Who will Metro link to Hyderabad Airport benefit at Large?

The government of Telangana is in an early stage of planning for Hyderabad Airport metro express between Riadurg and Shamshabad in Phase 2 of Metro transit developments. The potential alignment of the proposed airport metro route between Raidurg and Airport via ORR is shown below.

By Srikanth Peddibhotla  Published on  25 Nov 2020 4:27 AM GMT
Who will Metro link to Hyderabad Airport benefit at Large?

Hyderabad: The government of Telangana is in an early stage of planning for Hyderabad Airport metro express between Riadurg and Shamshabad in Phase 2 of Metro transit developments. The potential alignment of the proposed airport metro route between Raidurg and Airport via ORR is shown below.

Source: themetrorailguy.com

As per the various sources available on the internet, this project is expected to cost approximately Rs 5000 cr of taxpayers' money and will consist of 27 km elevated, 1 km on the ground, and 2.5 km underground sections. Extending the existing blue line that ends at Raidurg Metro Station near Raheja Mindspace IT Park it will have stations at Biodiversity Junction, Nanakramguda, Narsingi, TS Police Academy, Rajendranagar, Shamshabad, Airport Cargo Terminal & RGIA Terminal.

However, unlike Phase 1, this project will be funded fully by the State Government, and by that I mean we, the taxpayers. "Why?" you ask. Because L&T, the private infrastructure construction company that built approximately 69 Kms of Metro route in Phase 1, is losing hundreds of crores of money year on year. In FY 19-20, when the last corridor connecting Raidurg Station was commenced at the end of last year, the total daily ridership had peaked around 4 lakhs per day, with 40K more expected to increase due to Raidurg Station being operational, which I guess is "very close" to the original estimate of 17 lakh daily ridership in the original DPR. Naturally, L&T incurred a loss of Rs 377 cr in FY 19-20, and they are not fools to bet again on Phase

2. Well I don't (yet) blame the so-called "expert" consultants who made the DPR, the fault lies with us, the common Hyderabadi. We don't take the metro enough to even breakeven the investments, forget the profits!

With GHMC 2020 elections round the corner and, I, as a taxpayer and a voter, wanted to deep dive into the feasibility of this new Airport Metro Express project and understand its benefits to a common Hyderabadi and share my findings with you all. However, what I don't want is to dwell on the reasons for the low ridership of Phase 1 routes in this article, I'll reserve that for the next one.

Let's start with the basic question. Do we really need an Airport Metro Express?

As per this news article, daily airport passenger traffic in 2019 was an average of 60,000 with a 20% 4-year CAGR. Assuming Hyderabad maintains the same growth rate, the future trends of daily airport passenger traffic is predicted to be something like this

Let's assume 50% of the people arrive & 50% depart from the airport. Which means, around 2.5 lakh daily ridership in one direction by 2030.Let's have a conservative estimate that it will take 10 years from today to build this Airport line. So by 2030, we expect close to 5 Lakh daily passenger traffic in Hyderabad Airport, which will be served by this airport line.

To the naive & innocent reader, it may appear that this is a lot of daily traffic which definitely requires a metro. Let's deep dive and analyze these numbers with some reasonable assumptions.

  • Not all passengers live on the west/northwest of Hyderabad. The people living in Central & East Hyderabad may prefer to take the PVNR expressway (or some other routes) to reach the airport. Some people living in the south, near Shamshabad, and not in close proximity to the metro route will also prefer to take cabs/private vehicles. Let's use an aggressive estimate that 60% will take airport metro express. i.e 1.5 lakh daily passengers.

  • Of these 1.5 lakh North-West and West Hyderabadis, not all will take a metro. Let's use an aggressive estimate that 80% of the residents in this region will take the metro to reach the airport. So, roughly 1.2 lakh passengers.

  • Let's add a few thousands of airport employees not living near & around the airport to the mix and say 1.25 lakh.

  • Your time of the airport trip is decided by the flight time, unlike the morning & evening office rush hours. The flights operate from 4 am till 12 am i.e roughly 20 hours. Simple math says (1.25 lakh/ 20 hours), every hour roughly 6250 people would commute in one direction (to or from the airport) in 2030 in the airport metro line.

  • The region along ORR falls under Himayat Sagar and Osman Sagar conservation zones, and we don't expect rampant urbanization in that area in a decade. Anyway, let's go ahead add a few more hundreds of office commuters per hour residing along the route that want to take the metro and round it up to a peak of 7500 people per hour per direction (PPHPD) during office rush hours.
  • Mathematically, a metro has a carrying capacity (measured as passengers per hour per direction or PPHPD) up to 40,000 - 80,000 PPHPD, whereas a Bus Rapid Transit System (BRTS) can range anywhere from 5,000 to 35,000 PPHPD (Bogota, Colombia) depending on how efficient the system is designed and implemented.

    Metro as a transport option is technically suitable and financially viable & sustainable only when it can cater to a high peak rush hour twice a day, and steady high traffic throughout the day.

    Let's come back to my basic question again. Do we really need an Airport Metro Express, or can an efficient BRTS be a viable and much cheaper solution?

    Of course, I'll have to admit that the above estimates are rough guesstimates and back of the napkin calculations. I'll be more than happy to be proven wrong by the State Government with the data & assumptions backing the need for a metro. I hope as a voter and taxpayer, you also discuss these points with your local leader. Rs 5,000 cr can as well be prioritized on issues that are more important to you.

    Also, many assumptions by the government need to be taken with a pinch of salt, like will Hyderabad really keep the growth momentum of 20% 4-year CAGR for the next 12 years?

    The next question is around the technical aspects of airport metro express. Are they planning & designing it right?

