December 1, 2021 8:25:59 pm
Narendra Jadav, a migrant labourer from Gwalior in Madhya Pradesh, is busy clicking selfies and filming videos inside an almost empty Ahmedabad Metro train coach on a weekday. Following a meeting with a client, Jadav — a painter by profession — decided to ride the Metro that will help him cover a portion of his journey to Gota located in the western part of Ahmedabad.
“I plan to send these videos to my family back in Gwalior. This is my first ride on a Metro train. I was asked to avail the Metro by my client as it was the cheapest and fastest way to get to Apparel Park,” said Jadav, who took a ride from Vastral Gam, the eastern end of Ahmedabad city where Prime Minister Narendra Modi had flagged off the first Metro train in March 2019 — a month ahead of Lok Sabha polls.
Jadav’s 6.5-km trip on the Metro lasts only about 12 minutes and costs Rs 10. In a shared auto, it would have cost Rs 20. In a city bus although the cost would be similar, the frequency and duration of travel are major deterrents. With the remaining portion of the 21.16-km-long east-west corridor expected to be ready only by 2024, Jadav, after exiting the Metro at Apparel Park — the last of the six operational stations — will have to take a shared auto-rickshaw to Kankaria Lake and then ride the city bus to reach his destination.
The 6.5-km stretch of the Ahmedabad-Gandhinagar Metro Rail has been operational since March 2019.
Convenience notwithstanding, riders commuting to work or students to their classes, are far and few currently. The daily ridership on the Metro is a minuscule 500-600 passengers and a large portion of it are joyrides by eager residents wishing for an up, close and personal experience of the Metro train.
The ridership of the metro has remained restricted because of the short distance it covers currently. The same distance can easily be covered using a private vehicle. Moreover, all the operational Metro stations are located in the eastern part of the city. The much-needed connectivity to the centre (old city area) and western parts of the city (more developed areas of the city) will happen once the underground section on the East-West route gets commissioned, allowing the Metro to cross the Sabarmati river passing through the city.
Ahmedabad Metro’s first Detailed Project Report was prepared way back in 2005. The project remained confined to the files for over half a decade, after which a Rs 113 crore scam hit it in 2012. Thereafter, the plan was redrawn and the state-run Metrolink Express for Gandhinagar and Ahmedabad (MEGA) was not only renamed as Gujarat Metrorail Corporation Limited (GMRC) but it was also converted into a joint venture between the Gujarat government and the Government of India in 2014.
According to GMRC, the highest monthly ridership was in May 2019 when 50,108 passengers availed the services in a month. On average, the trains that operate at 20-minute intervals between Vastral Gam and Apparel Park, have not been able to attract more than 500-600 riders a day.
The monthly ridership crossed 38,171 (1,272 passengers a day) in November 2021 during Diwali. However, it remained lower than the pre-Covid high. A total of 5 lakh passengers have taken the Metro since its launch. Trains operate on this short stretch only between 11 am and 5 pm daily.
“Every weekend, over 1,500-3,000 passengers take the Metro. Most of them ride for fun. On weekdays, there are days when trains run empty,” said Kirti Patel, a security guard posted at Vastral Gam Station which has two concourses stacked one above the other.
A flight of stairs at the station leads one to the ticket counter where a non-functional Amul parlour greets visitors. After purchasing a ticket for a one-way journey costing Rs 10, a saffron-coloured plastic token is handed to the passenger to help them open the automatic gates at entry and exit points. GMRC also provides season passes for regular travellers, granting a 10 per cent discount (Rs 9 per trip) on the trip fee.
Standing near a bag scanner, policemen armed with a handheld metal detector scan passengers trickling into the station. Separate checks are done for male and female passengers who are also asked to empty bags and pockets for any possible tobacco or pan masala pouches. Thereafter, private security guards guide passengers to the top concourse that has platforms at both ends.
The platforms are built to accommodate trains with six cars. The trains, imported from South Korea, currently have only three cars. The platforms have digital clocks and a screen that tells the time left for the arrival of the next train.
On a train from Vastral Gam are three friends — Ajay Vora, Ajay Parmar and Ketan Patel — returning home to Amraiwadi that falls on the Metro route. “We bunked our tuition classes this morning and came to a shopping mall in Vastral Gam. Now, we are returning home. We take these rides for fun and it does not cost much,” said Vora, a more frequent Metro rider compared to his friends.
The train halts for 15-20 seconds at each station. Before the doors slide to a close, beepers on the platforms alert the passengers. Once inside the air-conditioned trains, a welcome message appears on the 18 inch screens kept at regular intervals. These screens not only notify the passengers about the next station, it also shows videos of Prime Minister Modi flagging off the Ahmedabad Metro. Messages of Government of India’s “Azadi Ka Amrit Mahotsav” also flash on the screens. Although the buzz of the air-conditioning system drowns the announcement made inside the coaches, the CCTV cameras positioned near each door record passenger movements and allows the Metro train driver to keep an eye.
Prem Baduriya (17), headed to Rabari Colony to study with his friends, said, “Very few people use the Metro but once the project is completed, a lot of students like me will use it to travel to Gujarat University (west Ahmedabad),” he added.
GMRC officials say the remaining part of the first phase of the Ahmedabad Metro project is likely to be finished by August 2022. It is currently 78 per cent complete. The East-West Corridor (Blue Line) starting from Vastral Gam has a total of 17 stations and four underground stations and ends at Thaltej Gam. It will cross the Sabarmati river and reach the western side of the city. The North-West Corridor (Red Line) is 18.87 km long and has 15 stations. It connects APMC Vasna with Motera Stadium and will meet the Blue Line at the Old High Court interchange station. This North-West corridor will extend to GIFT City and Gandhinagar in the second phase of construction.
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