“Review ORR-Airport Metro line, other transport projects in light of COVID”: Activists write to Centre

Drone shot of a Metro station. All transport projects including Metro should be reviewed in light of COVID-induced changes, says a letter from three civic groups to the Centre. Pic: Siddharth Sriram

This September 16, Hardeep Singh Puri, Centre’s Minister for Housing and Urban Affairs, said no time limit could be specified for the sanction of the ORR-Airport Metro line (from Silk Board to airport). He further said that Metro projects are cost-intensive and hence require extensive inter-ministerial consultations.

In this context, members from three civic groups – Bangalore Environment Trust, Praja-RAAG and Citizens for Citizens – have written to Puri, requesting a thorough, comprehensive review of all infrastructure projects in the city. This is because the transport needs of the city will change drastically in view of COVID, says their letter. For example, a large section of people would continue to work from home, many are shifting to the city outskirts, etc., and this would change travel patterns.

The letter adds that the approval of suburban rail and improvement of BMTC services should be a bigger priority than resource-intensive Metro lines. It also suggests several measures to improve public transport systems.

Read the full letter here.

Following is the full text of the letter, with minimal edits:

The COVID pandemic has affected urban mobility in a significant manner. The observable  key changes/trends are as follows: 

1. Reduced travel demand due to WFH (Work From Home) 

As of August 2020, over 90% of employees in Infosys Ltd and Wipro Ltd, and 100% in the case of Dell Technologies, were working from home. Despite this, Infosys COO U B Pravin Rao said that the model has not disrupted employee productivity. 

Fewer people travelling to offices has thinned out traffic, and reduced pressure on the poor-quality public infrastructure. According to a survey by the job site Naukri.com(reported on August 25), WFH jobs have increased three times compared to pre-COVID levels, as more companies announced the extension of remote working policies. TCS (Tata Consultancy Services) is set to allow 75% of its workforce to work from  home by the year 2025.  

Once the pandemic subsides, employees will return to offices but still a significant percent will continue to work from home. This will mean less commute, particularly in Bengaluru which has a large workforce in IT. 

2. Shift towards city outskirts 

According to Times of India, Bengaluru, dated July 18, the demand for rental residential properties in some core city areas has shrunk because of the disruptions caused by the coronavirus pandemic. While more people are looking for  spacious homes on the outskirts, in many places, rents have fallen or are being renegotiated – a rare occurrence in the tech capital’s otherwise thriving rental-housing segment. As this trend is expected to continue in the near future, roads and transportation infrastructure will need to cater to people moving away from the city towards the suburbs.  

3. Modes of travel and their pandemic resilience 

In Bengaluru, the resumption of various modes transport (post lock-down) happened as follows:  

  • Auto rickshaws, cabs were allowed from May 19.
  • Bangalore Metropolitan Transport Corporation (BMTC) started its bus operations  from July 22. 
  • Bangalore Metro resumed its services in a limited way from September 7. 

It is evident that the pandemic-resilience of different modes vary, and this will have to be a factor while deciding on future expansion. 

4. Pandemic and Pollution 

On June 24, the online magazine Citizen Matters reported: “An analysis of air quality data has shown that air pollution (measured as PM2.5) was reduced by an average of 28% in Bengaluru during COVID-19 lockdown. The  analysis was done by the Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air (CREA), using  data collected by Bengaluru’s Healthy Air Coalition. Additional analysis of satellite  data also confirms this downward trend.” 

To encash this positive fall-out of the pandemic, the government should  implement suitable measures to control air pollution. These should become an  integral part of the planning process of pending/new projects.

5. Development beyond Bengaluru 

On July 23, the New Industrial Policy 2020-25 of Karnataka was announced,  which aims at holistic development of the State and looks beyond Bengaluru with an aim to promote tier-2 and tier-3 cities as engines of economic growth.

This policy will surely give a fillip to the growth of other cities of Karnataka, and will help decongest Bengaluru to a considerable extent.  

6. Sale of bicycles 

Times of India, Bengaluru, reported on June 14 that according to Venkatesh  Shivarama (Venky) of Wheel Sports, there has been a 60% rise in queries for cycles  through calls and visits. Of the queries, 50% translate into sales. Venky, who has been into the cycle business for about 12 years, attributes this to commuters’ fear of using public transport during COVID. 

Cycling is a classic example of sustainable and affordable urban mobility, and must  be encouraged. 

7. Airport connectivity

The proposed Metro line to Kempegowda International Airport from Silk Board via K R  Puram (more than 50 km) with fund requirement of about Rs 20000 crore, will  be completed after five years (or may be 10 years) depending on the feasibility of the  project and availability of resources.

However, we would like to bring to your kind attention to the new development of a halt station at the airport by BIAL management and South Western Railways. Infrastructure of truly international standards has come up with a small investment, and in less than an eight-month period.

