Image Courtesy: https://kochimetro.org/

As per the DPR of Phase 1 of the Kochi Metro (2011), the estimated ridership in 2020 was 4.68 lakh passengers/day. But this figure during the pre-Covid times was just around 65,000 to 1 lakh. Fare box revenue being one of the major revenue sources for Kochi Metro Rail Limited (KMRL), these figures reflect the serious financial trouble that KMRL is facing. The newly appointed Managing Director of KMRL, Mr. Loknath Behara, is determined to improve the status quo and the existing ridership figures of the transit system. The organization now has changed its position from being a mere victim of unfavourable circumstances to proactively trying to turn them around. Under the leadership of Mr. Behara, the organization aims at evangelizing the ridership figures and targeting an ambitious goal of 2 lakh passengers/day by November 2021. Given this monumental target, the article aims to relook into the strategies already adopted and strategies that could be adopted to try and reach this goal.

Strategies adopted at present

KMRL did the first step right by conducting a passenger survey of both existing and potential passengers to understand their perspectives. As in every transport study, this initial step helped in recognizing the challenges being faced and throws light into the areas that need focused interventions. 77% of the respondents cited that the fares need to be brought down. KMRL is acting on this by providing discounts and extending offers to lure customers. The passengers can travel at half the ticket fare on Gandhi Jayanthi and Kerala Piravi day. They also plan to slash the regular ticket fares by the end of this month. Reduction in parking fee has also been considered. These steps along with PR and outreach activities carried out by KMRL have helped in increasing the daily ridership to about 26,000. Organizing events such as Cake fests, Mehendi fests, etc. have also been explored as ways to attract passengers. However, the question that remains is – whether these options can ensure sustained success or are momentary crowd pullers?

What should be done?

There needs to be a robust time-bound plan to achieve the ambitious target of 2 lakh passengers/ day, rather than settling for low-hanging fruits. The planning part could then be supported by optimum resources required for its implementation. A sustained vision could only be achieved by formulating short, medium and long-term strategies to reach there; all complementing the goal.

Short Term Stratergies:

The fares of the metro system should be comparable with the other modes of transport in the city. While arriving at the revised fare, the total cost of the passenger should be considered – right from taking mode A to reach metro station, to the fare of the metro and the fare of the mode B to reach the destination. All these costs including the parking charges should be considered. If this is not comparable to other modes, then the chances that people would prefer travelling via metro are less.

Kochi metro currently has an operational length of 25.6 kms which is less compared to other metro systems in the country. This limited trip length, and the route are often responsible for not catering to the travel needs of the people in the city. Keeping this in mind, KMRL should try to lure ‘trip attractors’, in or around metro stations to pull citizens. It could mean setting up offices, shopping areas, eateries, recreational spaces and so on. Discounted rents could be offered. Besides attracting passengers to travel in the metro, this option would also provide KMRL with non-ticketing revenue from rents. This should be a win-win situation for both – the metro and these trip attractors. Though KMRL is planning to rent out kiosks at its stations, they should be mindful about having a proper mix of spaces, catering to different users thereby ensuring a constant flow of people. If not, they could turn out to be redundant spaces not catering to the needs of both parties.

The absence of a rapid and well-connected feeder system throughout the metro line is a major drawback of Kochi’s metro system. A good feeder system provides efficient first and last-mile connectivity. KMRL should try exploring all the available options in the city such as augmenting the existing autorickshaws, facilitating bike-sharing systems, etc., and at the same time ensuring ease in accessing them.

To address the route penetration issue, KMRL should identify all the major employers within 2-3 kms of its radius. These employers should be incentivized to nudge their employees to use the metro for daily commuting. This should be complemented with a strong feeder system connecting the metro lines to these employment centres. For instance, the employer could provide their employees with a Public Transport Incentive as part of their salaries in the form of metro cards and similar[N1] .

