Bhubaneswar Metro: Shouldn’t Odisha’s capital strengthen its existing public transport facilities first, experts ask

Metro systems are unable to absorb public transport demand even in Tier I cities, experts note

By Prakriti Panda
Published: Tuesday 04 April 2023
Chief Minister of Odisha, Naveen Patnaik announces the construction of the Bhubaneswar Metro. Photo: @CMO_Odisha / Twitter

Odisha’s capital, Bhubaneswar, should strengthen its existing public transport infrastructure instead of constructing a metro train system, experts told Down To Earth (DTE).  

The mass transit system, the construction of which was announced by the government on the state’s foundation day of April 1, seems more akin to a political sop, ahead of the Lok Sabha and Assembly elections scheduled in April-May next year, the expert added.

“Governments prefer to look at other options before turning to the metro. They are costly to build, and the running and maintenance costs that follow can burn a hole in the pockets,” Piyush Ranjan Rout, an urban regional planner, told DTE.

He added that in Bhubaneswar’s case the metro “was more of an exceptional tag for the government to flaunt in the political market rather than a service for the people”.

The chief minister’s office had tweeted the announcement on ‘Utkal Dibasa’, when the state was reconstituted in its current form in British India after adding regions then under Bihar and the Madras Presidency:

On occasion of #OdishaDibasa, CM @Naveen_Odisha approved 1st phase of Metro Rail project between Biju Patnaik Int. Airport & Trishulia. The project will revolutionise mass transportation scenario between #Bhubaneswar & #Cuttack & will be 'another foundation for #NewOdisha'.

The decision to build a metro was brought forward on the day that Odisha marked the beginning of ‘Zero Fatality Week’, owing to the recent surge in road accident fatalities.

The state recorded a 7.6 per cent increase in fatal traffic accidents in 2022, compared to 2021.

Poor road conditions have been a significant trend in all districts of Odisha, and the capital suffers the same fate. Bhubaneswar streets flood with traffic congestion, inadequate public transport facilities, and air pollution.

“The biggest issue with Bhubaneswar’s traffic is that it is unorganised. They should begin by connecting the MoBus system to every part of the city,” Rout said. MoBus is a public transport bus service provided by Capital Regional Urban Transport, a company constituted by the Odisha government.

Rout said several women find MoBus inaccessible and, in an attempt to prioritise their safety, end up paying a lot more for other modes of transport.

“The government should first focus on ensuring their pre-existing facilities are at optimum before aiming for something as far-fetched as a metro,” he added.

Anannya Das, programme manager, Sustainable Mobility Programme, Centre for Science and Environment, New Delhi, agreed.

“We have 14 cities with an operational metro system today, and none of them have met the projected ridership demand. Yet, 30 more are being constructed or planned. Of these 14, eight million-plus cities have lost almost 4 million ridership during 2015-2020 (pre-pandemic),” she told DTE.

During the same time, metros in these cities have gained a ridership of only 0.69 million.

“This is an aggregated decline of 2.26 million. Clearly, metro systems are unable to absorb the public transport demand in Tier I cities. Shouldn’t we push for better bus systems instead of building cost-intensive metro systems one after another in Tier-II cities?” Das asked.

The Odisha government has attempted to implement metros previously. In August 2014 and March 2021, Biju Janta Dal (BJD), the ruling party of Odisha, tried introducing metro services with Bhubaneswar-Cuttack. Still, both of these separate attempts failed as a full-scale metro was not feasible due to a low population and huge project costs.

Rout suggests the introduction of bi-articulated buses; Light Rail Transit or trams over the metro system. These systems are designed to serve mid-sized cities or suburban areas, such as Bhubaneswar and the cluster.

“They can operate on existing roadways and can be easily installed in densely populated areas, saving the busy population from the hassle of prolonged construction,” he said.

He added that the state government should pursue a metro project only after conducting a careful comparative analysis of all aspects of mass public transportation systems.

The question of whether a metro for Bhubaneswar is a greener option than other potential alternatives also needs to be investigated before the project is started, Rout said.

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