Further railway capacity augmentation through electrification and crossing stations is under progress, which will bring suburban train services from all parts of Bengaluru to the airport. This facility  is expected to be opened a few months from now. This halt station development  has been highly appreciated by none other than the Railway Minister Shri Piyush  Goyal. 

It is our sincere opinion that the above factors (combined with the funds crunch being experienced both at the Center and the States) point to the need for a comprehensive and thorough review of all the mobility infrastructure projects, particularly the Metro which is quite resource-intensive. We also feel that COVID has provided a hidden opportunity for future-oriented policies which can benefit the common man in the  city. 

We strongly feel that more than Metro, what Bengaluru needs is drastic and quick  improvement of its bus services (BMTC) and also immediate final approval for the  much-delayed suburban train system. 

In his white paper ‘Post COVID-19 World: Sustainable Transportation-Interventions and  Solutions Required‘, Prof Dr Ashish Verma, Indian Institute of Science, proposes the following: 

COVID is the best opportunity for local authorities to come up with policies and make the transport system sustainable. A few measures that can be taken are mentioned  below:  

  • Priority lanes for buses and separate lanes for high occupancy vehicles
  • Integration of auto-rickshaws/ride-sharing services with bus/Metro system, to provide first and last mile connectivity
  • Subsidised fare for people preferring integrated public transport
  • Segregation of commuters by having measures like staggering of work hours, morning and afternoon shifts, allowing WFH/study-from-home one day per week
  • Monthly pass for delivery personnel in integrated public transport.
  • Data shows that pollution has reduced considerably in about 90 cities all over India. This could be taken as a cue to enforce restrictions on  personal vehicle usage, possibly in the form of limited number of days a  person/ household can use personal vehicles. 

We wish to emphasize the following: 

1. Integration of multimodal public transport systems is the need of the day, but this is lacking in Bengaluru. The present situation has given an excellent opportunity to correct the same on priority, between Metro, BMTC and BBMP. 

2. Giving priority to other modes of public transport like suburban rail, pedestrian  facilities, disabled-friendly public transport system.

3. With COVID norms in place which have imposed some limitations, there is an  urgent need to assess the travelling capacity in Metro trains and improve other modes of public transport. 

4. Many citizens of Bengaluru are working with state and central governments for improving the public transport system and for creating awareness among citizens on increasing their use of public transport system, walking and other non-motorised transport. 

In the light of the above, we earnestly request you to set up an Independent Expert Panel to carry out a quick and comprehensive review at the earliest. Many of our  colleagues will be happy to present their concrete, detailed proposals for the  consideration of the panel.

[Addendum: The headline of this article has been modified post-publishing. Changes have been made to the headline and introduction of the article for clarity.]


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15 Comments

  1. Bangalore ORR needs metro and more , with an elevated road on the lines of silk-board to Jayanagar currently being built. The two level road and metro above is what ORR needs.

    Ask for more on infrastructure don’t write letters seeking cancellation of existing projects.

  2. I don’t understand what the commotion is about questioning things? EVERYTHING NEEDS TO BE QUESTIONED! That’s the spirit of democracy!

    What we are missing and we require, is an integrated Public Transport policy and a comprehensive Mobility plan for the city. Both the Urban Ministry at the center and the state govt lack the vision or the tools for the same… And the policies in the country are twisted…

    We are a truly backward nation in governance!

    • The commotion is because of negativism & snide targeting of metro, camouflaged & under guise of covid traffic + pollution reduction, WFH & a host of irrelevant & short-sighted reasons, as commented by others.

      Those really interested in helping cure city’s traffic congestion & transport woes would never have written such letters to central govt, laced with sarcasm as they are & with demands for a comprehensive review with emphasis only on Metro (“which is quite resource-intensive”) when the city’s urban transport infra is known to be very poor, needing huge investments for rectification.

      On the contrary, they would have demanded why there is a problem of feasibility for metro expansion & why approval for Suburban Rail is taking so long at every step only for Bangalore which is now the world’s most traffic-congested city, when metro-rail & other rail projects in smaller cities /around NCR etc were so easily found feasible, approvals & higher assistance given with no delay.
      (For example CG contributes 50% for Delhi’s RRTS whereas it gives only 20% for Bangalore’s Suburban Rail; Delhi metro cost-sharing includes land acquisition costs but not for other city metro-rails).

      And everything does not need to be challenged – this is one of the reasons why upgrades for city’s transport infra is so slow in Bangalore (also Mumbai).
      However, I agree that Public transport policies, as outlined in NUTP-2006 /14, Metro Rail Policy-2017, Metro TOD policy-2017 etc, though sounding great on principle, are not helping much when CG itself is guilty of favoritism to some states while they neglect others.

