How ‘smart’ are Metro rail websites in India?

G. Ananthakrishnan

Just weeks after attending the Global Summit of the International Association of Public Transport (UITP) in Montreal, Canada – where a 60-strong Indian delegation of transport bureaucrats was present – I am looking at the opening of ambitious Metro rail in Kochi and the full phase of Namma Metro in Bengaluru.

This is an exciting moment not just for those who live in these cities, but also for armchair travellers who like to explore Metro systems worldwide. A tourist who plans to visit will first look up the online presence of the Metro network in the city, the map of the various lines, the interchanges, the types of tickets and passes available, and the ease of purchase.

Indian transport managers are generally not good at providing any consumer takeaways from their websites, although they have had the benefit of attending international conferences and reviewing how foreign operators provide service.

So how do these new ‘Metro’ cities compare?

Kochi: The website of Kochi Metro Rail Limited (https://kochimetro.org/) has the bare minimum of what a passenger wishes to see – a clickable map of the line with stations, the tariff information, a widget for the Twitter feed of KMRL, and links to some old blog posts. Although the much-awaited system that cost almost a billion dollars was opened by Prime Minister Narendra Modi today, it had nothing on service launch even after 4 hours.

As with other Metro operators in India, the KMRL website suffers from a personality clash – is it meant to advertise tenders and contracts, or is it focused on the passenger? You could be confused, because the home page is full of tender announcements and other material that is simply useless to a user.

What does work for Kochi Metro, however, is its distinct turquoise logo which stands out anywhere, can be brightly printed on to visiting cards to indicate the station nearest an event, your office or establishment, on letterheads and public displays.

The tariff is also highly affordable.

Bengaluru: Namma Metro is now a little older at the game, and its website with a set of widgets has more for the traveller, although by no means a full set of transit information offerings. The route map did not load on my Chrome browser, but the schematic map in .pdf could be downloaded.

The opportunity to use logos to indicate disabled friendly stations and lift facility was lost in the map-making exercise. Future maps could do that.

Links to fares on the Purple and Green lines did not work.

Ticketing information is available, as are links to top up smart cards from the home page of the site.

Namma Metro also has a distinct logo, which is highly usable in the same kind of ways that I spoke of for Kochi. This has been the trend globally for long.

Chennai: But I live in Chennai, where the Metro has been slow to roll out. We got three stretches going so far, which provides a rump of a network, but it is also the costliest to use in the country – it is almost priced in dollar terms without any idea about purchasing power!

The website as it exists has a mix of features, once you get past the monstrous inauguration pictures of AIADMK and BJP politicians sitting in a train that they normally will not ride, and which they had little to do with for long – in fact the AIADMK opposed the plan.

The route calculator above, built on Google Maps is a nifty tool, since it gives you the fare based on your station selection, and the distance. You may find #Uber cheaper for a three-person ride, but CMRL is not going into that issue right now.

#Chennai Metro’s logo is the least impressive. It has, however, escaped the fate of being turned into the shape of two green leaves because the project was launched by the DMK under M. Karunanidhi, and not by Jayalalithaa.

Indian Metro Rail operators are yet to go ‘smart’ with real time passenger information on smartphones. So no apps to speak about. That is the subject of a separate discussion.

What’s your experience with Metros in India?

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