Monday, December 3, 2012

JnNURM buses in Cochin

by D. Dhanuraj

Recent controversy regarding operational issues of JnNURM buses are expected to happen in any set up that lacks ownership, reasoning and service quality checks. Originally, these Buses were given to Cochin Corporation. Since the Corproation did not show much interest in owning JnNURM buses for various reasons (cited many reasons as per the media reports), the responsibility was given to KSRTC. Now the controversy is all about which routes these buses shall ply and not..

One news paper picture attracted me; Mayor and Deputy Mayor staging a protest (or Dharna?) in front of a JnNURM bus that was supposed to schedule its trip to Trivandrum. It surely depicts how the system works in this situation. Though the buses are meant for Cochin Corporation, there is no direct say for Cochin corporation in the operation and management of the fleet. It is pity not because KSRTC is managing the buses but the way the system is structured. Many a times, I wondered who decides what kind of buses and transport system is required for a city in India; is it Local Municipal Corporation or State Government or Central Government? In this case, under the JnNURM scheme, around 200 low floor buses were allocated to the city but I am not sure how did they arrive at 200 (if i can believe media reports)? Was there any study on the floating population and corridors of high dense commuters before allocating these many buses? Are we sure these Volvos, Marcopols and Tatas fit to our bylanes and arterial roads? or the size of the buses are fit with the traffic and commuters flow from the cost benefit angle? here starts the perennial issues of a centralized system.

The buses are meant for Kochi Corporation or metropolitan area. Many argue that buses to Muvattupuzha and Kuthattukulam are against the norms and it violates JnNURM agreement. But KSRTC says some of these routes are profitable. At the same time, there are Vyttila - Vyttila circular services, which render accumulated loss. Now the controversy; buses are rescheduled for Kottayam, Trivandrum, Calicut and Nilamboor and the response; as usual - protest, dharna and media debates. Again, one has to wonder why these routes are chosen. Most of them oppose it because it is against the norms and violation of procedures for JnNURM buses.

We need to approach these issues in a different manner. JnNURM buses are primarily meant to sustain the public transport in the cities. The vibrancy of any city is its floating population. When buses are scheduled in a particular route, a scientific analysis of the proposed corridor density and the volume of commuters to Cochin shall be analysed. If more commuters and floating population to Cochin are in Muvattupuzha route, then it shall be permitted even if JnNURM rules do not permit it. All these shall be decided by the Corporation with the support of a dedicated transport research wing.

Lastly, I am not sure these Volvo buses are designed for long distance trips. I wish KSRTC has sought advice from Volvo regarding this. But I must urge the Government to permit private Air conditioned buses to operate in these long distance routes during day time. If they think there are takers for Volvo in these routes, why cant they allow private bus operators also so that there will be large in number offering quality services.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Learning from Delhi Metro for an improved metro in Cochin

by D.Dhanuraj

I was in Delhi for  the last two weeks and for the first time, I purchased a SMART CARD of Delhi metro to make my traveling around Delhi more comfortable. SMART card ensures that one does not have to pitch in the que to buy the token for the ride thus saving lot of time at the counters. I was so happy to get one and I decided to use Delhi metro to the maximum for my travel requirements. On the first day I noticed that the travel is not so comfortable as was in the past as I felt more crowd in the cars of Metro. I thought this would be a peak hour phenomenon. But in a few days, I realised that things have been changed for Delhi Metro. Delhi metro is full most of the times in most of the prominent routes irrespective of the timing of the day. I become more curious to know this change over and how did has an impact on the commuting population.

