BANGALORE: Siddarth Shah spends 90 minutes on a bus making the 18.5-kilometer commute to work in traffic-snarled Bangalore, India's technology hub.

Yet Shah, 29, said he believes relief is on the way. The marketing manager at Infosys Technologies, the country's second-largest software exporter, said that a $1.5 billion rail system now being built in the city will change his life.

"The Metro will be a boon for people like me," he said. "The amount of time you spend on the roads is stressful."

Shah may be disappointed. The state-owned Bangalore Metro Rail says that its downtown mass-transit line - 25 years in the planning and only the second in India - may be overwhelmed by the time the first train leaves the station in 2011.

There already are three million cars, buses, trucks, motorbikes and three-wheeled taxis on the southern city's potholed roads.

One thousand more vehicles are added every day as the area's growing prosperity attracts more people and gives them the money to buy their first cars.

By 2016, the city's population is expected to reach eight million, putting even greater demands on an overburdened transportation system.

"We will be able to cater to 15 to 20 percent of the transportation needs of Bangalore," said V. Madhu, the managing director of Bangalore Metro. "That is not enough. We have to add more rapid-transport systems."

Developing public transportation is a national priority for India, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said as he laid the foundation stone last June for the 33-kilometer, or 21-mile, network that will travel above and below ground in one of India's key cities.

The government of Karnataka State, of which Bangalore is the capital, must start planning now for future transportation needs, he said.

"I am confident that the government of Karnataka will leave no stone unturned in ensuring that the city gets a world-class metro rail system, properly integrated with other forms of public transport," Singh said.

"You need to invest looking at the needs two decades from now," the prime minister added.

Bangalore, India's third-largest city, generated a third of the $31.6 billion in software-related services that India exported in the last fiscal year. Known as the Garden City, Bangalore hosts the Indian headquarters for Intel, General Electric and IBM.

Investment has lured professionals from throughout India, as well as the state's rural poor. Government figures show that Bangalore's population had ballooned to 6.5 million last year, from 4.1 million in 1991.

In 1985, only 307,000 vehicles plied the roads, according to the state Transport Department. That is about a tenth of the current total.

Traffic now crawls along at an average speed of 10 kilometers an hour during the morning and evening rush times, the department estimates. Pedestrian crossings are rare, further slowing the flow of traffic.

Srinivas Vijay said that he switched jobs two years ago in order to save his marriage and protect his health. Formerly a software engineer at Wipro, India's third-largest software company, he now works during off-peak hours to avoid spending up to four hours a day commuting.

"I was angry, felt jittery while traveling and it took a big toll on my personal life," said Vijay, who is 31.

When he finally made it home, "I didn't even want to talk to my wife. I straightaway hit the bed."

However, Vijay said that he was not convinced the 32-station Metro would make much difference. Many workers who travel through the downtown area are commuting to technology hubs in the suburbs, he said.

"For Metro to succeed, it must reach where most of the software offices are located, such as International Technology Parks Ltd. and Electronics City," Vijay said. "In their plan, I do not see that as of now."

The first of four plans for a rail system was unveiled in 1982. These plans were eventually abandoned by successive state governments because of a lack of financing, differences over proposed funding and regime changes, the Metro's Madhu said.

The city's new airport suffered similar setbacks. It is due to open in 2008 - 17 years after construction tenders were first floated. The airport's passenger capacity was expanded during construction to cater to more business travelers.

Delhi Metro Rail, which runs India's only other mass-transit rail system, produced the 55 billion rupee, or $1.3 billion, Metro blueprint for Bangalore in 2003. The federal government approved it in April 2006, by which time costs had gone up by 16 percent.

In March, the engineering unit of Navayuga Group, based in Hyderabad, started work on the first 7-kilometer stretch. The state government has yet to open bids for the remaining 26 kilometers.

The government also plans to build a $1.1 billion light-rail line around the city to connect peripheral regions with Metro stations, Madhu said. Planning for the 51-kilometer project has not been delayed, and work may start next year.

Infosys's Shah said that anything promising to make his weekday commute more comfortable is a bonus.

"Can you imagine the pleasure of not driving a car in Bangalore?" he said. "Metro can achieve that."

Source:International Herald Tribune visit www.iht.com
Contributed by:Jay Shankar-Bloomberg News

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