The crowds that line up daily at the Metro station on M.G. Road here are as big as peak-hour throngs that ride mass transit rail systems in any of the world's big cities. Lines often circle the long stretch of the station as commuters queue up to finally get the first taste of the Metro, the most ambitious project this southern city has ever undertaken.
A year and a half after the original deadline, the first stretch of the Namma Metro ("Our Metro") began operations on Oct. 20. Extending from Byappanahalli, in East Bangalore, to M.G. Road, in the heart of the city, it has only six stations and is a mere 7 km long.
But the length of the Metro has not cooled the excitement of Bangaloreans.
For most people who lived through years of chaos, dust and high taxes, it was a moment of celebration. According to the figures provided by the Bangalore Metro Rail Corporation (BMRC), the first day alone saw more than 70,000 riders, who bought tickets worth Rs. 11 lakhs.
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Judging by the long queues seen outside the station, many of the passengers may be playing tourists. Indeed, it is south India's first modern mass transit rail system, which also landed Bangalore in Lonely Planet's list of "Top 10 cities to visit in 2012." Officials expect the tourist wave to continue for the next few months, at least.
"I took the Metro on the first day!" Sumanth Jacob, a student, said. "It feels quite international... very clean and efficient. I just hope they maintain it that way."
No doubt Jacob was echoing the sentiments of many people who have used the service.
But there are also those who are skeptical about how efficient the Metro will actually be, particularly given the short distance it currently covers. Bangalore, home to 8.4 million people, has an area of nearly 750 square kilometres.
"I'm sure it is really useful to a lot of people, but I'd rather take my car,"said Sheela Shivkumar, a housewife who comes into the city often to shop. "It is barely 6 kms and I like having my own transport."
Young Bangaloreans who stay out late wish that the Metro would operate longer hours. Currently, it runs from 6.00 a.m. to 11.00 p.m. Extending the hours would help many avoid taking autorickshaws that are notorious for fleecing customers, especially in the nighttime.
Many hoped that the launch of the Metro would reduce their dependence on the city's autorickshaw drivers, the most popular form of public transport during late night and early morning hours.These drivers are notorious for behaving rudely and overcharging customers. The later the hour, the higher is the charge.
But the Metro seems to have created no ripples in this particular mode of transport.
"People who want to take autos will always take autos," said Siddaramaiah, an auto driver. "People in Bangalore too lazy."
Though the line that now operates seems to work quite efficiently, most parts of the city are not accessible by Metro.
The "feeder" buses that ply from the six stations to several parts of the city run quite empty. Most passengers, tourist or not, do not have the patience to wait for a bus to their destination after a 10-minute metro ride that surpasses traffic-filled roads.
Parking stations are yet to be built, as are the central stations at M.G. Road. Most commuters use general parking facilities on the road.
The Metro is meant to be a teaser for the larger project, which was originally expected to be functional by 2014, a deadline that seems vastly optimistic.
The project needs several clearances from the Ministry of Railways to build bridges and tracks over railway tracks in certain parts. The Metro construction is also awaiting clearances from the Karnataka state government over shifting the statue of Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar near VidhanaSoudha, the seat of the government.
The BMRC recently told reporters that completion of the project could be delayed due to a series of pending permissions from state and central authorities. The administrative body blamed the Railways Ministry and the state government for delaying clearances.
Such delays could lead to a further increase in the already-inflated budget. The total cost of the project is now estimated at about 12,000 crore rupees, about 40 percent more than the original estimate, according to reports.
The government, however, is not deterred by rising costs and has given the green light for the Phase II of the project - linking the airport and other outer areas of Bangalore to the Metro system. The estimated cost for Phase II is about 25,000 crore rupees, the highest budget the city has allocated to any single infrastructure project.
Most Bangaloreans are keener than ever to have the Metro functional. The Reach I of Metro has demonstrated how much of time and effort it can save everyday.
Koramangala, Jayanagar and North Bangalore are some of the most populated areas in the city. Formerly considered suburbs, most of these areas are now business hubs as well as residential, making it crucial for these parts to be well-connected to the rest of the city.
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