Last week, media reported that Delhi metro is clocking an average of 1.5 million commuting population everyday. DMRC is planning to increase the number of cars in the days to come to accomodate the demand from the commuters. I wish this is technically feasible in these already congested routes. At the same, travelling in Delhi metro in the last two weeks presented me with a very convincing observation; there is a gradual shift towards the poor section of the society who mostly travel in Delhi metro these days compared to the upper middle class in the past. I wish someone has studied this class shift in the commuting public for Delhi. I am very happy that poor are mostly using this Metro as it helps them to reach out to the happening places with minimum cost and less time.It also shows that there is a growing class that can afford Rs 20 for a metro journey; one can argue that there is a substantial shift for the poverty line in Delhi in recent times and I am sure one will dare to set Delhi metro as the base line for this argument from different perspectives !! But what is alarming for me is something else; what happens to those middle class and upper middle class (I dont think Metro attracted rich ever!) who were using Metro earlier. I am sure they are back on streets and driving their personal vehicles to commute from one end of the city to another. What does it mean? There is no softening of traffic congestion on Delhi streets as the traffic is as usual or tend to increase as a result of this class shift. I am least surprised when media reports that there is a growing number of 7.3 million personal vehicles compared to 45000 buses in Delhi. This is again alarming for me as it can really stop a city from functioning. What are these class shifts mean for me? I am not sure whether DMRC had looked at these scenarios when they started Delhi Metro project. Most of the times, I felt it like Mumbai suburban trains. A long Que (unlike in Mumbai suburbans) waiting at most of the metro station to get in. Though guards are there, I wonder how successful they are. We need to think over how to bring back those passengers to metro. I dont find a single solution unfortunately...

Another incident really shocked me was my experience at HUDA City centre. I was traveling to HUDA City centre for a meeting on one fine evening. I reached there by 5 pm in the evening. Without much hush, I came out of the station. Immediately I realised that the compound wall of the station is at least 200 metres to catch a rickshw. Sooner I emerged out of the Station, I was greeted by the auto rickshaw and taxi cab drivers. They want me to give them a ride. Since I know my meeting place is so closer to metro station, I dont want. Though I declined, one after another started following me giving me different price offers. By the time, I crossed the gates of the station wall, I felt exhausted. I might have met at least 10 drives by that time. I started watching the whole episode repeating for other passengers. Lady passengers might have been felt threatened and intimidated by these cab drivers. I was wondering what is the problem there? it is nothing but a poor design of the station to accommodate these feeder systems. I am not surprised if anyone doubts these cab drivers as touts. I am very much for the livelihood opportunities for the informal sector and a strong votary of inclusion of auto rickshaws, rickshaws and other feeder services. here in this case, we cannot blame passengers and drivers as both of them live in a lively eco system. but the issue that I have mentioned is a result of the poor architecture design of the metro station where these feeder systems are not officially linked to the service nor they are accommodated in such a way that passengers can avail their service at the station itself. On my return to the station at 8 pm, I found these challenges more demanding as everyone would be bothered about their safety and security in the above mentioned circumstances.

Finally, to my dismay, there was a long Que at the station gate at 8 pm to enter the Metro complex. I had to spend at least 10 minutes to get on to the platform. I wonder who will be interested to take the metro in Delhi if they have the luxury of personal vehicles. More importantly, everyone wants to go to their office without any damage to the suites they are into. I am sure Cochin Metro team has a visionary plan to execute to overcome all these possible challenges in the future. If SMART card to be used. the system should be SMART.

Friday, July 13, 2012

In harmony with Auto rickshaws in Cochin

by D.Dhanuraj

For the last one fortnight, most of the media in Cochin discusses the plight of the commuters traveling by Auto rickshaws and the police actions to discipline the auto rickshaw drivers in Cochin. While the columns after columns are dedicated to the police actions and remedial measures suggested, I wonder how much we heard from the auto rickshaw drivers and their livelihood demands. Many times, I wondered why are we treating auto rickshaw drivers as inhuman, cruel and criminals? Aren't they also belong to the same society that I and you belong to. then why are we discriminating them to cast criminal aspersions on them every time? Cant we cite criminals in all the domains of work but can we generalize that all those into a profession are criminals?

