Water transport to create ripples in Vembanad lake

Water Metro and State Water Transport Department to offer boat services mainly targeting islanders in Kochi, but success depends on fares
The first boat manufactured by Cochin Shipyard for the Water Metro project at Vyttila boat jetty | Express
The first boat manufactured by Cochin Shipyard for the Water Metro project at Vyttila boat jetty | Express

KOCHI: If all goes as planned, Kochites would be spoilt for choice as far as transportation through the backwaters is concerned. As the Kochi Metro Rail Ltd (KMRL) gears up to begin Water Metro services soon, routes being operated by the State Water Transport Department (SWTD) are sure to see busy traffic, with both agencies involved in a healthy contest to woo passengers.

To begin with, both SWTD and Water Metro compete for passengers on the Vypeen route. While SWTD operates on the Ernakulam jetty-Vypeen stretch, Water Metro will ply between High Court and Vypeen.
Currently, SWTD is conducting eight services from Ernakulam Boat Jetty, connecting Fort Kochi, Vypeen, Varapuzha, Mulavukad and Kadamakkudy. Aimed mainly at the islanders, the SWTD operates with very low fares -- starting from `6. According to an SWTD official, the highest fare is `12, on the Varapuzha-Kadamakkudy stretch.

This is in sharp contrast to the likely fares to be charged by the water metro, where the minimum fare is expected to be `20, going by the government indications.“We used to have services on the Vyttila-Kakkanad stretch and to Mattanchery, but due to technical issues, we had to stop these trips. At present, services are ongoing till Embarkation jetty (Willingdon Island). Operations on the Varapuzha-Kadamakkudy stretch are mainly for students. The boat leaves in the morning and comes back only late in the evening. The rest of the services take place with intervals of 20 minutes,” said an SWTD official.

Based on a survey conducted by the Indian Institute of Management, Kozhikode (IIM-K), in 2021, a tentative fare structure has been readied by the KMRL. The state government had then announced `20 as the minimum fare for the boats introduced in the Greater Kochi area for distances up to three kilometres. A maximum fare was fixed at `40, with `4 paid for every additional kilometre.

“As per the water metro Detailed Project Report (DPR), they were aiming for one lakh passengers initially. This was later revised to 35,000. SWTD has services through all saturated routes and they have services in six districts. They have close to 15,000 regular passengers in Ernakulam alone.It is going to be very difficult for the Water Metro to attract passengers with these high fares,” said Ebenser Chullikkatt of Greater Cochin Development Watch, an NGO.

Water Metro is the integrated ferry transport in the Greater Kochi region being implemented by KMRL, connecting 10 islands on the Vembanad lake.“Even as the Water Metro officials claim that they are aiming at helping the islanders, they are planning to start the services on the city route only,” added Ebenser.

With the first batch of the five Water Metro hybrid boats delivered to KMRL, operations are set to begin in September. As per officials, the services would begin on the High Court-Bolgatty-Vypeen stretch first. “As of now, trial runs are being conducted on the planned stretch. It is likely that the fares will be revised, based on the results of a recent survey. As of now, fixation of fares is only in the planning stage,” said a KMRL official.

The first tourist boat operation from Ernakulam Boat Jetty is likely to begin by Onam in September. The ferry with the capacity to accommodate 100-120 passengers is aiming for two trips from the jetty. According to officials, the fares are yet to be decided but would be likely set around Rs 200. “We are planning to rope in Kudumbashree for providing food also on the boats. The routes will be decided only towards the end of this month,” said an official.

Travel by water
SWTD offers services from Ernakulam to Fort Kochi, Vypeen, Varapuzha, Mulavukad, Kadamakkudy
SWTD fares range from Rs 6 to Rs 12
Water Metro service is slated to begin on the High Court-Bolgatty-Vypeen stretch
Construction of terminals at Kakkanad, Vyttila and Eloor has been completed
Construction of terminals at Vypeen, Bolgatty, High Court, South Chittoor and Cheranalloor nearing completion.
If all goes as planned, Water Metro services will begin in September

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