Can Mumbai metro or monorail save the day as monsoon submerges the suburban lines?

Thousands of crores have been spent on these two public transport projects, but as rains throw usual life out of gear, can they really provide effective alternatives or support to the Mumbai locals, the lifeline for commuters in the city?

Come monsoon and Mumbai’s overburdened suburban rail system is overwhelmed when rainwater floods its tracks. This year, the Central, Western and Harbour lines were the worst hit, with trains running at 30-minute intervals, when they ran at all. Commuters like Sanjay Garg, 32, who are totally dependent on the suburban service to commute to and from work, were forced to take two days of unpaid leave, as heavy rains brought mobility to a complete halt. Sharing his anger and agony were literally millions of Mumbaikars. The only ones who enjoyed the ‘holiday’ were students as schools had to shut down.

With 70 lakh people using the suburban rail system, city authorities went in for metro rail projects and an expensive monorail as alternative commuter choices to ease the congestion on the suburban rail system. The Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority (MMRDA), the nodal agency for implementing infrastructure projects in the city, spent Rs 1,000 crore for an 8.26-km monorail system, running from Chembur to Wadala with seven stations in between. However, this monorail was used more as a ‘joyride’ by people rather than for work commute.

The second phase, one of the longest monorail corridors in the world was 19.54 km from Chembur to Wadala to Jacob Circle, which became operational in 2019 at a cost of Rs 3000 crore. Fares on the monorail range from Rs 10 to Rs 40 and these have the capacity to carry 1.5 lakh to 2 lakh commuters every day.

However, it hasn’t proved to be a popular choice of transport for Mumbaikars. With poor last-mile connectivity and long time gap between trains (30-45 minutes), commuters still prefer the local trains and buses. Sujata Singh, 25, whose office is in Lower Parel, is frustrated as she often has to wait at least 20 minutes to ride the monorail from GTB Nagar to Lower Parel. She feels the monorail is for those who can travel at leisure. Though the government was confident that the monorail would achieve high ridership, the reality is that it is catering to just 7,000 commuters daily. Nor has it proved to be a good revenue generator for the city.

The metro network

The other major mobility project taken up by the MMRDA is the Mumbai metro. Construction for the stretch from Versova to Ghatkopar began in 2007 with over Rs 4000 crore spent on it. The metro has a carrying capacity of four lakh persons daily and has reduced travel time by 20 minutes on the east-west route. It runs around 200-250 services every day which has to an extent reduced congestion on the roads with carbon dioxide levels too expected to drop by 1,66,000 tons a year. 

It is also safer compared to the suburban stretches, where eight people reportedly die daily, while crossing the tracks or falling off the train as people scramble to get in and out. Such accidents are prevented by the metro system.

Overall, it has had limited success so far. The current metro ridership is at seven lakh per day and is expected to rise to 11 lakh. More metro lines are being added which are expected to become functional by 2022. Having a corridor of 58 km, Metro 2A line will cover Dahisar to DN Nagar (18.5 Km), line 2B will cover DN Nagar to Mandale (23.5 Km) and line 7 will run from Dahisar East to Andheri East (16.5 Km), connecting the western and eastern extremes.

There will be 63 new metro trains, each with six coaches, which will be brought in to complete the metro network. The metro fare generally ranges from Rs 10-Rs 40, though no revenue figures are currently available. The $ 926-million project is funded on a loan from the Asian Development Bank.

However, just having a Metro or monorail will not solve the city’s transport woes. Nikshit, 20, who uses the metro from Andheri to Ghatkopar agrees that it is time-saving. But, to reach the metro station, he has to take a bus and then a local. This ‘last-mile’ connectivity is one of the major issues that prevents more commuters from using the metro or monorail. According to the survey done by Centre for Public Research (CPPR) in Kochi, last mile connectivity was an important factor in people using public transport. 

In Mumbai, though there is an option to take shared auto-rickshaws at the stations, this is not regulated and has sprouted as the outcome of a lack of other transport options. Like Delhi, Mumbai needs to introduce e-rickshaws. To make it popular, the fare can be set at Rs 10 and subsidy can be provided by the government to encourage operators. It will also reduce the need for creating parking space for private vehicles at stations. 

Linking metro to transit points

To bridge the gap between metro station to transit points, the Delhi Metro Rail Corporation (DMRC) started 200 feeder bus services on most routes. Recently, DMRC introduced ‘one card’ to pay for all tickets — bus, metro as well as parking fees. According to a survey by the School of Planning and Architecture (SPA) in Delhi, 50 percent of the people who use private vehicles will switch to metro if there is good transit system in place. This survey also pointed out that last-mile connectivity was the key to increasing metro ridership. 

The MMRDA does have plans to use some of the funds to improve last mile connectivity enabling more people to use metro and monorail. Recently, MMRDA has approved a Rs 3500-crore project to build ropeways on the Malad-Marve and Gorai-Borivali routes. The project will also include widening of footpaths, improving street lighting, cycle tracks, dedicated parking zones, introduction of e-rickshaws etc. Also, ‘OnGo’- a mobile transport ticketing system will be launched soon, enabling users to pay using phones and scan the codes to open the AFC gates at stations.

Solving last mile issues for monorail travellers

Mumbai’s 20-million plus population, who have the reputation of being on the move 24X7, urgently needs alternatives to the suburban rail. While the monorail hasn’t proved to be a popular choice so far, it can be a success with higher frequency and better connectivity to its stations. It runs on an elevated platform which makes its capital cost cheaper as compared to the metro. Though it has only four coaches, with higher frequency it can help reduce vehicular traffic and numbers on the local trains. It can also act as a feeder system. There is no doubt that the metro has far higher passenger capacity-to-cost ratio, but in dense cities like Mumbai, both can work in tandem. This can also take the pressure of an aging bus system which at present caters to below 20 lakh commuters daily. 

With the city expanding, the suburbs need better connectivity and alternative transport systems can bring that about. But effective implementation depends on transparency and accountability from MMRDA. Delays and cost increases cannot be written off every time.

Active citizen participation is needed, not just for accountability, but also in planning the routes. Though the Mumbai civic authorities have so far not initiated any citizen participation process for infrastructure development, some groups have been proactive. For instance, last year, residents had protested at Khar against Metro 2B elevated construction over safety concerns. They wanted the line to be construed underground.

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