      Under these conditions of opportunistic & politically-motivated forms of governance (that we do not have much control over), we have no choice but to keep demanding attention & assistance for every mode of transport infra, not display negativity & sarcasm about only metro or any other project for that matter when the record for all is equally bad.

  3. Sorry, but your letter conveyed different from what you try to say now.

    Current covid induced WFH, pollution reduction, traffic reduction, naukri.com, sale of bicycles?

    Is covid going to remain forever?

    And BIAL railway halt station at airport appreciated by Railway Minister?

    People shifting to outskirts? Are there stats to support this? If so, what percentage of residents?

    Seriously, are these really the reasons you point at for what you say requires a “thorough review of all mobility infrastructure, particularly Metro”?

    The city is very large now with 13 million residents. Suburban rail & buses cannot provide all transport solutions, particularly since railway tracks are off the main streets & difficult to access by the majority, not to mention that south & west of the city has no railway tracks.

    Bus travel is slow & unpredictable due to traffic fyi. When cities like Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai, even tier-2 cities like Lucknow, Agra, Patna, Jaipur are investing heavily on metro, you say Bangalore needs to review investment, particularly on Metro?

    This seems yet another attempt to target Metro & BMRC for whatever reasons.

    • Further, Praja had campaigned hard & long for Suburban Rail. This does not mean that efforts to expand Metro need to be scuttled to favor Suburban Rail. Metro will be the primary solution for the city’s urban transport challenges even if it costs much higher.

      Few that believe Suburban Rail is enough to solve city’s transport challenges & metro is wasteful are displaying biases. As the name suggests, Suburban Rail is essentially for Suburban transport & can never replace metro.

      Those demanding review of metro investments need to question Urban transport ministry as to how feasibility of Bangalore’s ORR-Airport line is questionable & why CG is taking years for approval when much smaller cities like Agra (pop.17.6L as per 2011 census), Bhopal (18.9L), Indore (21.7L), Meerut (14.2L), Nagpur (25L), Noida (7.4L), Patna (20.5L) metros were all so speedily approved.

      In addition, recently (during covid), the Urban transport ministry has also approved & kick-started Regional Rapid Transport Rail for Delhi /surroundings & Orbital Rail for Haryana (with ridership estimate of a mere 20,000), supposedly to de-congest Delhi.

      Doesn’t Bangalore that contributes so heavily, not deserve speedy clearances? How many more reviews & expert panels do we need to confirm this?

  4. Somehow the Heading of the article gives an impression that ORR Metro is NOT required. This impression is erroneous. What we have stated is for a review of mobility infrastructure projects, based on new factors along with expeditious Approvals and Actions so that Bengaluru’s much-needed and much-delayed PT system is implemented, based on practicalities. PT definitely includes Suburban Trains, Metro and BMTC Buses, and there can a perception regarding priority order of these 3 modes. Categorically, let me repeat that there is no intention to avoid ORR Metro at all. In fact, we will be the happiest if ORR Metro and Suburban Train Project as well as BMTC revamp are all expedited.

  5. I sincerely request your group to stop targeting Metro especially ORR metro. It is the best mode of daily commute though expensive. I have travelled in BMTC dedicated lane also. Still it is nowhere as convenient or comfortable as metro. Metro may be expensive but worth every penny. Given the track of Indian railways and their lack of punctuality, sub urban train will not be as efficient as metro.

  6. This city needs a dense and efficient metro network. Humans can never work in silos at home as it impedes creative thinking. So WFH will never be a way of life. This is, infact, the best time to take up the metro work and complete the highly congested sections of KR Puram, Silk Board, Jayadeva etc..
    My humble request to you guys: Please dont create such stupid, short-sighted initiatives and delay the metro project.

  7. This article is written only in the context of covid 19 which is is assumed to change the IT work for ever. This is not proven yet. So not planning for metro line to airport based on these assumptions is meaning less.

  8. Venkat & for information of all:
    Praja was not involved & name has been quoted erraneously. Only one person from Praja-RAAG was contacted by the other/s & he concurred with their opinions. Since no voting took place, it can’t be said to be the collective opinion of Praja. Trust this clarifies.

    The authors may please add a citation accordingly, if deemed necessary.

  9. Irrespective of what happens due to covid, the population of Bangalore is going to increase, no matter what. Metro is the most efficient and least expensive way to travel in any city. In fact, more metro means less diesel buses that cause pollution. Has the author taken into account any of the above points. These self appointed green warriors are a shame on the real green warriors,who now very well the benefits of a metro. It’s high time we have some intelligent people representing us in these forums.

    [Ed: This comment has been edited to suit our comments policy]

  10. Oh my God! These groups’ letter (Blore Env Trust, Praja, Citizens for Citizens) essentially builds a case for scuttling the ORR metro! How short-sighted these groups are!

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