The Kochi Metro, India’s eighth and the first in a tier-II city, is set to go into commercial operation once Prime Minister Narendra Modi inaugurates it on June 17. The operationalisation of the first phase will be the first step towards an integrated public transport system that will include feeder services with boats — called Water Metro, being set up at Rs 800 crore — as well as buses, the existing network for which is being restructured. A prepaid card, Kochi One, will be launched for use in all services of the integrated network.
The Metro itself is being set up at Rs 6,000 crore, with the construction executed by the Delhi Metro Rail Corporation (DMRC), for operation by the Kochi Metro Rail Limited (KMRL). Of a total route length of 26 km with 22 stations, the first phase will run 13 km covering 11 stations between Palarivattam in Kochi city and Aluva, a neighbouring municipal town. The KMRL is now conducting trail runs with six trains.
The first phase of the 76-km ‘Water Metro’ is expected to go into operation from 2019, making Kochi the first city with a boat service as a feeder to a Metro network. It will bring modern passenger vessels and boat jetties to the backwaters of Kochi, six neighbouring panchayats and three municipalities. As of now, Kerala Water Transport Department operates ferry services from Kochi to nearby islands but passengers have frequently complained that these services are short of facilities and safety measures.
The new project will engage 78 speed boats. Of the 38 boat jetties, 16 would be modernised under the Water Metro. The project is implemented with assistance from German funding agency Kreditanstalt für Wiederaufbau.
Officials said they are in the process of appointing a general consultant; once that is done, the first phase could be operational within 20 months. Steps have begun for land acquisition and environmental clearance. They said the Water Metro would open up new opportunities, particularly in the tourism sector, for people living on islands on the outskirts of Kochi.
Alongside, the city’s bus network will go through a makeover, with routes along the Metro corridor being restructured, and seven new companies taking over from various private operators. The city and nearby areas have 900 buses plying on 773 routes. Under the initiative of the KMRL, these will now be run by MyMetro Bus, Kochi Wheels United, Kochi Metro Bus Cooperative Society, Pratheeksha, Perfect, Greater Kochi Transport and Muziris.
K M Navas, leader of bus operators’ Kochi Wheels United, says once the first phase is launched, bus services along the Metro corridor will have to be restructured into new routes, with a section of the existing buses connecting the Metro stations. “The formation of the consortium of bus owners is a good initiative. The revenue from all buses would be pooled and shared among bus owners. This will reduce competition on roads, a cause of accidents,” Navas says.
The KMRL attributes the smooth progress of the Metro project to the image of E Sreedharan, principal adviser of DMRC. “The involvement of Sreedharan has helped a lot,” says KMRL MD Elias George.
The Metro rail safety commissioner cleared the project earlier this month. George says the Kochi Metro project has got safety clearance faster than any other Metro project, and the distance covered in the first phase is the longest for any Metro in the country.
Other initiatives unique to the project include the recruitment of 23 LGBT persons. Says Sheethal Shyam, a transgender activist, “Now, we are becoming a part of the mainstream. Many LGBT community members lose their jobs the moment their orientation is revealed. Now, we can do our jobs on our own identities.”
The Metro firm has also roped in the services of 700 women from the Kudumbasree project, a well-known poverty alleviation scheme for women of BPL families. These women will be engaged mainly for housekeeping and ticketing, with 300 of them joining for the first leg. Besides, out of 39 train operators, seven are women.
The 11 stations in the first leg have been designed on various themes showcasing Kerala’s natural beauty, the Western Ghats, maritime history, spices, cultural and artistic heritage and sports, besides the local history of Kochi city. The roofs of all stations have been spread with solar power panels, which are expected to generate 2.3 MW. Besides, a vertical garden will be erected on selected pillars along the corridor.
The minimum fare will be Rs 10, while covering 12 km will cost Rs 40.
“More than the financial viability, the brand equity of Kochi will go up and the city will be able to attract more investment,” George said. “It will provide the safest mode of public transportation to women. To increase traffic, all types of commuters will have to migrate to Metro. Those who use a car should opt for the Metro train service.”
To raise revenue, the KMRL is planning a real estate project on 18 acres allotted by the state government at Kakkanad, a satellite city.