“The metro wasn’t a sustainable option before Covid-19; now passengers are fewer. They continue to have the same or higher operational costs. Ensuring last-mile connectivity in the current scenario is a massive challenge and requires administrative debate,” comments CPPR Chairman Dr Dhanuraj in a news report published in The New Indian Express.

Even as Kochi Metro resumes operations after five months, public transport authorities and stakeholders are apprehensive about its success amid the pandemic. Several buses halt services by 8pm while the metro intends to run till 9pm. Besides the fear of the virus, inefficient last-mile connectivity and lack of feeder services could also be a primary factor in deciding KMRL’s run.

“Travelling in public transportation isn’t the safest option, people believe. Most buses commute within the city with a handful of passengers. Among the 2,350 private buses in Ernakulam, nearly 2,000 have opted for Form G (stopping services). Around 250 to 300 buses continue to ply amid the pandemic. We’re yet to see if people will openly embrace the Metro as a safer means of commutation, or if they’ll continue to rely on private transportation,” said K B Suneer, district general secretary, Private Bus Owners Association. 

Though last-mile connectivity is imperative, metro passengers are unlikely to depend on buses, as per Suneer. “Currently, we haven’t considered increasing the number of buses; most of them barely have any passengers after 6pm. By 7pm to 8pm, almost all buses stop services. However, we shall decide on the same in a week,” he said.

E-autos to resume service by Wednesday
E-autos were primarily intended as feeder services for the Kochi Metro. With the temporary closure of the metro during the lockdown, e-auto drivers were left high and dry. Neither did they have access to CSR funds nor were they part of the Welfare Board, unlike other autorickshaw drivers. Though resuming the metro service has increased their chances, e-auto drivers require the KMRL to abide by their agreement, according to advocate T B Mini, state secretary, Trade Union Centre of India.

 “We considered restarting services today. Unfortunately, we need to rectify a few technical problems and ensure complete sanitisation of our vehicles, which may take two more days. In March, we had around 18 e-autos. In an agreement with Mahindra, we had 50 more e-autos made, which couldn’t be utilised owing to the lockdown. KMRL had signed an agreement with Kinetic Green Energy Power Solutions to employ e-autos. We will resume rides by Wednesday,” she added.

The need for KMTA
According to D Dhanuraj, chairman, Centre for Public Policy Research, last mile connectivity and the viability of the kind of transport required should be discussed in the context of the Kerala Metropolitan Transport Authority (KMTA). The KMTA, which integrates various departments related to the urban transport sector and prioritises actions based on future transport requirements, will be inaugurated in less than 100 days. “In the background of the development, we will be able to discuss which transport system is most feasible and economical right now.

If one is more profitable, cross funding can be applied. However, currently, all are independent institutions – the pandemic has exposed how uncoordinated our transport systems are,” he said. While experts and stakeholders suggest waiting to gauge the success of the metro, many are apprehensive about the same. “The metro wasn’t a sustainable option before Covid-19; now passengers are fewer. They continue to have the same or higher operational costs. Ensuring last-mile connectivity in the current scenario is a massive challenge and requires administrative debate,” Dhanuraj added.

This news report was published in The New Indian Express on September 8, 2020. Click here to read

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