After failing to impress Bengaluru with its Steel Bridge project, Bengaluru's administration needs some visible projects to project to the public. It would seem this is the reason why PODS have captured the imagination of Bengaluru District In-Charge Minister KJ George and BBMP Commissioner Manjunath Prasad.  

However, this project is also likely to run into trouble as BBMP commissioner  N Manjunath Prasad has not considered it fit to place the project before 'public consultation'.
 
When asked about its environmental impact and the cost, Manjunath Prasad said, "Bengaluru traffic needs some solution. Although the city has a Metro rail and extensive bus service, it is still not enough. Hence the BBMP has decided to go for POD taxi or Personel Rapid Transit on a pilot basis,"

 "We will not invest a single penny from the BBMP's account, nor we will ask the government to fund. Global tenders have been invited. One among the two companies that have participated in the tender process is US-based. We will wait for some more weeks. If any other firm also wants to express its interest in taking up the project, we will welcome it," he said.
 
The BBMP has consulted a few top engineers and experts, including from the IISC, and found the project to be 'feasible'. The numbers are bit mind-boggling. Each kilometre of this dream will cost Rs 50 crore. Six stretches have been identified -
 

  • MG Road Metro station to Leela Palace (4 km) 
  • Leela Palace Hotel to Marathahalli (6 km) 
  • Marathahalli junction to EPIP junction (6 km) 
  • MG Road Metro Station to Koramangala (7 km)
  • Sony World junction (Koramangala) to Indiranagar Metro Station (6.7 km) 
  • Jayanagar 4th Block to JP Nagar 6th Phase (5.3 km) 

All put together some 35 kilometres will be covered in just eight months, the BBMP claims. 

The plans for the construction are equally optimistic. The project is based on the 'Built, Operate and Transfer' model. In this, the firm that bags the contract will have to come up with the design, finance the project, build and operate the project for a set number of years and then transfer to the project to the BBMP. 

Land acquisition has been the bane of the BBMP for years, and they have decided to bypass that problem by requiring the project to up poles and cables only on the central medians on roads. 
 
The transport system is envisioned as a feeder system to connect the Metro Rail. The project will be powered by a solar plant and 'can be made' 24x7 as well. 
 
"Since we are considering the project without any public funds and using only central medians, there is no necessary for any public consultation. We are convinced this project will be environmentally friendly. If the plans show results it can be replicated in few more junctions,"  said the Commissioner.

All of this in a year? At a time when the Metro's construction might be measured in decades?
 
Experts snub BBMP:
 
Lashing out at the speed with which the BBMP announced the project, MN Shreehari, CEO Consortia of  Infrastructure Engineers and Engineering Consultancy Service, pointed out that the idea originated in the Jagadish Shetter Government in 2012.
 
 "The project and its feasibility were discussed then, and it was found that this is a bad project for Bengaluru. Such a personalised project is mainly for small places and airport terminals. The government was shamed for its Steel Bridge, and now they need some visibility, and hence they are pitching this project. This will be another scam. Instead of PODs, the government must connect every corner of city with the Metro -  which is world class mass transport," he said
 
He also pointed that in a Metro, the carrying capacity with eight bogies is 25,000 passengers per hour. But a POD taxi can carry only 15,000 - as claimed by the BBMP. The quoted figures are doubtful as only eight people can fit in one POD taxi. It is exactly such figures which give the whole project a sense of unreality, possibly even a joke.  
 
As for the BBMP's claim that project was environmentally friendly, there are issues with that as well. 

Noted environmentalist Yellappa Reddy (Former Secretary, Department of Ecology and Environment) pointed out the BBMP POD taxi will kill the trees currently growing on the median. 

"The idea of planting small trees in the median is to arrest dust particles and give some oxygen to motorists. The project has to submit its ecological impact study and cannot be taken up without any public consultation," he said. 

Any project in the public sphere taken up by the civic body should be brought for public consultation and invite objections. Experts in the field of mobility and transport would then analyse the project. "Karnataka Town and Country Planning Act, 1961 will be clearly violated if the project takes off without public consultation," said Srinivas Alavili from Citizen For Bengaluru.
 
Ashish Verma, Associate Professor,  Department of Civil Engineering added that the project's feasibility was highly subject to debate. Citing the Delhi Metro, which reached a saturation point and now another line is required to ease traffic during peak hours,  he said, "Any project that is planned from a transport perspective should have the option of  'add on'. In the first place, the POD is not a mass transport. Can we add extra PODs if required? The economic, environment and safety impact of the project is still not clear," 
 
Projects that put the city administration on the back foot:

 
The BBMP has clearly has not learnt from the past - going ahead with projects that have put them to shame. 

Recently the government cancelled its ambitious Steel Bridge project after strong citizen protests. The project was to connect Central Bengaluru to North Bengaluru from Basaveshwara Circle to Hebbal, covering over 6 km.
 
Similarly, the BBMP's Jayamahal Road widening project at the cost of the environment was put to an end via civic activism. The BBMP wanted to cut over 100 trees, but the public protested and made the BBMP scrap the project.

 In another case, a flyover worth Rs 12 crore from Basanwadi to Old Madras Road has been stuck for the past five years. 

The BBMP has put pillars and slabs on its land by investing crores, but it could not execute the project as the part of the land they require for the project is still pending with the defence sector.
 
The underpass on Cunningham Road, to connect Sankey Road, is yet another example of the engineering department's bizarre ideas. 

The underpass cannot be used during rains, as it floods - perhaps the first consideration before building any underground structure. The BBMP has spent over Rs 40 lakh for the project, which is of no help at all.