It has been reported that authorities are planning to revisit the permits issued and rearrangement (relocation) of the auto rickshaw stands in the city. I wish these decisions are taken after discussing it with all the stake holders involved. Do we have a mapping system which indicates the locations are areas where autos are more in demand. What is the total commuting population traveling by auto in Cochin? why are they using autos in these areas and locations? what are the issues faced by auto rickshaw drivers/ owners from the day one 'looking for buying a new auto?' How are these autos help public transport system in Cochin? Aren't they a part  of public transport in Cochin? How did we integrate this system into the public transport mechanism in Cochin? if auto rickshaw drivers are not happy with the fare stages, what are the reasons? who are responsible from the Government side to oversee the smooth functioning of the auto rickshaw system in Cochin? how do they facilitate to ensure the improvement in the efficiency of the system?

Do you think Metro rail will solve all the transportation issues in Cochin? Can they solve the last mile connectivity that I and you face every day? In fact, Autos are going to be the ventilators for the metro rail in Cochin. If you want to push Metro rail into ICU now itself, you don't need to answer the above questions...

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Metro Kochi

by Dhanuraj.D

The approval for Kochi metro has been soothing for many in Government and for political party leaders. It has been a prestigious project for many in terms of its visibility and size especially in a state which is notorious for mega projects and implementation. But I did not see the kind of enthusiasm from the Kochiates as one may expect though I dont compare it with something similar to a city is awarded with Olympics. Many say that it is a public project and is going to be a revolution in Kerala's future. That triggers me to ask the questions like; what is public and what is the revolution we are expecting out of it?

Today's news papers announce that Airport metro express in Delhi is stopping their operations from tomorrow onwards. Though the secretary to Urban Ministry is expected to brief in a press conference today, the reasons are obvious; lack of passengers and profit in the route. Unlike the other metro operations in Delhi, this is being operated by Reliance. It has faced problems from the construction stages onwards. When the operations were inaugurated, Government forced to subsidize the operations as it was not able to meet the expenses. Even then, it has been facing the problems and there seem to be unfriendly relationship between Reliance infra and DMRC.  Whatever be the reasons, the officials might cite for the halting of services, my simple calculations do not match with the expenditure incur in everyday's operations.

Another issue with this system is that everyone traveling to airport needs to come to Cannught Place to check in the metro. This has been a larger issue with metro rail system as it is large and permanent structure with respect to the mobility of the passengers. Once constructed, these heavy structures are permanent and cannot be easily moved or changed. It is also important to have feeder systems to these stations. I am living in Safderjung Enclave and it takes me 20 minutes to reach IGIA. It will cost me Rs 125 for an auto drive and costs Rs 200 for Taxi. Why should I go to New Delhi metro station to catch metro express to Airport? I am not sure how many of air passengers go to CP for their food and accommodation?  then what is the optimum use of metro express in that line? One time, I took metro and then i realised that it goes to T3 and i had to run around to switch over the terminal.

I wish all the stake holders of Kochi metro studies the importance of line alignment and verifies the fact before they start construction. Delhi Metro express is a classic example of what can happen if the project is not rightly conceived. Delhi metro express line would have continued its operations if it was operated by DMRC. Here comes a private entity which is bothered about the investment and returns from such a line. Are we missing a Private entity to evaluate the Kochi metro? I am sure then I will get the answers for my Private and Revolution part that I had asked earlier......

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Traffic diversion for infrastructure developement and Public Policy requirement

by D.Dhanuraj

After a week's time of demolition of , it has been announced that the State PWD Minister is going to inaugurate the widening work of
Anathakaran Thodu bridge on Tripunithura-Vaikom Road today. Though it was not a surprise for news papers readers as it was widely reported in the media on widening work, I am not sure how diligent the authorities were before they demolished the bridge for a better cause. Most of the traffic were diverted through the mini bypass and some of them through the market road. It resulted in clogging during the peak hours. I had a miserable experience in most of the days as it took more than 20 minutes to cross one Km from Kannankulanagara junction to hospital junction. Another day, I tried the market road which was far better. This experience prompted me to ask a few questions on the normative of the experiment;

1. Have the authorities studied the traffic pattern and trends before they diverted the traffic?
2. Have they called for a meeting of stake holders like affected parties; business men, traders, road users, pedestrians etc before they went ahead with the diversion plans?
3. Have they published their plans before enforcing them on the general public? Have they received any comments from the stake holders?
4. who is accountable and whom should we contact in case of an emergency on the road diverted? for eg: making way for ambulatory services during the peak hours. have they displayed the contact numbers of the responsible authorities and personnel?
5. Have they published/displayed the work schedule and completion date of the work?