    27 km of the elevated viaduct is expensive and consumes hundreds of tons of concrete. It is not a climate-friendly option, and such large projects should try to optimize the design if and when possible. Let's try to answer a basic question, when and why do we need to be elevated anything? A simple answer is to avoid frequent obstructions on the path and have a continuous uninterrupted path.

    source: twitter

    Above are the aerial shots of ORR. Do you see any obstruction at the median? Do we really need an elevated metro here? Can something cheaper be built at grade level with say 10 ft high metal fence/mesh all along? Perhaps a dedicated lane for BRTS should suffice, isn't it?

    Additionally, ORR is a superhighway, with wide service roads. It has not been designed & built originally to support the metro, because it requires compact, dense, and pedestrian-friendly access streets and last-mile connectivity infrastructure which is lacking, and may not be feasible to implement around ORR. I'm just hoping the designers & planners do a good job of ensuring accessibility to the station. Unfortunately, the current state of the low ridership of Phase 1 that goes through highly dense inner-city areas is mainly attributed to the lack of last-mile connectivity options. I have no hope nor confidence that we can do any better for this airport metro express route.

    The next question is whether the benefits of this mega project are equitable or not. Who and how many benefit from this?

    It is obvious that the economic condition of the people who can afford air travel is better than those who can't afford it. If I take an extremely aggressive estimate, they reside in the top one-third of the pyramid. So, a project this expensive that doesn't benefit the two-thirds of the pyramid can be questioned on the equitability aspect of spending taxpayers' money.

    And talking about that one-third who would probably use this service, honestly, how many times in a year does one travel on an average? The overall impact of the benefit at an individual level, irrespective of the economic condition, is going to go unnoticed. Instead, the same amount of money used to solve the daily commute of lakhs of Hyderabadis within the city will give a bigger bang for the buck for many of us. We still have large parts of the city that is not covered with public transport routes - metro or bus.

    Airport passengers will grow 20% 4-year CAGR only when the city population grows equally or more than that. The existing traffic of Hi-Tech City, Madhapur, Gachibowli areas is already at its peak and in a few years it will come to standstill. Wouldn't it be good if the government prioritizes metro connectivity to more work centers located in these areas like DLF Cyber City & the Financial District?

    A simple re-alignment of the currently planned route (shown in blue with red cross marks) can cover more work centers of both DLF CyberCity & Financial District in a more efficient way. The new proposed route is Raidurg metro station (opp Raheja Mindspace), Mindspace road, Ramky towers/Rolling Hills, DLF road, ISB Road, and ends at ORR intersection. It also has an added advantage of extending it further to Kokapet in the next or current phase, which is the upcoming urban growth center.

    Is this project really going to offer me a convenient option to travel to the airport?

    Airport passengers usually have big bags, sometimes travel in groups of two or more, can easily afford a cab up to the airport for convenience and may hence prefer to use cabs instead of taking the pain to reach the metro station specifically in odd hours like early morning or late nights. The non-existent last-mile connectivity to the nearest metro station, hassle and inconvenience of carrying bags in a crowded coach, changing multiple modes of transport through the trip (Rickshaw, cab or bus to metro station), the marginal cost difference between metro tickets for a family of four vs hiring a cab, etc, these are some of the factors that may sway the passenger away from taking the metro to the airport. Personally, I'd rather pay extra to get the extra convenience for a rare or less frequently occurring event.

    Having said that, I'm not at all denying the need for public transport to the airport. I'm merely questioning if the metro in its current planned form is the right one. Can we do better, and cheaper? BRTS?

    What are the negative outcomes of this project?

    I can only imagine the nightmares of the commuters around the Raidurg Metro station/Biodiversity junction area when hundreds of cabs line up to drop off or pick up passengers residing in the western & north-western suburban areas of Hyderabad if that happens to be their nearest metro airport express station. Essentially, a lot of existing cab traffic heading to the airport will get redirected & attracted to that area.

    What's the point I'm trying to make?

    City & State governments do have the responsibility to plan ahead for a 20-year time horizon. Unfortunately, since we are already 20 years behind, we have to clear the backlog first, address current city infrastructure problems like making Metro Phase 1 financially sustainable by increasing ridership by including more work centers to its route and increasing last-mile connectivity to existing metro stations and increase the metro coverage within the city area before we embark on a long & expensive project that is clearly not equitable and will not really address the traffic problems within the city.

    Unfortunately, the City and State Governments are really short-sighted and believe they can solve the traffic problems by building more roads and flyovers, to the extent that it becomes the showcase of "good" development work done by them during the elections. These regressive urban development policies are only going to hurt Hyderabad, not now, but in the long run in the future. And then it will be too late and expensive to fix the mistakes that we made today or the choices we didn't make today. The real price will be paid by us, the common Hyderabadi.

    Hyderabad's growth is largely attributed to the IT industry, and all the political leaders acknowledge it. However, during election time they forget the very people who are primary earners for the city and state, who slog hours behind computers, churning out code and exporting world-class software. They forget who buys expensive cars, apartments, villas and increase the real estate prices for the landowners. IT workers of Hyderabad are like cash cows that are milked to the last drop by Bankers, Builders & the Government but are forgotten at the times of elections and policy decisions that could make their daily lives better. Poor people are offered freebies. What is the bread earner of the city offered?

    Whether one accepts or not, the fact of the matter is that the modern and blooming economy of India is built by exporting the zeros and ones by the tech industry. Its workers deserve a bit more attention and political power than what it gets today.

    Well, to be honest, it's our fault ("our" because I also belong to the group of IT junta). The IT junta of Hyderabad don't vote, don't demand, don't question, and don't come out to streets (well yeah, they do, but are stuck in never ending traffic). We are happy with whatever is thrown at us. Don't be. Get out and Vote!

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