Friday, April 29, 2016

Bengaluru's connectivity is on the cusp of a tectonic shift

During peak hour, crowd-levels in Metro train systems in Japan become unmanageable such that they employ what are known as ‘train pushers’ to pack in as many commuters inside the compartments. Closer home, the Delhi Metro has always been synonymous with coaches packed with commuters, much like sardines in a tin can.

Bengaluru’s Namma Metro could very well be the anti-thesis to the above two examples. For, this describes best the public patronage that it has elicited by far.

Be it during peak-/ non-peak hours; public holidays or weekends, crowds on the Namma Metro have always been sparse. The trains on its nascent network run virtually empty most of the time. Nothing short of an outlandish gimmick, including hiring the ‘pushers’ from Japan, could draw the crowds here.

Now this is a situation that is virtually begging to be expressed in the form of anecdotes, or even trolled at. Consider, for instance: a betting racket might hedge on the beleaguered businessman Vijay Mallya returning his dues to Indian banks, but not on getting a seat aboard the Namma Metro: it is but a certainty.

Many reasons can be attributed to the scenario, foremost among which include the incessant delays that have characterized Namma Metro’s implementation; and its network’s poor reach across Bengaluru. But we digress.

Don’t get me wrong; not for a moment am I implying the need for crowds in Namma Metro. As its daily user from Indiranagar to M G Road it comes as a matter of relief to me that I have no need to jostle with one another. That I can travel without being forced to inhale my fellow-commuter’s deodorant or the lack of it. That I can gracefully offer my seat to a senior citizen and shift to another. That I can escape from the chaos that is the roads of Bengaluru to a state of total bliss. That I can take a selfie with the Utility Building as backdrop as I whistle past the choked traffic junctions at Ulsoor and Trinity Circle underneath.

With greater footfalls comes the dreaded G-word, garbage — undeniably the bane of public spaces in our nation. It must be said that Namma Metro comes up trumps on this count, by showing the way for the maintenance of spotlessly clean public spaces. For those of us who have never visited lounges at international airports, the stations of Namma Metro should serve as template – and that is being kind to the airport lounges.

Let us also remember that this was much before Swachh Bharat became a buzzword and entered our drawing-room conversations. Walk into its restrooms and let the nostrils welcome a whiff of freshness that symbolizes frequent cleaning. Dustbins are provided at every conceivable nook and cranny. Look up, and you would see that even its roofs are subject to a rigorous cleaning schedule. In all my travels on the Namma Metro, I haven’t seen a single person opening a packet of edibles, or even a water bottle. Clearly, Namma Metro’s emphasis on cleanliness is a runaway hit.

This means that my experiences with Namma Metro by far have been bitter-sweet: while they have not yet been able to connect me to vital areas of the city, and that includes the IT hubs or the transport hub of Majestic, they have at the least been able to let me experience the ‘nirvana’ of public commuting. For that I would not grudge them one bit.

But here’s the catch: Much as we may detest them, crowds are the true barometer of any public utility. And for all its talk of being a mode of public transport, Namma Metro has been nothing but a glorified toy train. Go ahead, make that comparison with the ‘Puttani Express’, the toy-train at Bal Bhavan inside Cubbon Park.

Come April 14, and all that will change, when the Purple Line of Namma Metro —from Mysore Road to Byappanahalli via an underground stretch that criss-crosses Majestic, Central College and Cubbon Park — will become operational in its entirety. Which translates into commuter-count ramping up manifold.

Suddenly, the trip to Majestic — that perennially congested area where buses of all hues and kinds swarm to — or Mysuru Road will be a breeze. Commuters need not vent frustration at the bottlenecks at Richmond Circle or Nayandahalli. Given an option, who would not want to whizz past such areas?

Something inside me also tells that my bitter-sweet experience with the Namma Metro will remain
just that. I may be getting access to vital links in the city, but peaceful travel? Forget train pushers, the crowds will do that automatically.

Behold, Bangaloreans who reminisce about a city of the glorious past, my empathy for you just went up enormously.