By Sarah Reeves*

Environmental, social and economic sustainability indices frequently define the markers of a city’s success. With waterways infiltrating Kochi’s landscape, achieving sustainability banks on an efficient water public transport system in the city. Over the centuries of Portuguese, Dutch, French and British rule, ferry transport was integral to the transportation of passengers as well as farm produce and seafood. However, the construction of roads and bridges has stood in the way of a sustainable water transport system in Kochi. Policy shifts and unplanned growth have led to a shift from the city’s historical transportation roots. Kochi is becoming reliant on roads and private vehicles evermore for the mobility of its population, leading to severe congestion and increasing levels of pollution.

The positive attributes of the water transport system are extensive and far-reaching – it is faster, cheaper and the most environmentally sustainable public transport option. However, this transportation form is presently being underutilised in the city and is not functioning at the optimum capacity. The construction of the Goshree bridges in the 2000s, connecting the islands in the northern side of the Kochi backwaters with the mainland, meant that door-to-door travel was now a possibility. As the economy of the city continued to grow, the ownership of private vehicles increased exponentially, taking advantage of the newly built roads. Therefore, the proposal for the Kochi Water Metro is a much needed policy breakthrough for Kochi, particularly in the light of the newly approved Unified Metropolitan Transport Authority (UMTA) draft bill for Kerala, promising the integration of the metro, water metro and bus services. The project envisages 78 fast and fuel-effective ferries operating in 15 routes, covering a distance of 75 kilometres and dotted by 38 jetties (Pre-feasibility report, 2015). The 747 crore project has been commissioned and is expected to be fully operational by April 2019. The aim of the project is to reduce daily private vehicle trips by 75,000 and bus trips by 2,500, in turn, reducing traffic and congestion, and achieving a significant reduction in carbon emissions. It has been projected that the net total carbon emissions savings over a year period will be 38,000 tonnes (Pre-feasibility Report, 2015). Daily ridership is projected to increase to 40,000 by 2019, 54,000 by 2025 and 86,000 by 2035. By 2021, nearly 70 per cent of the city’s travel demands will be handled by the public transport system, of which, nearly 25 per cent will be handled by economical and sustainable water transport (Balakrishnan, 2016).

Presently, the management of the water transport system is distributed between the government and private operators. The newly approved UMTA bill will provide a solution to the lack of coordination among the major public transport stakeholders in Kochi. If all modes of public transport are connected, there is no longer a problem of a lack of commuter demand for various sectors of the public transport system. Therefore, the answer to the current gaps in the public transport sector will be the creation of UMTA alongside private–public partnerships and embracing indigenous modes of transport within the city that make use of the city’s unique geography. Many global cities around the world, such as Venice, New York and Vancouver, have effectively made use of their geography. A new project is underway in New York City to connect boroughs to Manhattan through a ferry service. This is part of a US$325 million effort to integrate a waterborne mass transit system, which was prolific in the 19th century, back into the modern mobility plan of the city. Venice, on the other hand, has had no other option but to make use of an extensive ferry service.

With the formation of the UMTA in Kochi in sight, as well as an extensive ferry service under construction, it is feasible for the city to move towards a sustainable future supported by strong public policy. 


*Sarah Reeves is Reearch Intern at CPPR



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