By Sarah Reeves*

A Unified Metropolitan Transport Authority (UMTA) has been in the works since 2006 in cities across India. The call for the formation of UMTA in Kochi intensified with the operational launch of the Kochi Metro and exponential growth of the private vehicle population. UMTA, primarily driven by the Kochi Metro Rail Limited (KMRL), will soon be a reality in this commercial capital of Kerala. The state cabinet gave the nod to the Kerala Metropolitan Transport Authority (KMTA) draft bill on January 1, 2018, and is planning to move forward to drafting the KMTA Act. The creation of UMTA will bring around 20 departments related to city traffic under one umbrella. It will make possible the unification of the metro, buses, ferry services, taxis and auto rickshaws in Kochi. Innovation and futuristic ideas such as smart phone apps, smart cards and a single ticketing system will be translated into action to change the lives of the residents of Kochi and transform it into a global city. Kochi will become the first city in the country to introduce a single ticketing system for all transport modes.

Kochi has an extensive public transport network, including a metro rail system with an operational first phase and a second phase in the works. A rejuvenated ferry system has been commissioned and will be in operation by 2019. There are also around 630 intra-city buses operating on 160 routes in Kochi (Rajakumar et al., 2015). The city’s feeder services take the form of auto rickshaws and taxis. Thus, it is clear that the city has the infrastructure for efficient and effective mobility but public transport here is strictly underutilised. UMTA will address the fundamental issue of last/first mile connectivity in the hope that it will draw more private vehicle owners to the public transport system.

Figure 1: A timeline indicating the major events leading to the approval of the KMTA Draft Bill 


Under UMTA, all public transport modes fall under a single network and have a common timetable, a single ‘command and control’ centre and a single administrative structure. The Working Group on Urban Transport for the 12th Five-year Plan, which outlined guidelines for unified public transport on a national level, states that UMTA should undertake policy and regulatory functions, integrated and holistic planning, planning of road networks, infrastructure organising and coordinating services, traffic engineering and management as well as capacity building (CPPR, 2012). Importantly, UMTA will regulate fares, which, in turn, will make public transport more accessible to more people through subsidies incorporated within the UMTA framework.

All the major Indian cities such as Mumbai, Delhi, Chennai and Hyderabad have already established or are in the process of establishing UMTAs. Therefore, Kochi is provided with an opportunity to learn from the outcomes in these cities. Some of the potential obstacles to the functioning of the UMTA in Kochi are the complexities related to aligning various stakeholders, especially those that may have to be more flexible or compromising, such as private and public bus associations, which will have to re-align bus routes. Private and public bus companies are already disjointed. This has to change before UMTA can be integrated effectively into the public transport system of Kochi. Furthermore, the success of any UMTA body is reliant on the existing power relations within a city and the appointed UMTA head can make or break the project. However, as of now, the cabinet nod for KMTA draft bill holds infinite possibilities for Kochi.

These possibilities can be seen in practice in many cities such as Singapore, Hong Kong, London and Boston that have opted for integrated public transport systems. Singapore has implemented a systematic approach in designing a connected and integrated public transport system (Luk & Olszewski, 2014). The development and construction of nine Integrated Transport Hubs (ITH) in Singapore makes the city one of the most well-connected and functional cities in the world. The ITH is air-conditioned, and bus interchanges are seamlessly linked to Mass Rapid Transit (MRT) systems as seen in Figure 2. Interchange stations are developed as lifestyle hubs, where people can run errands such as grocery shopping, preventing people from making another trip after they return home from work.



Figure 2: The network of metro rail, bus bay and bicycle stand within the main hub in Singapore


Even the most developed cities in the world are facing transportation difficulties, and increasing levels of pollution and congestion are slowing down the global economy. Though it is necessary for India to turn to global examples for innovative solutions to persisting public transport challenges, the policymakers of the country must realise that all cities are complex and unique, and solutions like UMTA are likely to pan out differently in different cities. Since what happens on the ground level is critical, the implementation of UMTA should take a bottom-up approach.



*Sarah Reeves is Reearch Intern at CPPR


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