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Construction : Interview | March 2018 | Source : Infrastructure Today

We seek to further cut opex-revenue gap

APM Mohammed Hanish took charge as Managing Director, Kochi Metro Rail (KMRL) in November last year. A graduate in civil engineering, Hanish spoke at some length on the proposed new developments at one of the youngest metro rail systems in the country to INFRASTRUCTURE TODAY.     

What makes Kochi Metro Rail (KMRL) one of the most modern and innovative metro rail systems in India?
Kochi Metro is the first Indian metro to have communication-based train control (CBTC) signalling system. Our trains are unattended train operation (UTO) compatible.
The integrated transport system that KMRL has planned for Kochi Metro involves the use of a single transit card and integrated timetable, and a command and control centre. A first-of-its-kind agreement was signed with Axis Bank for implementing an automatic fare collection system (AFC) on the public-private partnership (PPP) model with an open loop EMV reloadable repaid debit card, which can also be used for purposes other than transit. KMRL is also planning a click and collect system whereby commuters on the metro rail system will be able to order goods and services using this debit card, which can be delivered at our metro stations. The tender for the same has been floated.

A key focus of KMRL is to integrate all public transports-such as waterways, taxies, autorickshaws and private and KSRTC buses - under one centralised management system, whereby all the routes and timings would be synced with the commuters in mind. Eventually, a single ticketing system needs to be introduced for all public transport systems, as is the case in several western countries. The Kerala state government has prepared the law for setting up a Unified Metropolitan Transport Authority, with these objectives in mind and it is expected to be discussed in the current assembly session. Seven private bus operators and nine autorickshaw unions have each formed a society to facilitate these changes.

KMRL is the first transit operator in India to open up its train running information in general transit feed specification (GTFS) format. This will enable a commuter-friendly, inclusive and informed transit information ecosystem in the city. All our stations are designed on different themes associated with Kerala.

All station activities are managed by a women's self-help group called Kudumbashree, which is a project under the poverty eradication programme of the state government. This is the best example of social inclusion. We are also the first government agency to engage members of the transgender community in functions such as ticketing, customer relations and housekeeping.

How do you propose to increase the share of your non-ticketing revenue?
KMRL is earning an average of Rs 10 lakh per day as non-fare box revenue. We have just started selling the spaces inside stations. Once the sale process is complete, we are hopeful of further reducing the difference between our operational expenditure (opex) and revenue.

How successful has the experiment to make extensive use of solar power at your stations been?
The present Phase I of the Kochi Metro Rail project has 22 stations and one depot. KMRL is placing solar panels on the rooftop of all 22 stations and buildings in the metro yard. The installation capacity of the rooftop project is 4 MW. The rooftop project is being implemented under the renewable energy service company (RESCO) model, where the vendor would make the complete investment of nearly Rs 270 million as well as undertake the operation and maintenance. KMRL will buy the power from the vendor, Hero Solar Energy, at a cost of Rs 5.51 per unit for the next 25 years. This is the lowest rate at which any metro project in India is getting solar power.
Recently, KMRL and AMP Solar India signed the power purchase agreement (PPA) for 2.3 MW solar power through a ground-mounted solar plant on the land available at the Muttom depot. This would raise total solar power generated by the Kochi Metro Rail project to 6.3 MW.

Of late, there is a view that some part of the investment in a project like the metro rail must also be appropriately recovered from direct beneficiaries, besides direct users to make capital-intensive projects beneficial. What is your view on this?
The automated fare collection (AFC) system is a critical component of any metro system. KMRL has developed a unique PPP model, wherein the capital investments as well as the maintenance costs are taken care of by the partner bank. In return, the bank manages a co-branded card for the Kochi metro system. Axis Bank had won the tender and, apart from what was envisaged in the tender, it is also paying KMRL a royalty of Rs 2.09 billion over the next ten years for the right to be partnered in this endeavour. In addition, 0.2 per cent of gross revenues from the utilisation of this debit card outside KMRL's ecosystem in various mercantile outlets and internet transactions will also accrue to us over the next ten years. This is the first time such an innovative model has been launched anywhere in the world. It is expected to change the funding models for the AFC systems in the metro industry globally. We are given to understand that many upcoming metros are emulating this model. To minimise operational loss, KMRL is also planning to come up with a state-of-art township project near the IT hub of Kochi with residential, commercial, recreational and business spaces.

Will you be able to launch the first phase of the Kochi Water Metro Project on schedule, despite apprehensions?
The project is pushed a bit to May 2019, as some alterations are to be made with regard to the changes proposed in the detailed project report (DPR). Based on the updated traffic survey, the number of boats was changed from 78 to 76 with the capacity to accommodate around 100 passengers and three additional jetties were added, increasing it from 38 to 41, thus enabling KMRL to achieve a higher level of passenger service through this project. Otherwise, things are well on schedule. The project envisages the development of 16 identified routes, connecting ten islands along a network of routes that span 76 kms. A fleet of 76 fast, fuel-efficient, air-conditioned ferries will be plying to 41 jetties, 18 of which will be developed as the main boat hubs and the remaining 23 will be minor jetties for transit services. More than one lakh islanders are expected to benefit from the water metro, complete with modern watercrafts.

What are the key modifications in the revised DPR for the Kakkanad extension that will be forwarded by the State government to the Centre for approval?
KMRL conducted an alternative analysis to determine the most suitable mode of MRTS for that stretch of the city. We have included value capture financing as part of the recommendations, made feeder, access roads and non-motorised transport as part of the project and included PPP components in AFC and station infrastructure.

- Manish Pant
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