The establishment of metro rail has been treated as a panacea for solving transport problems in Indian metropolitan cities. As a low carbon emitting, safe and speedy public transport system, metro rail has emerged as a popular mode of transport in many Indian cities. There are currently 13 operational rapid transit (metro) systems in 18 cities of India. As of March 2019, India has 638.91 km (397.00 miles) of operational metro lines and 496 stations. Additionally, more than 500 kilometres of metro lines are under construction.
India is considered to be the fourth largest greenhouse gas emit-ting country in the world, although it’s per capita emissions are less than half of the world’s average. Further, India’s transport sector reportedly accounts for 13% of the country’s energy related CO2 emissions. India needs to have a policy to achieve a sustainable transport system which can improve mobility in Indian cities and at the same time, reduce CO2 emissions.
In support of metro rail
The metro systems are given preference over surface systems as it is believed that a road-based bus system cannot cater to the capacity requirements as efficiently as metro systems. Additionally, metro rails are considered to have higher levels of comfort, speed and efficiency as compared to bus transportation. At the same time, metro rail is very capital intensive. Its construction and high operation cost necessitates financial support from state and central governments, foreign loans, tax exemptions and other subsidies.
It is also said in support of metro rails that the rail-based, mass rapid transit system is separated from all other modes of transport in an urban area. At present, in most of the cases, it is used as an elevated, specified corridor. These systems generally operate at an average speed of 20–35 km/hour.
Another important feature of metro transport is characterised by their high capacity which is around 50,000 to 75,000 passengers per hour for each route. It is also characterised by high frequency of operations. However, it is estimated that the capital cost of construction may be as high as 20–30 times of that of a bus transit system, depending on whether the metro systems are underground or elevated.
Is it low carbon value emitting?
The experience of metro railway in low and middle income countries around the world shows otherwise (Mohan, D. 2008, “Mythologies, Metro Rail Systems and Future Urban” Transport, Economic and Political Weekly (EPW) 43). It is found from studies that due to the induced demand, the available road space fills up with motorised vehicles and the modal shift to metro does not result in the reduction of congestion or air pollution. A study (Randhawa, P. (2012), “Delhi metro Rail - Beyond Mass Transit”, (EPW, 47), found that its operation has not led to a reduction in pollution levels in the city.
A study done by the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) on pollution levels in Delhi illustrates that in 2001 (Delhi Metro started in 2002), the annual average level of respiratory suspended particulate matter (RSPM, or PM10) in residential areas stood at 149 microgram per cubic metre. After registering a drop in 2005, the level rose to 209 microgram per cubic metre in 2008. The concentration is approximately three times higher than safe levels. Similarly, the eight-hourly maximum current level of carbon monoxide (CO) is touching 6,000 microgram per cubic metre, way above the safe level of 2,000 microgram per cubic metre. But the annual levels have registered a drop.
A case study on metro rail in India by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) in June 2014 found metro rail to be most favourable in Delhi in terms of saving time only if the trips are 10 kilometres or longer. This is due to the limited coverage of the city by rail-based systems as opposed to road-based bus systems which are more comprehensively spread across the city. A metro commuter spends significant time during access (from origin to metro station) and during egress (metro station to destination). Although the metro railway system has several weaknesses, it has been considered as a free size transport solution in Indian metros.