I am not surprised if none of the above questions do not elicit the desired answers. I believe such a policy shall be framed in this country that would make the enforcement mechanisms are facilitated and co-owned by the tax payers. This would reduce the corruption and bring transparency into the whole system. Government decisions shall be based on the logic and should not be arbitrary any more.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Unified Metropolitan Authority (UMTA) in Kochi

We often talk about unity among diversity, giving popular names such as Kerala United, United Front etc to various institutions and processes. Interestingly, we have been forced to adopt a democratic system by the Britishers , and evolved to a hierarchical structure in terms of size and post. The case of Road and Transport Management is a typical example as to how Indian system works in developing its roads or transport. For eg: take the case of parking, you have the Corporation/Municipality who is in charge of identifying parking spaces and preparing guidelines for parking (onstreet and offstreet), at the same time, management of parking is divested with the traffic commissioner/police. You will have the National Highways Authority appearing in case of NH/SH and the Public works Department for PWD roads. The Corporation / Municipality itself has different department in addressing  parking, like Revenue (for allotting money for land and building parking spaces), Land and Estates Department for identifying land in consultation with Revenue, Mayor and his Councillors with its Commissioner (or Secretary in Kerala) for finalising the parking lots and tendering of parking. This is in addition to various private agencies who manage parking (legal or illegal). Multiple stakeholders for such a process, complicates the issue and leads a quagmire of sorts. Co-ordination, let alone communication is absent, with the road users let to suffer. The example shows how public administration requires reforms to identify and plug loopholes through a better co-ordinated mechanism. It is at this juncture that Unified Transport Authority was mooted by the Urban Transport Ministry in its Urban transport policy, 2010. The same was modelled as per the Land Transport Authority in Singapore which was a huge suceess leading to concrete changes in the transport scenario in Singapore. The authority is not distinct from its components namely the Corporation, Traffic police, RTO etc, but a co-ordinated agency working in sync with all these departments to fufill a definite objective, that of improving the traffic and transport situation in  the city. Chennai came out with its UMTA Bill recently, though its yet to constitute it formally, while Mumbai is still under planning stages.

It at this juncture that the present UMTA in Kochi receives praise. CPPR has been strongly advocating for an UMTA to solve the governance issues which is affecting decision making. A strong UMTA in the likes of Singapore LTA will bring in drastic changes in our outlook towards Traffic and transport development. We required specialised agencies to monitor such processes and require concrete and quick action. This will enable better system in a state like Kerala which aspires to become a model in transport. See Reports which came in Deccan Chronicle (http://www.deccanchronicle.com/channels/cities/kochi/budget-spells-ppp-mantra-286), Times of India (http://www.deccanchronicle.com/channels/cities/kochi/budget-spells-ppp-mantra-286) ...

Check out how UMTA can be operationalised by upgrading the existing Vytilla Mobility Hub .http://www.cppr.in/program_details/82/Mobility_Hub_Society_%E2%80%93_what_is_the_future

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Road safety and Kerala

By D.Dhanuraj

Ever since Malayalam cine actor Jagathi Srikumar met with an accident, media has turned their attention to the medians causing accidents. I must confess that the medians are one of the so many elements of road safety. It is nice to read such debates so to wish that the responsible departments would take it seriously. But what we need is a comprehensive framework for road safety and the auditing of road safety measures taken.

Many papers that deal with road safety in India mentions the increasing sales of motor vehicles as the reason for accidents and causalities. Though I agree with this argument at the theoretical level, I believe this is an apt example for poor side of policy making in this country. Most of the policy documents dealing with road safety either ignores or being oblivion of the elements of road safety.

