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Exclusive Interview with Mr. Loknath Behera, MD, KMRL

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Metro Rail News conducted an email interview with Mr. Loknath Behera, MD, Kochi Metro Rail Corporation Ltd. In the interview Mr. Behera talked about Kochi Metro Rail and why it requires inter-modal transportation and integration of travel through use of technology.

Mr. Lokanath Behera is a retired I.P.S. officer. He was State Police Chief and Director General of Police (DGP) of the Kerala State Police. He was one of the founding members of the National Investigation Agency (NIA). Behera joined the service as the ASP in Alappuzha and served as ACP (Kochi city), SP (Kannur), commandant of KAP-4 Battalion, commissioner (Kochi city), IG (police HQ), ADGP (modernisation), DGP (prisons) and DGP (Fire and Rescue Services). He was also instrumental in modernizing the Kerala police, equipping it with modern vehicles and state-of-the-art small arms and non-lethal weaponry. He was reappointed as Managing Director of Kochi Metro on 28 August 2021 by the Government of Kerala.

Here are the edited excerpts: –

Kochi Metro, already a high-tech transport system, is planned to be developed as the most advanced Metro System of the country. What other world class amenities commuters are expected to get in Kochi Metro apart from one being availed now?

Any metro system like Kochi Metro Rail requires inter-modal transportation and integration of travel through use of technology. Kochi is a unique city where all types of transport can be envisaged which inter-alia include the Water Transport by using its backwaters and canals. Kochi Metro is using advanced technologies in integrating all the transport services like auto rickshaws/public transport buses/ taxis/ water Metros and the Metro Rails. We are also introducing Robotics. The use of analytics and artificial intelligence are also in the pipeline. We are experimenting in providing high speed internet inside metro trains. Similarly, we will be having paperless ticketing by the end of this year. The spare pairs of internet cables pairs; more than 40 in number, will be used effectively giving various facilities to the commuters and non commuters. We will also be launching the first online radio for any metro company in the country. Our aim is to ensure that using high technology, we become closer to the people and people should come closer to the metro through technology. 

There have been reports regarding Kochi Metro running in losses. What is the official statement? Is there any plan under execution to make the metro System financially self-reliant in future?

Yes. Like most of the metros we do suffer from operational losses. In the year 2020-21 we made a loss of Rs.60 crore which we brought down to Rs. 37 crores in the last financial year (2021-22). Our efforts are to make it zero in the next one and a half years. Not only we have to increase the ridership but also to generate alternate revenue by various programmes and advertisements etc. We are going heavily for digital advertisements. In the meantime, we are also going to build a city inside the city called ‘Bliss City’ with the state-of-the-art technology which will give us continuous and constant revenue. Every marketable space inside & outside station available is being awarded / licensed for starting Kiosks. We are in the process of reducing the operational loss to zero by 2023-24. Our ridership in 365 days should increase to 365 lakhs and we are trying for that.

Please tell us something about the Kochi Water Metro Project. What is the present status of the project? How is the project going to benefit a vast majority of commuters in the city?

Kochi is a unique city having Road, Rail, Metro and Water Transport. Water Metro is one of the most uniquely conceived and designed projects. The Water Metro Project is of Rs 819 crore and will have a network of 15 routes that span 76 km. A fleet of 78 fast, electrically propelled hybrid ferries Boats) ply on these routes from 38 jetties operated by Kochi Water Metro Limited (KWML). These boats will connect 1 Islands to the mainland, Kochi.

Kochi has become India’s first city to have a Water Metro Project after the launch of its first boat in December 2021, named ‘Muziris,’ among the 23 battery-powered electric hybrid boats with 100 passenger capacity being manufactured by Cochin Shipyard Limited. Integrating the sea, road, and rail with a multimodal transport system into a single platform will be one of the major achievements through Water Metro.

A Sea-Link like that in Mumbai is already there in Kochi known as the Goshree Project. It connects various important islands. Of course, if the Water Metro system operates more efficiently, which we expect, there will not be a requirement to construct more extensive and costly bridges. Moreover, water transport is sustainable, green, and efficient.

We are making efforts to start commercial operation by August/Sept. 2022. The islanders in 11 islands surrounding Kochi will be the biggest beneficiaries.

Amidst rising pollution and increasing traffic most of the cities are trying for a multi-modal transport system which can ease the pressure of motorized vehicles on roads. What is the overall development for the Kochi city region in this regard?  

It is our earnest effort to start the Water Metro operations in a staggered manner from the month of September 2022 with 5 boats, 5 terminals, 5 routes. Subsequently, smaller boats of 50 passenger capacity also will be introduced. Kochi Metro has started a Non-motorised Transport project in which modern footpaths / traffic islands / cycle tracks etc. are made to encourage non-motorised pollution free transport. In the days to come, around another Rs.100 crores will be spent in this direction by the KMRL. We are also procuring 10 hydrogen propelled buses and 15 electric buses in addition to the 9 Electric buses already we are having.

