View from India: Navigate through green mobility as water metro makes waves

Prime Minister Narendra Modi has launched India’s first water metro in Kochi, Kerala. Commercial operations began last month and the number of passengers to have used the service as of 18 May stands at 206,829.

Operated by Kochi Metro Rail Ltd, the Kochi Water Metro (KWM) connects 10 islands. In all, the KWM is spread across 78km and has a fleet of 78 electrically propelled hybrid ferries. This is a first of its kind project in India, and probably the first integrated water transport system of this size in Asia.

Waterways form the backdrop of Kochi, which is bordered by the Arabian Sea. The KWM goes beyond the visual appeal of the waterways – it has a purpose. The aim is to develop an integrated water transport system with 15 identified routes. This integrated water transport project could provide intermodal connectivity between the bus terminal and the metro network. Increased connectivity and accessibility can lead to economic development. Kochi is considered the commercial capital of Kerala, and the KWM could strengthen its position as a transportation hub, further paving the way for better tourism. Transport service and tourism initiatives are expected to benefit thousands of islanders living off the shoreline.

In its first phase, the KWM began with eight electric hybrid boats that are also conducive for differently abled commuters. The air-conditioned boats, which are shaped like metro trains, are manufactured by Cochin Shipyard Limited. The high and low of the tide is balanced through floating pontoons. As for technology, the boats are equipped with communication devices and can be monitored automatically through the state-of-the-art Operating Control Centre. Designed with radars, the boats also have thermal cameras for smooth navigation after night fall.

The overall cost of the KWM project is ₹1,137 crore (11.37 billion rupees, approximately £110.8m) and is funded by the Government of Kerala along with a loan from KfW, a German state-owned investment and development bank. The KWM plies on the lithium-titanate oxide (LTO) battery, which is preferable to the Li-ion batteries as they can re-charge faster, in about 20 minutes – the surface of the anode is made of lithium-titanate nano-crystals, which enables the quicker charging. This gives it a vantage point compared to the Li-ion battery. However, the LTO battery has a much lower energy density than the Li-ion variant. 

To put things in perspective, Kochi has been dependent on water transport. This mode of transportation has decreased to an extent as public transport in the form of buses sprang up. Now people can go back to water transport with the KWM, which is a modern ferry transport project. It could also open up new routes along the coast. Other than accessibility, the thrust is on affordability. The minimum ticket fare is ₹20 (20 rupees, £0.19p) and maximum is ₹40 (40 rupees, £0.39p). The tickets can be procured through a mobile QR code booked through the Kochi One App. Passengers can use the Kochi One Card to travel in Kochi Metro Rail and Kochi Water Metro.

The KWM is making waves for initiating green mobility in the waters. Pinarayi Vijayan, the chief minister of Kerala, has conveyed to the media that the Kochi Water Metro is expected to reduce 44,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide emission per annum. So this is an eco-friendly, electrically propelled form of public transport. Now let’s look at water transport drop by drop. The fact that water transport for the public can be made available at a large scale is a known fact; we already have this facility in Goa. But when the water transport is visualised to be energy efficient, then it can lower carbon footprint. Perhaps we can look forward to sustainable water transport systems that use renewable energy.

There’s a trickle of hope that the Kochi Water Metro model can be replicated in cities that skirt the coastline, especially in the case of suburbs along the river fringe where accessibility is a challenge.

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