Metro rail is completing one year since it began operations on the 45km phase-1 line and patronage is picking up, but the modern transit facility is bleeding cash.
A recent study said Chennai Metro Rail Limited (CMRL) clocked a net loss of 715cr in financial year 2018-19, four times its total income of 183cr in the same period. Its loss is the highest among seven metros, said the study which analysed annual filing of profit and loss reports by metros in Hyderabad, Mumbai, Kochi, Gurgaon, Delhi and Bangalore for 2018-19.
For Chennai, the net loss includes both operational and non-operational lines, while CMRL’s annual report for 2018-19 shows a loss of 422cr only for operational lines. CMRL generated 61.9cr from tickets, 24cr from non-fare revenue such as parking fee and income from property, and 97cr from interest and government grants.
Bengaluru metro, which operates 42.3km with 40 stations, earned a total revenue of 536cr and posted a net loss of 498cr, the study said.
The revenue figures for Chennai and Bengaluru are from operational lines, while cost figures correspond to all lines, including those under construction.
Public transport experts cite several reasons for CMRL’s failure to break even — low ridership due to poor last-mile connectivity, delays in line commissioning, poor monetisation of non-fare revenue options such as leasing of commercial space, property development and land monetisation due to regulatory restrictions.
“The revenue and loss data may not be comparable as metros in every city are in different stages of development. Optimal monetisation of all non-fare revenue options is critical for any metro network to keep fares under check and reduce dependence on state funding,” said Shadab Siddiqui, project manager at Auctus Advisors Consultants, authors of the study.
According to CMRL’s annual report, which has figures for operational lines, income through ticket sales, parking fee and consultancy went up in 2018-19 vis-a-vis 2017-18, as the 45km stretch became operational in February 2019. At the same time, expenditure like operating expenses, depreciation and debt repayment shot after phase-1.
Though patronage has improved, it has not reached the expected level, as access to stations calls for improvement, experts said. CMRL should also look at various non-fare revenue sources such as advertisements, property development, parking charges and congestion pricing.
The 45km two-corridor phase-1 became operational in February 2019 after the last leg of Washermenpet to AG-DMS line was opened. A 9km phase-1 extension line from Washermanpet to Wimco Nagar is expected to start by mid-2020.
“It is important to push car users into using metro rail by implementing congestion charges on metro corridors. Research shows that in cities which implemented such regulations, car usage reduced and transit usage increased by 20%,” said Aswathy Dilip, senior programme manager, Institute for Transportation and Development Policy. “Unfortunately, in Chennai’s case, the city is building flyovers and making it easier for private vehicles to continue driving on metro corridors,” she said.
Former CMRL director R Ramanathan said patronage will increase when more areas in the city and suburbs are linked through Metrorail. “Ridership was poor when Delhi Metro was launched. Today, there’s barely any space for people to stand there,” he said. “Ticket fares are already subsidised. One thing that CMRL can now do to increase ridership is improve access to stations with wider footpath.”
Another urban transport expert said allowing higher FSI in contiguous areas of metro stations and encouraging development of highrises would improve patronage as well as revenue.