Over 14 years later, commuting to Bengaluru Airport is still a daunting task

The KIA stop.  South Western Railway operates MEMU train services to the airport, but patronage has not been promising.

The KIA stop. South Western Railway operates MEMU train services to the airport, but patronage has not been promising. | Photo Credit: SUDHAKARA JAIN

Kempegowda International Airport (KIA) completed its 14th anniversary on May 24, 2022. Over the years, Bengaluru Airport, located 35 km from the city center, has made significant achievements in expanding its infrastructure, including the opening of a second runway and making travel easier for passengers through the introduction of biometric, contactless travel and others . Once the T2 is fully operational, it will continue to increase passenger frequency.

What has not changed, however, is the arduous journey to the airport. Unfortunately, in the absence of a robust mass transit system to the airport, passengers are forced to rely on taxis or private transportation to maneuver through gridlock and poor roads.

Interestingly, even before the airport began commercial operations in 2007, the government at the time had proposed building a high-speed rail link between MG Road and Devanahalli. However, in 2013 the project was scrapped due to higher costs and impracticability, and a subway line was favored instead.

Meanwhile, the National Highway Authority of India (NHAI) has upgraded the highway connecting Hebbal Airport to Trumpet. For more than a decade, people driving to the airport have paid a toll to use the road.

As vehicle numbers in the city have increased from 50.33 lakh to over 1 crore in the past decade, resulting in severe congestion on the roads, the travel time to the airport has also increased. When it rains, there are many instances of Bangalore International Airport Limited (BIAL) urging passengers to “plan their journey” in order to reach the airport in advance.

Smitha V., a passenger, said: “It is very unfortunate that the authorities have failed to provide a mass transit system to the airport, which is one of the busiest in the country. Traveling to the airport must become affordable and faster. Now the subway is being built to connect the airport. There is a need to move the project forward in the public interest.”

What’s new at Bengaluru Airport in 2022

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The options

Ashish Verma, organizer of the IISc Sustainable Transport Lab, said that in 14 years the airport has seen an expansion in terms of adding infrastructure to the campus, but when it comes to the public transportation system, there has been no progress when it comes to passenger traffic has increased drastically.

“We are still seeing Vayu Vajra services of BMTC and Nano addition of Fly Bus through KSRTC. A majority of people continue to rely on taxis to reach the airport. The airport boasts of sustainable operations, a green airport that offers various travel comforts and much more. But how thousands of people approach every day, the consumption of fossil fuels, the impact on the environment, traffic congestion have all been ignored by the operator and the authorities for all these years. When the toll road was built, the same corridor should have been used to provide subway connections. The authorities concerned should be guided by airports that are well connected and offer better access,” he said.

The BMTC, which has been providing the Vayu Vajra services for 14 years, currently operates 110 buses to the airport. Almost 12,000 people rely on this service. Most passengers rely on taxis and private vehicles to reach the airport.

On the other hand, the South Western Railway operates MEMU train services to the airport, but patronage has not been promising. SWR, BIAL and other stakeholders have held talks about improving ridership, but hardly any riders are using the services.

Blade, an urban air mobility company that has launched helicopter services from HAL airport to KIA, said the service has been at 70% utilization over the past 20 days. The service charge is ₹3,250 plus tax as fare.

Subway connection to the airport

Bangalore Metro Rail Corporation Limited (BMRCL) is building a 55km ORR – Airport metro line from Central Silk Board to KIA. The subway line runs through KR Puram, Nagawara and Hebbal. BMRCL MD Anjum Parwez said that a deadline for the line to be operational was previously set for mid-2026.

“The planning of the underground connection to the airport took into account the expansion of the airport to meet the travel needs of passengers for the next 30 years. The project is in full swing. We have already carried out a tender for rolling stock. An invitation to tender is only pending for the signalling, which will be published soon. Once the line opens for commercial operations, 6.5 lakh people will be able to travel daily. We are working hard to complete the work by mid-2025. On the other hand, the line from Kalena Agrahara to Nagawara, which will be connected to the airport line in Nagawara, will be completed by 2024.”

K-RIDE (Rail Infrastructure Development Company (Karnataka) Limited) is proposing the construction of a suburban rail network from Majestic to Devanahalli connecting the airport. Although the K-RIDE was asked to give priority consideration to implementing this line, it was not accepted for construction. In the first phase, the K-RIDE has included the line Baiyappanahalli to Chikkabanavara.

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