Bringing Light Rail system to Bengaluru will involve redeveloping 5042 acres of land. Can the government turn this into an example of participatory democracy?
This road is one where construction has no end. Governments after governments keep on adding projects on this road, thus forcing the road to never-ending construction works. For example, now, the Government of Karnataka has announced an Elevated Light Rail System connecting JP Nagar to Hebbal. There is also a plan to build an elevated light rail line from Magadi Road Toll Gate to Peripheral Ring Road as part of this project.
The execution of this project could take some time given that the construction of the signal free corridor is still underway on the stretch between JP Nagar and Nayandahalli. The construction of the bi-directional Flyover at Dollars Colony and Jedimara Junction and the bi-directional underpass at Food world junction is yet to start. Work on the flyover at Deve Gowda Petrol and KEB Junction and the underpass at Muthuraj Junction is yet to be completed.
Given the slew of construction activity that is currently happening and the activity that is planned for the future, it might actually take a few years before we see light rail chugging on this road. Let us seek to understand what the salient features of this mega project are.
Light Rail, trams and Metro – what is the difference?
Light rail, light rail transit (LRT) or fast tram is urban public transport, which uses rolling stock similar to a tramway, but operates at a higher capacity, and often on an exclusive right-of-way.
A tram, also known as a 'streetcar', 'trolley car' or 'trolley', is a vehicle which runs on fixed rails and is designed to travel on streets, sharing road space with other traffic and pedestrians. Light rail is a relatively modern term, and can be applied to quite a broad spectrum of systems. Virtually every tram systems can be considered as light rail, but only those light rail systems which feature street running can be called trams. Kolkata’s tram car system is currently the only urban light rail system in operation in India.
Light rail systems have become popular in recent years thanks to lower CAPEX costs. Popular light rail systems across the world include Light Rail Transit systems in Singapore and Hong Kong. London’s Tramlink uses a mix of street track shared with other traffic and dedicated track on public roads.
Metro rail or heavy rapid transit systems on the other hand have much higher capacity and have an exclusive right of way running either overhead or underground.
LRTS – the salient features
The project had been conceived in 2007 as a part of the Comprehensive Traffic and Transportation Plan for the city. The LRTS aims to crisscross the city along the ring road from J P Nagar to Hebbal (nearly 32 km) as well as a 10-km extension along Magadi Road from Toll Gate to the NICE Road.
It made its debut in 2010 at the Global Investors Meet. The project is being implemented by Bangalore Airport Link Limited (BARL). Needless to say if implemented this project shall provide an alternative mode of access to residents of South Bangalore to KIAL. This shall be in addition to the Metro Link that is being planned to the airport.
The 31-kilometre line between JP Nagar and Hebbal will have 24 stations and the Magadi Road stretch shall have 11 stations for a stretch of 10.6 kilometres. A total of 59.03 acres of private land along with 205.6 acres of government land is to be acquired for the project. The project is elevated in most part and will run primarily along the median. A time frame of four years is estimated for the completion since the start.
As per a report by The Hindu, the cost of the project is Rs 11,500 crores, of which 40% will be borne by private players. The station will be much smaller than the Metro stations. The system could climb a gradient of 11% unlike metro which could barely climb 4%. The frequency of the train can be brought down to 90 seconds. The system is expected to carry 7.44 lakh commuters by 2027 and 13.26 lakh commuters by 2050.
Innovative method of financing
The project is expected to be financed through a mix of premiums, cesses and levies. The state is attempting to raise funds by notifying corridors along the alignment of this rail system.
A total of 5,042 acres could be notified for redevelopment, as per as a report by The Hindu. The premium on floor area ratio (FAR) for redeveloping floor area ratio and betterment fees on commercial establishments could be used to finance this project.
The floor area ratio (FAR) can be used to limit the number of people that a building can hold. For example, if a plot needs to adhere to a 1.5 FAR, then the total area of all floors in all buildings on the plot must be no more than 1.5 times, the area of the parcel itself. (In other words, if the plot was 10,000 sq. feet, then the total floor area of all floors in all buildings mustn't exceed 15,000 sq. ft.)
This is the same method proposed to be used for the metro stretch between KR Puram and Silk Board. Cess on new layouts could be also used to fund the projects.
The government’s efforts on promoting public transport through rail-based solutions are indeed laudable. Now that the state cabinet has approved the project, it is imperative that the project is assessed on financial, sociological, legal, economic and environmental parameters.
Involve people, change the perception
A lot of projects in the past have been executed without taking into account the views of the common man. This has led to a perception among the hoi-polloi that projects in the city are executed to boost real estate-based development. LRTS will also be perceived so, given its method of financing.
It is important for the government to involve members of civil and civic society, resident welfare associations and ordinary commuters during the course of decision making. A project of this nature involves funding of more than Rs 10,000 crores.
A civil society on a collision course with the government is always not in the best interest of the city. It is completely up to the government to change this perception. LRTS presents an opportunity to the Government to shed this image and be more receptive to people’s needs. If they seize this opportunity, it would help the city and its citizens.