During the cabinet meeting last week, the State government decided to give a green signal to the metro rail project on Outer Ring Road (ORR), pushing aside the long pending ambitious Bus Rapid Transport System (BRTS) project; hopes of citizens who were rooting for BRTS or multimodal transport options were dashed.

Though the proposal to introduce BRTS on the Outer Ring Road was hanging in balance for quite sometime, the plan to lay a metro line on the busy stretch has eliminated the possibility of BRTS. So why did BRTS, which was first conceptualised in 2012 and had a Detailed Project Report (DPR) seeing a lot of effort going into it, fail to hold its ground against the metro plan? Here is a quick look into how the decision unfolded.

The government on its part has cited inadequate road width as the reason for dropping the BRTS. But surprisingly the decision came in less than 24 hours of organising a meeting of various stakeholders to discuss the pros and cons of BRTS and Metro on ORR. The meeting held on September 13th was chaired by Minister for Heavy and Medium Industries R V Deshpande.

Supporters of BRTS say that it was just a formality to hear out both points of view. The government had decided to go ahead with the Metro even before the meeting was held. While Addl Chief Secy, UDD Mahendra Jain and BMRCL Managing Director Pradeep Singh Kharola batted for the metro line, DULT (Directorate of Urban Land Transport) Commissioner (now transferred) V Manjula and public transport expert Paulo Sergio Custodio spoke in for BRTS. Some of the BBPAG members, it is learnt, spoke about pros and cons of both the projects. 

BPAC President and Bangalore Blue Print Action Group (BBPAG) member Kiran Mazumdar Shaw who had been supporting the BRTS with her tweets and media statements, changed her stand and voted for Metro. This change in position was after her two-hour field visit to ORR accompanied by officials. 

The rise of the Metro

The first indications about BRTS not becoming a reality came about a few months ago. Then Minister for Bengaluru Development K J George had hinted at chances of the BRTS plan being dropped. In an event organised by WRI in July 2016, the Minister had said “BRTS was delayed as BMRCL (Bangalore Metro Rail Corporation Ltd) may require the stretch for its expansion. We will soon take a decision on whether the stretch needs metro rail or bus lanes.”

However, Directorate of Urban Land Transport (DULT), unlike BMRCL, was ready with the DPR for the project. While BMRCL MD has said that the DPR for a metro line on ORR will be ready only by October 22nd, DULT had the proposal for BRTS ready as early as in 2014.

As per the Government of Karnataka order, DULT had prepared a concept plan for Bangalore BRTS way back in 2012 and drafted the DPR in July 2014. It had estimated the cost at Rs 1,000 crore and the project was planned to be completed in 18 months. The BRTS DPR had estimated the demand for Passengers-Per-Hour-Per-Direction (PPHPD) during peak hour for public transport usage at 12,000. and BRTS capacity at 15,000-30,000 The Metro meanwhile has estimated the capacity at 40,000 PPHPD (going by what the BMRCL MD said in the meeting), a figure which many are wary about.

The Metro would be an expensive project compared to the BRTS, but BMRCL officials have spoken about an innovative financial approach, which appears to have convinced the government. When this reporter last spoke to BMRCL MD Pradeep Kharola, he had said, “we are trying to do innovative methods of financing for the project,” without divulging the details.

However, during the recent September meeting, the idea behind innovative financing was revealed. Representatives of MNCs along the ORR, who were present in the meeting, assured that the companies would help to raise Rs 2,000 crore for the metro project.

However one question that is being asked is, "These MNCs are tenants and not landowners. Will their headquarters be okay to spend crores of rupees from their pockets for an infrastructure project which will not bring them financial return?”

To this, Outer Ring Road Companies Association (ORRCA) Honorary President Poornaprajna Gudibanda says that companies and developers on ORR want to help raise Rs 2,000 crore for the project, but the modalities have not been finalised yet. “Corporates and developers on ORR are interested to fund the proposed metro project. Who funds and how, is all in discussion stage,” he says.

UDD ACS Mahendra Jain who has been keen on the Metro project told Citizen Matters that BRTS could be a good option if it’s built on new roads. “But to do a retrofitting job on the existing roads to introduce BRTS is not a workable model at all,” he said.

“If BRTS has to be done, it has to be done for the entire city, not just on one stretch. And the same holds good for the Metro too. The pros and cons of each were discussed at length in various meetings and finally we decided that the Metro is a good option,” he said.

‘Let there be an integrated approach’

Urban expert and Bengaluru Blue Print Action Group (BBPAG) member V Ravichandar says, if money is not an issue for the government and if the IT firms along the ORR are ready to wait for another 6-7 years for the metro to be completed, then metro rail seems to be a good option considering the long term view.

“But the immediate need is to upgrade roads and footpaths and reimagine the service roads on ORR,” he says.

Pawan Mulukutla, Manager (Urban Transport) at World Research Institute, India, too shares similar views. He says the concerned departments should first address the basic road infrastructure issues on ORR. “They should redo the footpath and improve walkability. The Metro may start, but it will not fix all the issues that the ORR is facing. It is important to move away from the narrow concept of infrastructure to an inclusive and integrated system,” he says.

Further he asks, given that the metro will be introduced in another 7-8 years, is it possible to have a short term plan for the next 2-3 years, to address the immediate issues on the stretch?