A Commuter Rail Service (CRS) for Bangalore makes enormous social as well as economic sense, says a RAAG cost-benefit analysis. A look by M.A. Siraj

Does Commuter Rail Service (CRS) for Bangalore make any sense? This question is likely to be asked by all those who are curious with the advent of the CRS into the lexicon of the public transport choices being discussed to ease the woes of the commuters in Bangalore in the years ahead.

Cost-benefit analysts say it makes abundant sense in Bangalore, headed for being a megalopolis, where nearly 45 lakh man-trips are recorded by the BMTC on an average working day. The proposed CRS will connect Ramanagaram, Tumkur, Nelamangala, Doddaballpur, Chikkaballapur, Anekal, Malur, Bangarapet and Hosur with Bangalore. It will operate on six routes with a total length of 386 km, will have 85 stations (35 of them are proposed to be new), is expected to have an initial ridership of 1.5 lakh commuters per day (by very conservative estimates), and save the average commuter Rs. 40 per trip.

Environmental benefits

Syed Khader Basha from Washington D.C., a co-founder of Praja’s Research, Analysis and Advocacy Group (RAAG), who has prepared a cost-benefit analysis, says the CRS will displace 50,000 cars from the city’s roads. This will translate into a total savings in trip cost of Rs. 60 lakh when compared to the same people using cars. Besides, there will be environmental benefits as emission from that many cars can be avoided.

Moreover, social benefits such as reduction in fatalities and easing of pressure on police deputed to regulate traffic cannot be quantified. Less clogged roads will allow the road users smoother navigation around the city and reduced commuting time besides reduction in emission due to frequent stoppages at signals.

According to Syed, all public utility projects are weighed against the socio-economic benefits that it brings in. “World over, it is acknowledged that investment in public transport system and infrastructure is always a profitable venture. It not only brings in economic returns but also a slew of benefits to the society and the community. It would provide enhanced connectivity and affordable mobility and cost-efficient transport.”

He, however, cautions against counting the chickens before they are hatched. “Social benefits are very hard to quantify and also the impact will be seen only after 5-10 years. These accrue on slower pace and most times remain invisible.”

One invisible benefit is that it will stimulate economic growth by enabling people to seek employment away from home. Industrialists can think of setting up units at Ramanagaram or Tumkur as talented and skilled people would be willing to travel, given the availability of dependable and cheap transport i.e., CRS in this case. It would help reduce unemployment and, therefore, social problems. Thirdly, middle income group people can have affordable housing in smaller towns while still working in Bangalore.

Greater access

Fourthly, it would enable families from a very wide region to seek better healthcare, allow youth to attend institutions of learning of their choice and offer to the families more opportunities for shopping, entertainment and socialisation. Youths and professionals may use the commuting time for reading, working on laptops or doing things as simple as charging their mobiles, possibilities that buses do not offer.

Fifthly, movement of merchandise for small businessmen, entrepreneurs and vendors and hawkers would be rendered cheaper. Economic activity in the vicinity of stations will be spurred and parking lots, eateries and vehicles providing last mile connectivity will provide employment.

In terms of gender equity, mass transit systems are considered much safer for women than hired transport. Overall, the RAAG analysis says every Rs. 100 investment would result in Rs. 600 in economic returns.

Integration to play a role

In another paper on viability of the CRS, the RAAG analysis forecasts that within one year from the commencement of its operations, the services would be economically viable and slightly profitable. This, however, depends on good integration with other kinds of transport as last mile connectivity for stations is of key importance.

The forecast is based on the data procured from MMTS of Hyderabad and extrapolated with that of the proposed CRS in Bangalore. The computation is based on 50 per cent occupancy to begin with and MMTC cost where fare structure begins with Rs. 2 for the minimum distance ticket. Syed says the CRS need not base itself on MMTS stipulations and work out its own fare structure independently. The parking and advertisement could also bring in revenue.

Aggressive marketing

Not to be overlooked is the fact that CRS would need aggressive marketing and weaning the people away from their personalised transport. It would also require great will power and vision on the part of the administration to resist pressures and temptations from lobbies promoting personal automobiles, drive-in facilities etc., who are out to see any impetus to public transport as the death knell to their interests. We might have to question. Are we ready?