Civic Issues
On Monday, Bengaluru Development Minister KJ George announced that global tenders have been called for the installation of pod taxis in the city.
SkyTran Website

The Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike, the city’s civic body is taking up its futuristic idea for public transport rather seriously.

On Monday, Bengaluru Development Minister KJ George announced that global tenders have been called for the installation of pod taxis in the city.

“BBMP invites bids for Implementation of Personal Rapid Transport system for Bengaluru under Design, Build, Finance, Operate and Transfer (DBFOT) basis under PPP Model,” Minister George said in a tweet.

BBMP had, in October, requested the Directorate of Urban Land Transport (DULT) to prepare documents for the project so that the cabinet approval could be obtained.

“We had called for tenders on Sunday itself. Initially, Indian Institute of Science was appointed to assess the feasibility of the project. After it submitted the feasibility report, we called for tenders. BBMP will not spend a single penny for this project. The companies which take up the project will have to bear the cost. Once the tender is finalised, the DULT will submit the final report to the cabinet for its approval,” BBMP Commissioner Manjunath Prasad told TNM.

What are pod taxis?

The “Metrino” line, will be a driverless personal rapid transport (PRT) system much like a cable car, and is proposed to be built at an estimated cost of Rs 1,700 crore.

The BBMP has proposed six routes which include Trinity Circle to Leela Palace, Leela Palace to Marathahalli Junction, Marathahalli Junction to EPIP Graphite India Road, Trinity Metro Station to Koramangala/HSR Layout, Jayanagar 5th Block to JP Nagar 6th Phase and Sony Signal to Indiranagar Metro Station.

In October this year, scientists from the Centre for Infrastructure Sustainable Transportation and Urban Planning (CiSTUP) of IISc had cleared the idea of pod taxis in Bengaluru. The BBMP Commissioner said that it would take about two years to implement the project.

BBMP’s estimated concession period for the bidder will be up to 50 years in which the income will be shared both by BBMP, the Government of Karnataka and the private company. The project is estimated to cost Rs 50 crore per km.

“Already we have some global companies which want to work on this project. The population of the city has increased and so had last mile connectivity issues. Pod taxis will help resolve this. In European countries, this system is popular but it is expensive because the population is also low in these countries. Bengaluru’s population is vast, which can make it affordable,” said BS Prahallad, BBMP Chief Engineer of the Road Widening Department.

“JPODS Inc, a US-based company, Ultra Fairwood in UAE and SkyTran have expressed interest so far, “he added.

Will this futuristic idea work?

Opinions vary on whether Bengaluru can have such a system in place and whether it would work.

“This is a personal rapid transit (PRT) system as opposed to a mass rapid transit (MRT) system. In MRT system like metro trains, the number of people transported from point A to point B is more compared to the number of people that can be transported for the same distance in a PRT system or a pod taxi. Metro trains have six compartments and roughly transports around 1,500 people per journey. In pod taxis, it will be less than half of 1,500 people. It is not feasible,” a senior BBMP official told TNM.

Stating that pod taxis are not completely useless, the BBMP official said that the problem with the current plan is that only one of the five proposed lines are actually feasible.

“Of the six proposed routes, except for one, all of them are longer than 5km and they connect busy neighbourhoods which should instead have metro lines. The only stretch which is feasible is the Jayanagar to JP Nagar is actually a good suggestion. However, this project would also work if it comes up in Electronics City but BBMP has no plans for that. Pod taxis here extended to residential areas in the vicinity would definitely help last mile connectivity,” the senior official added.

However, CEO of Namma Bengaluru Foundation, Sridhar Pabbisetty, dismissed the entire idea.

“Let the BBMP get rid of potholes first and then think of pod taxis. The plan is not feasible at all. Instead of focusing on pod taxis, the government must look into ensuring that the city has a good suburban train system to reduce traffic jams,” he added.

Advisor and Consultant for Traffic and Transportation, MN Sreehari, who claims credit for recommending this project some years ago, had earlier told TNM that such a system is ideal for a highly congested city like Bengaluru. “It will run on supporting columns of a very small size, like an electric pole on which the cables are strung. And whenever a station comes, the vehicle comes down to the ground, loads and unloads passengers and then goes back up to slide along the cable,” he describes.

Ashish Verma, Assistant Professor at the Dept of Civil Engineering in IISC Bangalore and the President of the Transportation Research Group of India, argues that with a project like the Metrino, the amount of investment versus the capacity of the system is completely asymmetrical.

“If you consider that and factor it with respect to the amount of investment that you will make to create this system, it is peanuts,” he argued, adding that this argument applies to other low-capacity, high-investment systems like monorails as well.