Bangalored? Take a Train
Anyone in Bengaluru knows the two conversation starters—the weather and the traffic. The first has held up impeccably through a heatwave that scorched much of the country. The latter hasn’t disappointed either—Bengaluru’s notorious traffic is getting back to its pre-pandemic levels.
Back in 2019, Bengaluru ranked as the most congested city globally in the Amsterdam-based TomTom Traffic Index. It fell to the tenth position in 2021, thanks to the pandemic, while Mumbai overtook it to reach No. 5 and Delhi was at No. 11. However, there was a difference: Mumbai has a dependable local rail network that ferried nearly eight million commuters every day in 2019 while six million rode the Delhi Metro daily that year. In contrast, Bengaluru’s 6,500-odd city buses and its 56-km metroline put together transported about four million.
Public transport infrastructure has been Bengaluru’s bane. Bengaluru was the first Indian city in India to launch low-floor Volvo buses in 2006, but overall bus ridership has declined in the past decade—from five million daily passengers in 2014-15 to three million in 2019-20. Meanwhile, the city currently has over 10 million registered vehicles.
Or take, for instance, the idea of a suburban rail system that was first mooted in the early ’80s. On June 20, Prime Minister Narendra Modi laid the foundation stone for such a network, promising that the suburban rail, pending for 40 years, would be completed in 40 months. The Rs 15,700-crore Bengaluru Suburban Rail Project (BSRP) will connect the city’s industrial hubs to ferry an estimated one million passengers.
The BSRP will build on an existing network of railway tracks and stations on which a few commuter trains plied. Yet it took public campaigns over several years to prod the project forward. In fact, these commuter trains had built up a loyal
following of users, including techies travelling to the IT parks at Electronics City in the south and Whitefield in the east.
Software engineer Narendranath H.S. is one them. He recounts that he had even opted to move to Mysore a few years ago just to avoid the 31 km (one-way) commute to Electronics City from north Bengaluru. That was before he discovered that a daily commuter train passing through his locality covered that distance in about 40 minutes. “I was amazed by the connectivity system that existed,” he says. Over time, company buses ferried employees to and from the connecting station, Heelalige. Action happening, in effect, only because of the initiative of users, Narendranath points out. “This had to be done by some authority. But because of the helplessness, this system developed on its own,” he says. “The BSRP will definitely improve things, but it will take a few years to materialise. You need this skeletal service until you get the main service,” he adds.
The BSRP and the Bengaluru Metro are currently the two major mobility infrastructure projects in Bengaluru. Both are meant to work in tandem—the suburban lines bring in passengers from the outskirts and the metrolines will serve the core parts of the city. However, the metroline has been stymied by delays. The 42-km Phase 1 metroline was completed in 2017 and work on a 72-km Phase 2 is in progress. The deadline for Phase 2, delayed because of land acquisition hurdles, is 2024. In 2021, the Union cabinet approved two new metrolines, called 2A and 2B, which will connect the southeast arc all along Bengaluru’s IT corridor to the city’s airport at Devanahalli in the north. The Bangalore Metro Rail Corporation Limited (BMRCL) expects to have a total network of 175 km operational by 2025.
There has been much discussion on the need for a unified metropolitan transport authority in Bengaluru which could bring policy on all modes of transport under one roof. “Bengaluru has the bits and pieces, but it doesn’t have the binding glue,” says activist Srinivas Alavilli, who ran a campaign for the suburban rail a few years ago.
“Public transport, especially mass rapid transit systems, whether it is the metro or suburban rail, is what is going to save a city like Bengaluru from becoming a dead city,” says Ashish Verma, convenor of the Sustainable Transportation Lab at the Indian Institute of Science. Only a seamless experience will make public transport attractive enough to wean motorists away from personal vehicles. For that to happen, various agencies cannot work in silos, he says. ■
ONLY A SMOOTH, SEAMLESS MASS RAPID TRANSIT SYSTEM CAN WEAN PEOPLE FROM PERSONAL VEHICLES