Our biggest endeavour is to integrate all the public transport systems (taxi, auto rickshaw / buses / by-cycles/ / Water Metro boats / metro by using technology so that a commuter must buy one ticket virtually and travel in any mode of public transport. The Cochin Smart Mission is also helping us. We are also coming out with integrated transport hubs in the city of Kochi. If everything goes right, Kochi will be show-cased as the model transport city of the country.

How would the Integrated Public Transport System being developed for the Kochi city region be different and an improvement over other transport systems of the country? How are you planning to manage the fare integration?

To begin with, KMRL has been instrumental in re-shaping the mobility culture of the city. Providing seamless, affordable, accessible, and equitable mobility solutions to the citizens remains our priority. Kochi is unique in its geographical advantage of having almost all modes of transport confluencing here., be it road, rail, water, and air. While this is of great importance and advantage, therein also lies the challenge. With connectivity, especially the first and the last mile, being extremely important for our operational success, KMRL is taking a leadership role in achieving it. The soon to be operational water metro is a unique integrated inter modal mobility option, first of its type in the country. KMRL is also providing the much-needed feeder connectivity to CIAL, Info Park and other areas improving both connectivity and ridership numbers by widening our catchment area. These buses being EV, emit 48% less CO2 when compared to ICE buses, substantially reducing the carbon footprint of our operations. We will soon be launching electric three-wheeler autos in the stations providing green last mille/para transit options. KMRL has also invested in non motorised transport, improving walkability near its stations and providing bike sharing options. We have also allowed cycles to be taken in the metro coaches free of cost in tune with our policy of encouraging sustainable transport modes.

For an integrated multi modal transport system to work, there must be integration at physical, operational, information and fare level. Fare integration of multi modal transport especially with existing conventional modes is always a challenge, but we are working towards it. The Kochi Open Mobility Network, the first of its kind in the nation, provides an interesting platform to achieve this.

What are the main objectives of IURWTS? In what ways it is going to help the people of the city. Is there any integration between IURWTS and Kochi Water Metro Project?

Integrated Urban Regeneration and Water Transport System (IURWTS)

Kochi Metro Rail Limited (KMRL) has been entrusted with the task of regeneration and rejuvenation of 6 canals in Cochin City and bring back these canals to its erstwhile glory under the IURWTS Project. The six canals proposed to be taken up under the project are: Edappally Canal (11.23 km), Thevara –Perandoor Canal (9.88 km), Chilavanoor Canal (11.15 km), Thevara Canal (1.41 km), Market Canal (0.66 km) and Konthuruthy canal (0.67 km). 

At present all the canals are highly silted and polluted by domestic waste, commercial waste, construction waste, weeds growth and other sources. As part of the project, the following activities are to be carried out:

Cleaning of Canals

Dredging & Widening

Bank Protection

Reconstruction of Cross Structures and Foot Over Bridges

Sanitary Sewer Line & STPs

Sanitation Facilities

Boat Terminals

The main objectives of the project are as follows:

Flood mitigation and flood plain management. 

Canal bank development which includes beautifications, walkways, recreation, and tourism. 

Enhance sewerage network, establish 4 sewage treatment plants, and provide sanitation facilities to the inhabitants of the project catchment and restrict dumping of waste, control encroachments, stop sewage mixing, etc. 

Improve intermodal connectivity with the Rail Metro and Water Metro by way of restoration of canals. 

Providing necessary infrastructure for navigation facilities and vessels. 

Integration with Metro Rail and Water Metro:

It is proposed to integrate the Edappally canal to the Cheranellor and Eroor Water Metro Jetties.

Also, it is proposed to integrate the IURWTS Canals at Edappally – Chembumukku – Elamkulam Metro Stations. 

What are the major efforts towards reducing carbon footprints for the transport system being developed in Kochi City Region? What have been the significant accomplishments?

Transportation is the fastest growing major contributor to global climate change, accounting for 23% of energy-related carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions. Introduction of Kochi metro railway in Kochi city has reduced carbon dioxide emission caused by the modal shift from high-carbon modes and the CO2 benefits of transit-oriented development along the metro rail alignment.

KMRL has made various efforts towards reducing carbon footprints in the city of Kochi, few of them being following projects:

a.           large network of public bike systems connected to it as feeder service. 

b. E-auto rickshaws at stations for first and last mile connectivity.

c. Electric buses at terminal station as first/last mile connectivity towards the airport.

d. Connection to the water metro system thus an integrated multi modal system with less carbon footprint.

e. Water conserving and reusing public transport systems with rainwater harvesting systems in all stations and recycling of water in few places.

f. Generation of solar power for the operation of the metro system in its infrastructure. We use 60% of our power requirement.

g. Footpaths of international standards around the transport system to make it accessible to the public in a sustainable way.

h. Women friendly transport system with women in all stations as front-line workers and availability of amenities like breastfeeding pods.

I. Energy efficient technologies and machinery utilized in the transport system and related systems.

Bicycle docking stations were installed in all metro stations for the public bike system. Almost 1000 bicycles have been deployed in the 25km metro system with major 22 metro stations as hubs and other important public spaces. Footpaths and cycle-paths around the metro stations for easy accessibility were constructed by KMRL. To utilize E-autos as feeder vehicles, electric charging units were installed in major stations. 

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