The State Government's proposal to introduce monorail as mass transit system for Coimbatore revives the hope of a public transport that decongests roads and also provides for comfortable and affordable travel.

For long, Coimbatore has endured the sight of passengers packed in buses like sardines, autorickshaws that fleece passengers and call taxis whose fare is astronomical for daily travel. These are the three modes of public transport in the city.

The number of private vehicles – cars and two-wheelers – has gone up sharply over the last 10-12 years as people want to avoid the discomfort of travelling in public transport.

This, in turn, has led to the city's limited road infrastructure getting congested. The increase in the number of vehicles is so high that the Department of Transport has to open one more Regional Transport Office.

All these years, there has been a fervent call for yet another mode of mass transit system that can ease the congestion on roads, especially one that can wean people away from private vehicles. Many options have been discussed, but none of these have materialised into a project.

Urban planners first suggested elevated or metro rail as an alternative, as in Chennai and Mumbai. This is because the carrying capacity of a train easily equals that of 13 to 15 buses. And, reduction in buses will decongest roads.

The first Coimbatore Corporation Council (1996-2001) also mooted Mass Rapid Transit System. Experts and consultants were brought in only to decide that it may not be technically suitable for Coimbatore city.

Then, the focus turned to a metro rail system, as in New Delhi and now in Bangalore. But, that too was rejected on the grounds that Coimbatore was a radial city and not linear. Then a suggestion was made for a circular rail. It could use the existing rail network and even improve upon it to establish a total, circular system around the city. And, bus services could be operated from the railway stations to central points of the city such as Gandhipuram. That proposal too was given up.

A Bus Rapid Transit System (BRTS) was discussed as a key component of the Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission (JNNURM). The project envisaged dedicated bus tracks on Avanashi Road, right from the flyover at Uppilipalayam to the city's border near the Airport.

But, officials now confirm that the proposal is still stuck with the Government. They say that the money meant for transport system improvement under the JNNURM has been used for the purchase of low-floor buses.

These buses have only added to the chaos. Their chassis is three feet longer than the normal vehicles, making it difficult for drivers to negotiate turns, especially in old city areas where the turning radius is big enough only for an autorickshaw.

Now, Coimbatore pins hopes on the monorail proposal quite desperately, as it needs yet another public transport system that can prevent disaster on its roads, which do not seem have any scope for further widening.

The ambitious flyovers and freeways plans under the JNNURM too have sunk without a trace.

“If introduced, the monorail will cater to the growing transportation needs and also serve as a mark of the city's growth,” says president of the Indian Chamber of Commerce and Industry M. Krishnan.

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