Ajinkya Patel had waited for nearly two hours to find some sort of transportation to take him from Chandni Chowk in central Kolkata to New Town in the east. He had been refused by yellow cabs, and was daunted by overflowing buses taking office-goers home as well as high surge rates offered by cab aggregators such as Uber. Only the under-construction East-West Metro corridor could have come to his rescue.

 

But, how many years Ajinkya would have to wait to reach his destination with a quick, painless Metro ride is anybody’s guess. Delay, hurdle, limbo, stuck… these are all catchphrases associated with the numerous Metro projects that were promised to come as a boon for congested Kolkata’s harried commuter.

 

Compared to other big cities in the country, Kolkata’s urban transportation story can bring tears to the eyes. Just 6% of this massive, ever-growing city’s surface area is roads. The well-heeled in Kolkata buy cars every day, adding to the load on the jammed streets.

 

“The average vehicle speed in the city is 10-15 kmph. Compared to that the speed of the Metro is 70 to 80 kmph. So, a distance of 15km, which would take about an hour and a half or two hours to complete by road, would take 15-20 minutes by Metro. Mass rapid transport systems are the only solution,” said Shreya Das, freelance urban planning consultant.

What the city really needs is an integrated traffic management system, which one sees in cities such as Amsterdam, Berlin or Paris, where a single card would suffice for transportation such as buses, trams, Metro, long distance buses and so on.

The Kolkata Metro was the first in the country and began in 1984. “As the first Metro in the country, one would have expected that the planning for Metro in this city would have been better. The London Metro is about 150 years old. About 30 years after it started, it had three subterranean levels, so that simultaneously one could access three routes from one station.

 

“The Moscow Metro is the deepest as it has eight-odd tiers. The New York Metro too has several levels of operation. These Metro systems were planned extensively. So you have many tiers there for several routes. The Kolkata Metro system, however, is one-dimensional. I would be very happy if the urban developers here incorporated at least three tiers into the system,” said Anindya Basu, Kolkata-based urban designer.

 

But the years have rolled on by and all one sees are massive concrete structures marring the Kolkata skyline with the moss greying on their sides. Almost every Metro project in the city — there are five — is mired in land acquisition problems.

 

The state government has recently expressed its concern over the delay in projects. Bengal’s principal secretary (transport) Alapan Bandyopadhyay has written to the general manager of Metro railway asking for more initiative to overcome the stumbling blocks and put the projects on the fast track.

 

Read more: Public grievances that Namma Metro should address soon

 

The five projects are to come up at a total cost of ₹12,236.21 crore, while the expenditure till March 2015 has been ₹ 2,109.95 crore only. Almost all the projects were sanctioned in 2010-11. There have been many promises of completion and many deadlines breached. The dream of smooth travel inside the city remains a dream.

 

Basu told Asianet Newsable, “What the city really needs is an integrated traffic management system, which one sees in cities such as Amsterdam, Berlin or Paris, where a single card would suffice for transportation such as buses, trams, Metro, long distance buses and so on.

 

“This card has the database of the entire city transport systems mapped on it. This system is hugely convenient. The revenue generated is shared. No city in India has this system although many would be eligible. Delhi would be the first candidate. Kolkata has a very good footprint of public transportation as we have buses, trams, autos, the Metro, circular rail, the suburban railways and so on. But, unfortunately, nothing is integrated.”