cab or bus? What about the loss of over Rs.1000 crores on account of each year’s delay already from 2014? The approved project cost is about Rs.25000 Crores and there is in-built 5% escalation per year, on account of delays. Ultimately, the citizens’ money will be spent on all these, and here, for a few hundred crores, an excellent integration opportunity, available on a platter, is being given away!
Finally, BMRCL has come up with a social reason: We want to serve the dense population around the playground. But, why force out hundreds of children and other users of the playground? There hasn’t been a single specific demand from the people who live around the playground. Under the plan approved earlier, this playground would have three Metro stations within 1 km radius – Pottery Town, Cantonment and Shivajinagar bus stand. If the Metro station is shifted to the playground, we will have three Metro stations within 2 kms!
What can good traffic integration do?
Bengaluru faces massive traffic jams, and many issues in our daily lives are connected with it—including our time, money, health, safety, efficiency, etc. With over 65 lakh vehicles, we are already at one vehicle for every two persons–and the extrapolation of this scenario is downright scary.
Excellent public transport systems with close integration between the various major modes of transport / commute at maximum possible locations are the practical solutions for this problem. The transport system of any city is the sum total of all available means of transport. Different modes of transport must complement each other, and not compete with each other. Collaboration is the key to integration.
A successfully integrated transport system is seamless, cost-effective and improves passenger experience. A non-stop and non-transfer integration can also have some benefits like unified ticketing, complementary scheduling of services, and fare concession on using different modes. Good integration encourages commuters to take up public transport giving up private transport. It also leads to quicker evacuation of commuters, reduction in traffic on the roads, reduction in general pollution, carbon emissions, greenhouse gas emissions, and is generally environment-friendly.
Cantonment station and integration
The Cantonment Railway Station is one of the oldest in Bengaluru, and the third busiest railway station after City Railway Station and Yesvantpur Station. It has very good connectivity through bus, auto and cab services, from all directions. A good road network around the station as well as good parking add to the comfort level of the users, leading to daily average footfalls of almost 40,000 at present.
The deciding authorities–from both state and union governments–approved a Metro Station under the parking area (opposite to the main entrance of Cantonment Railway Station) way back in 2014. In their wisdom, they considered all factors–technical and commercial–before deciding to approve the same.
At the Cantonment Railway Station, the degree of integration achievable would be far better than what has been achieved at City Railway Station and Yesvantpur. Cantonment is an opportunity for an almost in-house integration with the Railways, the upcoming Suburban Train System, BMTC bus services, autos, cabs.
Also, the Metro line passing through Cantonment Railway Station from Gottigere (near IIM, Bannerghatta Road) to Nagavara (this line is called Phase II, Reach 6), would continue to the Airport. Passengers getting in at the Airport would be able to get off at the Cantonment and walk to catch trains to Mysuru, Bangarpet, etc. in the shortest time, without adding to the road traffic.
The footfalls at the Cantonment are bound to go up drastically from the present 40,000, with the Metro Station integrated here, on account of Suburban Trains and Airport connectivity. In addition, thousands of people who commute to various offices, hostels and educational institutions located in this area will be benefited.
No public consultation by BMRCL
When we did a survey at the Cantonment Railway Station and the playground, we could not find a single person who said the decision of BMRCL was correct. In fact, the users of the playground protested on 27 August 2017, under a banner “Save Our Playground”. The people who use the Cantonment Railway Station were unanimously against the Shift.
Surprisingly, the latest document of BMRCL (BMRCL EIA of R6 dt. Aug 2017) to the Lending Banks of Europe continues to state that the Cantonment Metro Station will be integrated with the Railway Station and will be situated under the Parking Area outside the Railway Station. However, the website of BMRCL (http://english.bmrc.co.in/) does show the Cantonment Metro Station at the Playground, but is silent on the reasons.
All the reasons were given out to the Media by the Managing Director of BMRCL, Pradeep Singh Kharola. No one else in BMRCL is authorised to speak on the matter. So, we went to meet him. He was adamant. We asked him who took this decision, and were aghast to note that there was no public demand, no public consultation at all on such an important matter. It was an in-house decision! Is this how BMRCL works ? Is this how the citizens want it to work? Is this how our elected representatives will allow BMRCL to work? If BMRCL has a Board / committee to take such decisions, are counter-views considered? Did anyone present the benefits of retention of Cantonment Metro Station where it was approved? Can an approval granted by State and Union governments be allowed to be reversed like this by BMRCL? Is there any hidden reason or hand behind this shift, which is not yet out in the public domain ?
These and many other similar questions beg answers–answers being asked by the affected millions of this city, who want this wrong decision reversed immediately. In a democracy, the views of citizens must be taken into consideration. And, more so, in this case, if BMRCL really wants us to continue calling this project as Namma Metro.
What’s the solution?
What is the Ideal solution in this situation?
(1) BMRCL must immediately reverse its wrong decision to shift the Cantonment Metro Station from its approved location
(2) BMRCL must work for world-class integration with the Railways at this Station
(3) BMTC must provide excellent feeder services to the people surrounding the playground to the three Metro Stations they will have within 1km radius
(4) BBMP must improve the locality around the playground in every possible manner, in consultation with the local population.