Road safety includes design (architecture) of the road, safe and secure pedestrian side walks, street lights, pedestrian cross links, junction improvement, proper signals, removing poles that obstruct the smooth movement of pedestrians, straightening the sharp turns etc. Driving on Kerala roads, one must have noticed that pedestrians are hardly respected as there is hardly any space for them for a safe walk on the sides of the road. Most of the junctions lack free right or left turns that cause accidents at the junction mouths. We don't have the concept of detailing even the minutest attributes of a street when the roads are designed. I am not sure whether the department lacks the expertise or skills or they are least bothered about these finer aspects.

Road safety cannot be stand alone subject. It involves so many elements and they shall be addressed to ensure the safety for all the road users. Unfortunately, every one blames the speeding vehicles and the increased number of vehicles on the roads as the major reasons for the road accidents. If that is the case, accident rates would have been bigger in the developed countries. What we lack is the attributes for a developed infrastructure ensuring safety of street users. again, in India, the infrastructure means the big ticket projects like Metros and Fly overs etc. But if we look at the number of road accidents, none of these big ticket projects will have any profound influence in reducing the causalities.Rather, a better coordinated approach among the departments (I would rather suggest for a street development authority) for model streets with side walks, crossings, proper medians etc will save so many lives and GDP of the country.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Bypass road in Tripunithura and the urban ecosystem of heritage town

By D.Dhanuraj

it was a long cherished dream for the commuters from the eastern side of Cochin driving via Tripunithura to have a bypass road alleviating the traffic congestion in the temple city. If the congestion had been felt during the peak hours in the mid 90's, it turned out to be a nightmare for most part of the day in the recent years. so the opening up of Tripunithura mini bypass was a blessing for the commuters. Though the widening of the road is still under way, Tripunithura town has been devoid of any more traffic congestion since then.

Tripunithura town is one of the best study material for the royal township and architecture design. I am told that the reminiscent walls and the ancient buildings including the palace and the positioning of temple are great examples of how the King ensured protection for his citizenry from the intruders and how he kept himself within the fore walls and at the same time in touch with the Praja. Like in Travancore, the temple had significant role in Cochin royal family also and Sree Purnathressan was within the township established by the king of his settings. Some studies also show that the market activity and the leisure zones are designed in a traditional vaastu way that reflects and establishes the royal settings for the town.

I am born and brought up near to Tripunithura. in the last twenty years, I have seen the emergence of new shopping complexes and market activities. But unlike in other cities, they were not very forthcoming to the centre stage nor shaking the grounds while keeping the tradition and culture of the town in tandem. The town has four streets that completes the ecosystem of this ancient town even in 21st century. Nothing has been changed in terms of urban infrastructure except for a few flats and new municipality building. lack of pace with the the concept and idea of Tripunithura being the satellite town of Cochin has been the thorn in the bush for the city goers in this temple town for many decades.

Tripunithura bypass road has eased the traffic congestion within the township since its inauguration. It has diverted the traffic via the outskirts of the town. Though it has resulted in a huge relief for everyone, business community in the town is feeling pitch since then. it is reported that there is a decline in the business and many have already started contemplating shifting the location of business premises. Though it can be termed as a spontaneous order in the market activity, it has also an impact on the heritage and culture of this township.

I don't think any one is against the new bypass. But what has been the failure of the local administration and the planners is that they failed to changed street scape of the town with the advent of the bypass. Streets leading in three directions from Statue Junction (in front of Layam Ground) should have been converted as out door shopping malls and walking malls with improved pedestrian facilities and evening cafes. A temple town tour program could have been another attraction. while the traffic could have been on the outskirts, more business traffic could have been to the heritage locations of Tripunithura. One should not kill any heritage township by neglecting or ignoring the past. More than the monetary value, the culture and heritage helps to social upkeep and self sustenance. it is not too late for the revival of the township in a better way. The local administration should realise that if they business community relocate their activities, they are going to be sufferers at the economics of scale argument.

this a great opportunity and classic example for modernity meets with the culture and heritage of the past. while the modern infrastructure is required, we can incorporate the symbiotic relationship that includes everyone in the society equally honored and owned.

Lets revive the township....