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Getting urban transport on track

Raghu Dayal 

It is axiomatic that urban transportation is one of the most important dimensions of the process of urbanisation. It signifies a trinity of speed, capacity and efficiency that transcends conventional notions of transportation and demands a high level of efficiency in implementation.

As a critical participant in India’s policy-making apparatus in this domain, the author, M Ramachandran, is acutely conscious that urban mass transit systems need to be strengthened to augment their share from the current 25 per cent. “Projects need a plan and a plan needs projects and this book also looks at how best this integration is taking place,” he says.

Ramachandran weaves his story around the best example of efficient project planning and implementation, the Delhi Metro, and its principal architect and driver, the iconic E Sreedharan, who has written the Foreword to the book.

The author delves into the complexities of project planning and draws lessons for infrastructure projects. A “key factor in improving the quality of life”, the metro is acknowledged as “the most efficient transport mode in terms of energy consumption and space occupancy”.

From the world’s first rail-based metro system that came up in London in 1853, some 120 metro systems today operate worldwide. In India, only about six cities have some metro work taking place. This is when the country already has 35 cities with populations of a million-plus in addition to the seven mega cities. Although a latecomer, the Delhi Metro is now setting the pace for urban transit systems to grow across the country.

In 1986, the government of India decided to assign responsibility for urban transport to the ministry of urban development, followed by a one-of-a-kind joint venture in 1995 between the Centre and the Delhi government, each with a 50 per cent shareholding. The Delhi Metro Rail Corporation (DMRC), with responsibility for both construction and operation, raised interest-free Rs 218 crore subordinate debt created towards the cost of land. Property development, expected to raise another Rs 492 crore, was mandated to reduce DMRC’s dependence on the government for subsidy.

Traditionally, federal or city governments support such ventures, although, recently, private finance has been mobilised for this purpose. No metro project has succeeded so far on a purely build-operate-transfer basis.

Private participation in metro projects is now seen as a workable proposition in India, with Mumbai opting for a public private partnership (PPP) model for the two corridors that have been taken up, Hyderabad awarding the work to a private partner, and a private metro coming up in Gurgaon as a 4 km (revised to 6.1 km) feeder. Another option of partial PPP could be considered, such as the 22.7 km Airport Express line from New Delhi Railway Station to IGI Airport.

Proposals for a mass rapid transit system (MRTS) for Delhi were discussed for two decades since 1971. Finally, in July 1994, the central government approved a multimodal MRTS for the capital. Cited by the author as “a good example of proper and timely decision-making as well as implementation”, Delhi Metro phase I, beginning October 1, 1998, was completed by December 31, 2005 — in seven years and three months against the target of 10 years, and within the approved cost.

The Delhi Metro’s success is attributed to an innovative company structure marked by professional competence and leadership, a quick decision-making process with appropriate delegation of powers. The company board delegated more authority to the managing director than a public sector company does.

DMRC has been kept lean, trim and austere without the usual bureaucratic line-up of clerks and peons. All rank and file was made aware of the virtues of economy and quality, and all engineers cautioned that each day of delay in the project would cost the organisation a whopping Rs 1.43 crore. The company managed to turn in an operating profit from year one. The unit cost of its construction has remained one of the lowest; it is the first metro to get ISO 14001 certification for its environmental management system and to earn carbon credit. Clearly, the Delhi Metro sets an enviable benchmark of orderliness, cleanliness, punctuality and reliability.

DMRC has played a pioneering role in extending professional guidance to several cities: it has either prepared, or is preparing, project reports for 14 other Indian cities. It undertook a feasibility study each for Damascus and Colombo and consultancy for operation and maintenance of Jakarta Metro.

Despite the Delhi Metro’s visible success, the author believes much more needs to be done for inter-modal integration. A metro system cannot be a stand-alone system; it requires feeder connectivity and prompt availability of last-mile connectivity. There is perceptible imbalance in the modal split, besides inadequate transport infrastructure and its sub-optimal use, as brought out in a study by Wilbur Smith Associate. He also recommends a statutory body such as a unified metropolitan transport authority to co-ordinate and guide all city transport-related matters.


METRO RAIL PROJECTS IN INDIA
A Study in Project Planning
M Ramachandran

Oxford University Press;
195 pages; Rs 495

First Published: Fri, January 06 2012. 00:44 IST
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