In the process of preparing a legal framework for Kochi Water Metro operations: Loknath Behera

Lack of boats a major hurdle. New specs have been developed for next 15 boats, which will cut costs and make them easier to operate. Possibility of starting an ambulance service on PPP model being examined, says Kochi Water Metro managing director Loknath Behera
Loknath Behera
Loknath BeheraExpress.

The first anniversary of the Kochi Water Metro is an occasion for celebration, and KWML managing director Loknath Behera sheds light on the transformative journey of the project and outlines its potential for the state and beyond. Speaking to Aishwarya Prabhakaran, he offers a glimpse into the project’s successes, challenges, and future endeavours, highlighting its significance in shaping the future of transportation in Kerala and setting a precedent for similar initiatives across the country.

Lack of boats

One of the major hurdles to operating the water metro in full swing is the lack of availability of boats in the announced routes, Behera said. “We don’t have an adequate number of boats. We have already floated the tender for the next batch of 15 boats. The tender is being evaluated. We will then require the permission of kfW, the agency funding the project. Possibly, we will get more boats by next year and the problem will be addressed,” he said.

Legal framework

This is the only water metro in the country, Behera said, underscoring the need for a proper legal framework to govern its operations. Discussions are under way with the Indian Law Institute to develop a comprehensive legal regime tailored to the unique requirements of the project, ensuring smooth operations, maintenance, and expansion in the years to come, he points out. “Metro rail is governed by the Metro Railways (Operations and Maintenance) Act, 2002. We have the Inland Waterways Authority of India Act, but that is not enough to operate the Kochi Water Metro. We are governed by central legislation for Kochi Metro Rail and there are some restrictions, which is good. We need a similar legal regime for the water metro to facilitate construction, operations, maintenance and condemnation. Discussions are ongoing with the Indian Law Institute, which works under the aegis of the Supreme Court to prepare a legal regime for the water metro,” said Behera.

Technological advancement

Kochi Water Metro’s focus on sustainability is driving its exploration of hydrogen fuel-cell technology. And, it is planning to add a vessel running on green hydrogen shortly. Behera said it is important to stay ahead of the game in terms of technological advancement to ensure sustainability. “Our existing electric fleet will become redundant in the next five to ten years, and new technology will be introduced. We are now exploring the possibility of introducing a hydrogen-fuel-cell vessel, developed by Cochin Shipyard Ltd (CSL). Large-scale adoption will be examined for our future boats. However, some modifications will be required to make them cost-effective,” he stressed, adding, “At present, green hydrogen is expensive, but this will not be the case in the future.”

For the next 15 boats, new specs have been developed, with an outboard engine. “This will bring down costs and make them simpler to operate,” he said.

Building on tourism potential

Ever since the launch of the water metro, the majority of riders have been tourists. People from across the state, including foreign tourists have experienced a joyride in the air-conditioned ferry. “At some point of time we may have two classes of boats -- one for daily commuters and islanders and another exclusively for tourists. The pricing for both the boats will be different. We will provide chartered boat facilities for tourists, where they can rent boats and visit the islands and take part in local activities. This will bring revenue to KWML, boost tourism in Kochi, and improve the livelihood of islanders,” said Behera, emphasising that this will be implemented only after stabilising the first phase of the project.

“The tourist metro boats will go in circular routes with halts at various places, unlike conventional metro boats that will only go from point A to B. The tourist boats will sport a different design. At the ticket counter, options will be given to passengers to travel in a tourist boat at a slightly higher price or in the normal ferry,” he said.

Metro ambulance plans

Authorities are also exploring the possibility of a water metro ambulance service. “While discussing the potential of the project, suggestions were made for an ambulance service that will connect to hospitals like Aster Medcity, Amrita, etc, which are part of the planned routes. Transferring patients via waterways will be more convenient and save time, compared to congested roads,” said Behera.

“I have suggested a public-private-partnership (PPP) model, where companies can operate the service with our licence,” he added. KWML also held talks with Uber about operating UberBOATs, on the lines of those in the United Kingdom. “Although we initiated a discussion with Uber in this regard, their model didn’t suit us. Thus it was dropped. However, we are still planning to introduce water taxis on PPP model. We are trying to attract bigger companies and if things go well, we will start one soon,” Behera said. While speaking about the future projects, Behera emphasised that these developments, which are in the discussion stage, will take years to come to fruition.

Canal Development

Future plans include the use of smaller boats to navigate Kochi’s canals and enhancing connectivity. “When canal development and related rejuvenation projects take place, we can adopt smaller boats. We are now scouting for boats that can accommodate 20-25 passengers. Besides low cost of operation, they will enhance connectivity in the city,” Behera said, adding that the canal rejuvenation project will have a water metro element.

In-house R&D

Water transportation in the city and across the state is set to be revolutionised in the next few years. “The demand for water metro in Kochi increased just after its launch last April. Sustainable water transportation has huge potential in the state, and other states and even countries are trying to adopt our model. Therefore, in the long run, I feel the need to set up an in-house R&D division or for the time being tie up with an academic institute,” he said.

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