According to a ridership study of Kochi Metro conducted by the Centre for Public Policy Research (CPPR) in 2019, 67% of non-metro users have a monthly income of below Rs. 20,000. It might be a fact that people belonging to this category assume/are facing a cultural barrier in accessing this mode apart from high fares. Handholding would be required from KMRL’s side to mitigate this initial hesitance. This can be done by assisting and educating them through targeted PR and outreach activities. The survey conducted by KMRL revealed that many people were not aware that the metro services were still on. Again, aggressive and easy-to-understand format of PR activities, through various mediums could diminish this gap in information and its access.

Frequent monitoring of passenger satisfaction levels should be carried out through monthly and annual surveys. This would keep the authorities informed about the changing preferences of the passengers (both existing and potential) and will give them a chance to make amendments and perform better; thereby retaining the existing passengers and adding on more.

Medium Term Stratergies:

As mentioned above, ensuring efficient first and last-mile connectivity is the key to improving the accessibility of the metro. A feeder plan is to be prepared which would serve the immediate catchment area of the metro rail. Competing modes should be re-routed to act as complementing modes. Route rationalisation of all modes (including buses, autos, etc.) should be prioritised, which should lead to a single transport network plan in the city. And once these changes are implemented, the steps in accessing should be conveyed to the public through visual representations and easy to read cognitive maps. Houston re-specified their bus services after the Light rail transit (LRT) was put in place to reduce overlapping of these services and to ensure transit coverage in other areas of the city. This resulted in a 7% increase in ridership on local buses and LRT from 2015 to 2016.[1] Hence metro should not treat other modes as opponents, instead augment all these modes for mutual benefits.

Encouraging non-motorised transport (NMT) such as cycling and walking as last mile connectivity modes from metro stations should be supported by providing adequate infrastructure such as footpaths, streetlights, cycle tracks and so on. This should not be treated as an additional step but should be integrated with the city’s development process.

Fare and service integration along various public transport & IPT[2] modes should be done to avoid travel penalties, which restricts a section of potential passengers from using the metro. The ‘Kochi1’ App could be improved and integrated with other similar apps (of other modes such as AuSa) to play a better role.

Long Term Strategies:

Integration of land use and transport planning should be the long-term strategy. With a functioning KMTA, this task could be achievable if the preparation process of the Master plan or the City Development Plan would consider transport as an unavoidable component and do the planning along with it. The concept of Transit Oriented Developments and high-density mixed-use developments around the metro line would ensure steady dependence on the transit mode. Only with high density around transit nodes, the trip generation and attraction factors of areas near the metro will increase, which in turn would increase the ridership. The trip attractors and generators could be in the form of high-density residential buildings, offices, commercial buildings, etc.  Densification around the corridor can be possible only with a conducive ecosystem that supports differential FSI in the city. KMRL should think along the lines of the National Monetisation Pipeline, where private players are invited to invest in infrastructure provisions and share revenues from it. KMRL should act as the nodal agency in facilitating this process by coordinating with the State and the local governments to rebuild/re-densify the metro corridor.

Conclusion

While the second phase of Kochi metro is expecting the Centre’s approval, the first phase is struggling to remain financially viable. KMRL has no other option but to aggressively approach its ridership target. Though the current activities undertaken by KMRL could be considered as positive steps in this direction, let the fervour not go down with time. It could be a practical approach to maximize the benefits from the exiting line thereby ensuring commuter and investor confidence, rather than pushing for the second phase on priority.


[1] Rice University Kinder Institute for Urban Research (2016) A Year After Bus Redesign, METRO Houston Ridership is Up; https://www.c40knowledgehub.org/s/article/How-to-make-public-transport-an-attractive-option-in-your-city?language=en_US

[2] Intermediate Public Transport like autorickshaws, shared rickshaws, etc

Views expressed by the author are personal and need not reflect or represent the views of Centre for Public Policy Research.

Praseeda Mukundan
Praseeda Mukundan
Praseeda Mukundan is a Senior Research Associate at CPPR. She is an Architect, and Urban and Regional Planner from the School of Planning and Architecture, Bhopal. She can be contacted by email at [email protected]

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