Sowmya Muruganantham, Project Associate and Sudeept Maiti, Program Head with the Integrated Transport Team at WRI India give their views on the need for improved last-mile connectivity for Metro systems in the country roadways.
Since 2010, the Government of India has invested over Rs 1.87 crores ($25 billion) in building metros across the country. While the metro has improved daily commute for millions of citizens, its under-utilization is a huge concern. Poor last-mile connectivity, which hampers access to metro stations, impacts ridership. The limited network of walking and cycling infrastructure, coupled with the inadequate frequency and availability of feeder buses and other affordable options, deters metro usage.
Recognizing the challenge, the Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs (MoHUA), in its 2017 Metro Rail Policy, mandated last-mile service planning for metro projects. The policy paved the way for introducing guidelines for last mile planning for upcoming projects, including feeder bus route plans. Implementing the policy, however, also requires a comprehensive understanding of commuter needs.
To gain insights into the current metro user demographics and last-mile preferences, WRI India and Toyota Mobility Foundation conducted a survey of 7,200 metro commuters in Bengaluru, Delhi, and Nagpur to gauge responses to three critical questions – 1. Who currently uses the metro? 2. What do the current different user segments prefer as their last-mile service? 3. How can we design and provision successful last-mile services?
Key insights about last-mile transportation for metro commuters
At present, the city metros attract commuters, approximately between the age group of 18-35, travelling to offices or colleges. The metro commuters are also stated to have a rough monthly household income range of Rs 10,000 – Rs 40,000. More affluent users (monthly household income range of INR 80,000 and above) are still not using the metro, and very low-income users seem to be priced out of it.
The survey indicates walking and low-cost shared modes, such as e-rickshaw and shared-autos, dominate last-mile access, constituting over 75 percent of all trips across the cities. Shared-autorickshaws (in cities that they are available in) emerged as the most popular last-mile mode where Rs 5 to Rs 15 is considered as an acceptable fare range depending on the distance.
Metro users, especially women, are more averse to waiting too long for last-mile modes outside metro stations (possibly due to safety reasons). In Delhi, 89 percent of women opted for shared auto-rickshaws, over buses, given the high frequency and availability of shared auto-rickshaws, even though bus services are free for women.
The survey shows that commuters are also drawn to a particular metro station based on the access time (wait and travel time to get to the station), and not necessarily the distance from the station. If accessing the metro takes longer than approximately 20 minutes, very few users consider taking it, given the current average distance travelled using metros in these cities.
How can we optimize last-mile connectivity?
Effective last-mile planning requires a systematic approach that considers commuter preferences, constraints, and the unique characteristics of each mode of transportation. By analyzing broad first/last-mile trip patterns and distances from metro stations, planners can prioritize the most suitable combination of last-mile modes, tailored to the needs and preferences of commuters, thereby optimizing their overall travel experience.
To achieve successful last-mile planning, the following steps are essential:
- Establish a Data-Gathering Process: Implementing a periodic data collection system to understand commuter travel needs, constraints, and reasons for not using the metro can be a game-changer. This data collection can be undertaken by the metro agencies, which can further be implemented by the state’s transport department.
- Tailor Services for Different Demographics: Designing last-mile services based on station demographics, to cater to the preferences of different commuter segments, is crucial. For instance, cities can consider introducing on-demand, app-based mobility services in higher-income areas where demand for faster and more comfortable modes may be a preference.
- Ensure Affordability and Accessibility: Prioritizing the development of low-cost shared services and access infrastructure, catering to a broader range of commuters, is essential. This includes improving walking and cycling infrastructure around metro stations and establishing targeted fare products to attract wider income group users to the metro.
- Cater for Responsive High-Frequency Services: Cities can conduct regular demand analysis to identify peak travel times and patterns. Based on the analysis, high-frequency shared services can be operated with short intervals to ensure that the services remain financially viable and responsive to commuter needs.
These guidelines can be implemented considering the specific requirements of each location, enabling city planners to develop an efficient and user-centric last-mile transportation system that seamlessly complements the existing metro infrastructure. This will not only encourage more people to use public transport but will also reduce overall traffic congestion, accelerate decarbonization of the transport sector and improve air quality in our cities.