Rise of the Metro-polis

The Impact of Urban Transit Systems on India’s Biggest Cities

Rise of the Meto-polis

Bangalore, India’s IT juggernaut long hamstrung by infrastructural inefficiencies, is poised to start fulfilling its potential as a world-class metropolis, as the second phase of the Namma Bengaluru metro promises to connect the city’s crowded center with its high-growth suburbs. Upon completion, the metro will be India’s second largest, with 116 kilometers of track serving the city’s north, south, east and west and 12 million inhabitants. If paired with an intelligent approach to development and government policies that augment the effectiveness of metro networks, Namma Bengaluru can be the city’s ticket to a sustainable high-growth future.

A wealth of city-planning research world-wide has demonstrated that the benefits of well-functioning Metro and urban transit system doesn’t just lead to efficient mobility, but significantly improves productivity, economic growth, and long-term expansion while having a tremendous impact on quality of life, like safety/health, environmental conditions, and cost of living. In this article we analyze all these factors holistically, considering not just international case studies, but also the unique local conditions in Bangalore, and by extension many of the metropolitan areas of India.

When the Metro Comes to Town

Metros have become a staple of fast-developing cities worldwide, and with good reason. A well-functioning metro ecosystem has been shown to cause a reduction in traffic congestion, lessened air pollution, and city-wide economic growth. It also reduces accident mortality on the road. The size of these effects is dependent on both the scale of the metro network and on the effectiveness of supporting policies (like bus feeder routes).

These effects come out of the often underemphasized benefits that a well-connected city has to offer. When goods, services, and people are able to flow quickly from one section of a metropolis to another, the city’s economy sees increased competition, a larger labor force, and decreased transaction costs, all of which are beneficial to the overall growth trajectory. It also allows for more fluid and sustainable city planning, as areas of future expansion are easily connected to the city’s center as and when they develop.

From London to Tokyo, well-planned and executed metro systems have had a reliable impact of increasing land prices in the areas surrounding the metro corridor, the natural result of increased economic activity, infusion of fresh capital, and convenience of residential life. The metro also tends to see an indirect increase prices in a wider area around each station, as vacant lots are developed into office buildings and shopping malls to match the new demand. The level of appreciation varies based on the micro-market in question, but can be astronomical, with Mumbai’s micro-market of Andheri East witnessing appreciation of 638% in the fourteen years between Mumbai’s metro being proposed and the line being made operational.

The Bangalore Metro

Bangalore’s metro, like many rapid transit networks, has its origins in the city’s incredible economic growth and accompanying rapid development. As the early part of the 21st century saw a sleepy retirement town transform into India’s premier IT hub, the need for creating a modern metropolis, with proper connectivity and planning, became readily apparent. The metro was approved by the Union Cabinet in 2006, and Phase One was formally launched in 2017.

Bangalore is, in many ways, the perfect location for a comprehensive metro network. The city has seen its population quadruple over the past quarter-century, with much of that growth coming in the form of highly-skilled professionals who are looking to live in a world-class metropolis. The city was recently ranked the second-most dynamic metropolis in the world, losing last year’s top spot to nearby Hyderabad.

Despite this astronomical growth – and in many ways, due to it – the city’s infrastructure has not been able to keep up with the pace of change. The city continues to attract the biggest organizations, the top talent, and most importantly, large amounts of investment, a trend that is projected to gather even more momentum over the next few years. Unfortunately its growth seems to be its own worst enemy, with public facilities struggling to catch up and seriously affecting the quality of life, efficiency of operations, and consequently, overall market attractiveness for investors and residents alike. While it might be impossible to tell if Bangalore stands at the tipping point, it is at a crossroads nonetheless given the globally interconnected nature of today’s economy that threatens Bangalore’s status as the upcoming star investment destination of Asia-Pacific.

Reflecting the urgency of these requirements, Bangalore Metro Rail Corporation Ltd (BMRCL) has actually been meeting its operation costs on the back of 400,000 or so rides a day, a number that is only expected to increase with time. The Metro has fared especially well in downtown areas like Church Street, Koramangala, and Indiranagar, where a youthful, tech-oriented workforce has taken to catching a ride on the metro.

Scheduled to be completed in 2022, Phase Two is expected to further reduce the demand on the city’s overcrowded streets, especially with regard to the tech suburbs of Whitefield and Electronic City. These areas, which are among the fastest-growing micro-markets in all of Asia, are home to around half a million IT professionals, who frequently travel to and from the city center.

Towards Sustainable Development

However the metro, by itself, will not decongest the city – it is not a magic bullet, but the cornerstone of a truly modern, future-facing metropolis. In order for a rapid transit system on the scale of Namma Bengaluru to succeed, it requires a series of support mechanisms and favorable development policies.

One key component will be the integration and interplay between the metro and Bangalore’s other primary mass transportation system, the public bus. The BTMC’s network of buses is an order of magnitude larger than the metro, carrying around 5,200,000 riders each day. Bangalore’s government will need to make sure that bus routes are synced up with metro lines, and will also need to create a series of feeder bus routes that give people living several kilometers away from a metro station easy access to the network.

The metro also ought to be paired with intelligent development that maximizes the number of residents around the metro corridors. High-rises, gated communities, and other residential projects need to cluster around each station. These, in turn, will lead to increased commercial developments in the area, as all the new residents will need places to work and shop. Given the breakneck pace of development in Bangalore, this aspect of the metro ecosystem is all but assured.

Over time, these dynamics will create a more sustainable, fluid, and dynamic Bangalore, with workers able to effortlessly commute to the most enticing jobs anywhere in the city. This is especially relevant in light of the decentralized workforce that is coming to dominate the modern economy. The environmental and psychological impact cannot be understated either, as fewer cars on the road, each spending fewer hours in congested jams, all lead to much less pollution, improved health conditions, and a better quality of life.

Taking an even more long-term perspective, the metro is seen world-wide to one day become a central element in a decentralized, technologically advanced transportation network. The rise of Uber and ride-sharing heralds the beginning of an autonomous ecosystem where transportation will not be owned individually, but collectively, either in the hands of corporations or as a public good. In this ecosystem, the metro, networked and responsive, will represent the backbone that holds the city together, while autonomous cars will provide last-mile transit to and from anywhere in the city’s limits.

A Connected Future

The best time to lay the first steps of this vision of a seamlessly interconnected Metro backbone was perhaps 10 years ago, but the next best time is now, and Namma Bengaluru is now here. While the metro may not turn the city around in a night, an examination of successful metro rollouts across the globe reveal a bright future for a rapid-transit-equipped Bangalore – and a healthy profit for investors who get in on the ground floor.

Those looking for their next investment in Bangalore would be wise to examine metro-adjacent property in Whitefield and Electronic City, as well as other fast-growing micro-markets located along the Phase Two corridors. Apartments within walking distance of a metro station and villas within a short driving distance, which are located in areas that have already experienced some buildup, could be an excellent investment in the short to medium term if entered into at the right price. Long term, the metro will empower previously overlooked micro-markets and satellite towns; identifying these and purchasing property before wholesale development commences can be quite lucrative, but requires careful due diligence to get right.

As Bangalore continues its remarkable growth story, the Namma Bengaluru metro promises to play a key role in transforming the boomtown into a sustainable, forward-thinking global metropolis. For investors and Bangaloreans alike, the metro represents a bright, connected future.