Debate surrounds Thiruvananthapuram metro: Is the project efficient?

Experts TNM spoke to said that the proposed metro routes do not benefit a larger number of commuters, adding that it would be better to improve public transport systems to tackle Thiruvananthapuram’s traffic issues.
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The Delhi Metro Rail Corporation (DMRC) is expected to submit the Detailed Project Report (DPR) for the proposed Thiruvananthapuram Metro Rail in June. The DMRC completed its field survey in December 2023 for the project, whose estimated total cost is Rs 11,560.8 crore. Reports indicate that the state government is prioritising the metro rail in the capital, considering the potential traffic congestion that may arise due to the opening of the Vizhinjam port and other tech companies. However, there are objections from various sections to the project.

The metro rail has been planned with two corridors: corridor one will run from Technocity to Pallichal and corridor two will cover Kazhakoottam to Killipalam. The Times of India reported, based on the DPR summary, that the first corridor will cover a stretch of 30.8 km with 25 elevated stations. The second corridor, spanning 15.9 km, will have 13 stations, including 11 elevated and two underground stations at East Fort and Killipalam Junction. After government approval, the DPR will be submitted to the Kochi Metro Rail Limited (KMRL).

Stating that currently a metro is not necessary for Thiruvananthapuram, a senior officer from the Kerala Transport Department told TNM that the proposed routes do not benefit a larger number of commuters. “In the present scenario, a metro is not essential. What the government needs to do is boost other public transport facilities. We certainly need to invest in and enhance the Kerala State Transport Corporation (KSRTC) to benefit the general public,” he said.

He pointed out that Kazhakoottam is an IT hub where most of the people working in the Technopark reside and do not frequently travel to Thiruvananthapuram city.

“Kazhakoottam is a well-developed area where IT employees working in Technopark reside. Frequent commuters include government officers and other employees who commute to Thiruvananthapuram central for work. Therefore, this single line from Kazhakoottam to Killipalam will benefit only a few,” he said, adding that “considering the state’s present financial situation, it may not be possible to secure the proposed funds for the metro rail.”

There are also reports that KMRL is considering Light Tram Metro, an urban rail system that runs parallel to roads and is comparatively lesser in cost than conventional metro, for Thiruvananthapuram.

Thiruvananthapuram has high public transport usage. In Kerala, most people use public buses for regular commuting, with a majority taking KSRTC buses. In Thiruvananthapuram district, KSRTC operates about 1,000 buses and according to data provided by the corporation, approximately 1.77 crore people used bus services in 2022-2023. This is the highest usage in Kerala.

D Dhanuraj, chairman of the Centre for Public Policy Research, a think tank that works on public policies, also agreed that improving public transport systems will help tackle traffic issues as Thiruvananthapuram residents rely heavily on public buses. According to him, a suburban rail system would be more beneficial in Thiruvananthapuram than a metro. “A metro doesn’t serve industrial purposes. Considering the port and other developments, we need connectivity that caters to industrial needs as well as commuting. Since we already have connectivity in Kochuveli, developing suburban rail to other parts will be much more beneficial and cost-effective,” he told TNM.

He also said that single-line metros will not benefit the maximum number of people. “Either invest a significant amount of around Rs 50,000 crore to create multiple lines or explore more suitable alternatives. Increasing the number of AC buses and electric buses will also benefit Thiruvananthapuram as people will definitely use them. Enhancing bus connectivity and developing suburban rail systems are currently the best options for the city,” he added.

Sridhar Radhakrishnan, an environmentalist and policy expert, emphasised that any city development project should be based on proper traffic surveys, usage prediction data, etc.

“A metro rail project should not be a political decision, it should not be initiated solely based on public demand as people tend to desire things just because other cities have them. Additionally, decisions should not be driven by possible future needs; for example, traffic may increase when the Vizhinjam port becomes operational,” he added.

He also pointed out that there are many proposed road widening projects in Thiruvananthapuram that haven’t been completed yet. “Priority projects should be completed initially to address traffic congestion. The metro is not the solution for all traffic problems,” he said.

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