Complaints have piled up in the past couple of months against app-based ridesharing companies for cancellations. After offering a way for commuters to overcome their dependence on metered taxi operators -- be it taxis or auto rickshaws – cab aggregators have become as bad in terms of service if not worse.
The way out for app-based operators is not yet clear, but the complaints definitely put the back on the core issue of connectivity from airports or rather the lack of it -- especially on the public transport front.
Most global airports -- from Singapore’s Changi to London’s Heathrow -- have metro connectivity to the airports, In India, except Delhi, no other Indian airport offers metro connectivity. The one in Delhi was limited to Terminal 3 until recently.
Metro rail networks are being planned across multiple cities, which already have an airport or in the middle of airport expansion or in some cases planning to build a new airport, yet in most cases, the metro lines and the airport do not converge.
It seems as if the airports were never to be covered as part of the metro network. The Kolkata metro -- the oldest such rail network in India -- was completed in the 1980s, yet until now the airport is not connected with the metro.
Maximum struggle for new airports
Both Bengaluru and Hyderabad got their new airports in 2008. Five years earlier, Delhi Metro Rail Corporation (DMRC) was commissioned to prepare a feasibility report for Bengaluru metro. Two lines were recommended, none of which would connect to the airport.
Many years of delay later, the metro has been operational, but little has moved to connect the airport with a dedicated metro. As Bengaluru airport expands, it continues to rely on expensive cab rides to the airport; with passengers stuck in traffic and a wary eye on the watch to see if they would make it in time for the flight.
The airport luckily has better bus connectivity with dedicated airport routes, unlike many other cities. But a bus route via the arterial city centre of Bengaluru does not provide any solace from traffic.
Hyderabad’s metro was operationalised in 2017, nine years after the airport, but a route to the airport is still in the works. The 11.6-kilometre P V Narasimha Rao elevated road is the only alternative for a quick trip to Hyderabad city from the airport, which itself is in expansion mode and expected to reach a capacity of 34 million passengers per year by next year.
Airport connectivity not in the metro plan
The last couple of years has seen the government speed up metro connectivity in many cities. Mumbai - the second largest airport in the country, has had a controversial metro, but the airport is still not on the map, not yet!
Likewise, metros are in operation or on the verge of inauguration in Kochi, Jaipur, Bhopal, Varanasi, Pune and Patna, where there is no immediate plan to connect the airport to the metro network.
All these places have cultural, religious, tourism or business significance.
A few exceptions and future-ready
Lucknow metro’s red line starts at the airport, one of the few examples of airport and metro connectivity being part of the plan.
Chennai and Nagpur have airport metro stations but the planning has not exactly been ideal. The distance between Nagpur airport’s terminal and the metro station is over a kilometre away, likewise for Chennai.
The airports are working with the metro authorities for a feeder network with electric vehicles or buses.
Metros in Indore, Vizag and Coimbatore have plans to connect to the airports in the city as part of their initial metro lines but the rail network is still some time away and most of the infrastructure projects in the country have been delayed because of COVID-19.
Jewar airport is slated to open with a metro station in its forecourt.
Viability a concern
When the Delhi Metro’s airport line opened, it was operated by Reliance Infrastructure Ltd – an Anil Dhirubhai Ambani Group (ADAG) company. Reliance Infra started operation of the Delhi Airport Metro line -- which connected to Delhi Metro’s network in New Delhi and Dwarka Sector 21, was termed financially unviable by the private operator, leading to Delhi Metro Rail Corporation (DMRC) taking over the line and reducing ticket prices to attract more passengers.
There are two views about airport metros -- one which talks about a dedicated line like in New Delhi, where the rakes are customised to carry air passengers’ luggage.
The other is to have the airport station as part of a larger metro network, where the line is viable without having separate rakes.
The bottomline would matter, but the convenience, security and cost of metro rail offers a bigger advantage than any other mode of transport. It is high time that airports and metro planning authorities act in sync to put in place a viable solution at a time when the aviation ecosystem is looking at becoming net zero on the carbon emissions front