Transportation Analayst Sudhir Badami, who is on the Government of Maharashtra’s recently re-activated committee on Road Safety (PWD), says Mumbai’s overburdened infrastructure is in serious need of government encouragement to walkers and cyclists.
For an outsider, Mumbai is a well-oiled machinery with suburban train services catering to 65 lakh commuters each day and its road bus transport making its presence felt especially in the Island City and SoBo (South Bombay for the uninitiated), until the visitor tries to travel beyond during the peak period. Fortunately on power front, most residents here have forgotten what an inverter is. If at all they have been exposed to this device, it comes into operation only to meet emergency needs of power during shut downs or fluctuations even in the Mumbai Metropolitan Region (MMR). So, what is wrong on the transportation front in Mumbai? Is the problem being addressed appropriately and adequately?
Though the aggregator services operating on smart phones using GPS have been welcomed by many, the Public Transport services cannot be matched by any intervention other than the tremendous augmentation of physical infrastructure. And for that, resources in terms of finance and space will run very short.
The scenario on public transport front is on the upswing with 172km of Metro Rail on rapid mode and 12km of second phase of Monorail nearing completion. Proposal to ply Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) services on the Coastal Road Project is also being considered and the Goregaon Mulund Link Road too is looking at ways to pass through the National Park at Borivali. MCGM has proposed a Parking Policy whose effectiveness will depend largely on the enforcement using Information Technology Systems. A point authorities seem to be sidelining is that more conveniences they provide to private motorcar users, more private motorcars will be used, and this will continue to invite congestion all the time. Let us examine the current transport infrastructure scenario and evolve a way forward. The Mumbai Suburban Rail System comprising Western Railway carries 75 to 80 lakh commuters daily, and the locations it caters to are much beyond Dahisar, Mulund and Mankhurd that fall within the MCGM areas. Except in the section of Harbour Line, from Mankhurd to Chatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Terminus (CST), the suburban lines run 12 coach trains and some services have 15 coach trains too.
Under Mumbai Urban Transport Project (MUTP), measures to increase the peak time capacity by increasing the number of coaches from 9 to 12, improving signaling system and conversion of power supply from DC to AC, were undertaken. Despite these, the Comprehensive Transport Study Report (CTS-2008) of Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority (MMRDA) said that the peak period load the railways catered to was 3,60,000 persons per hour (PPH), while the capacity has now touched 1,80,000 PPH. Is it any wonder that 3,600 fatal accidents take place on the suburban railway services? The question is: Why is a democratic country accepting such a slow process of augmenting the public transport capacity? Why is it so casual about the fatalities?
Both, the state as well as the Central governments, have ambitious targets to improve matter, but they are doing things in an entirely different way than what has been spelt out in the National Urban Transport Policy (NUTP). NUTP gives primacy to walking, cycling and public transport modes and discourages the use of personal motorcar usage. In Mumbai, scant attention is being paid to any of these.
On the public transport front, 172km of Metro Rail is planned and some of it is already under execution. Line-I of 11.4km began in 2006, and took eight years to come to the operational stage. The next three lines currently under construction have a potential of augmenting the capacity by 1,50,000 persons per hour (PPH) — if they run 8 coach-trains at a 3-minute frequency. However, information on the websites of Mumbai Metro Rail Corporation Limited (MMRCL) and MMRDA reveal that it will remain far low than that for a long time after it comes into operation sometime in 2023.
The original 146.5 km of Mumbai Metro Master Plan (MMMP) made in 2004 has undergone modification in the past 13 years and costs too have shot up about ten times from the original amount of Rs 19,550 Cr, not all attributable to inflation. The current government has opened several fronts of construction to expedite operations causing already congested roads further restraint at several places. It is doubtful if the planners have done a “what if” analysis. In case of delays on any one of the sections of the three lines under construction, the city will be under tremendous stress over a long period. There are several reasons for this to happen as the Versova-Andheri-Ghatkopar line has demonstrated.
With aging, the key elements of some infrastructure need refurbishments. Amar Mahal Flyover on Eastern Express Highway is reported to take another year to be restored and recently, the S-Bridge was totally demolished and resurrected. MCGM STAC Audit Report on Bridges and Flyovers in the city must be seriously considered while planning new infrastructure.
Are these proposed or ongoing projects going to improve the quality of life for the 1.25 Crore citizens of Mumbai and additional visiting commuters from MMR? Do they incorporate consequences of Global Warming and Climate Changes, and cater to disastrous situations experienced in the 2005 cloud burst and flooding? Frankly, I believe the answer is no. Then what is it that will meet the necessary requirement? In my opinion the focus should be on safe walking, safe cycling and developing the Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) infrastructure. Irrespective of any of the big ticket projects, walking infrastructure must be restored to usable status, and measures of disaster mitigation and ease in management must be introduced. Cycling infrastructure too can be looked into as road public transport is improved. We have missed the option to use the Skybus Technology of Konkan Railway which would have been very useful during disaster. Still, the Metro Rail we have opted for will at least address the Railway fatality number.
It must be remembered that Mumbai needs additional north-south public transport of the capacity of 1,80,000 PPH now and that can be introduced in the city by means of Bust Rapid Transit System (BRTS) in short time at one twentieth of the cost of what is being spent on Metro. Essentially, because of the high costs of Metro’s rolling stocks, its capacity will be a fraction of what is actually needed and potentially possible. BRTS will cost as little as the cost of two rakes of an 8-coach Metro at the most. With expected delays in Metro construction, Mumbai will at least have the BRTS to lean on.
To improve road infrastructure, the Coastal Road is on the anvil and the Goregaon-Mulund Link Road through the National Park is being scrutinized. Coastal Road is a great opportunity will improve quality of life of more than 50 lakh people, and will create accessible open spaces, thus making the proposal to run BRT services meaningful. Currently, the authorities are indulging in meaningless talk. All that is required is: redesign the project and call it Coast Protection Project.
(Sudhir Badami is on the committee working on the proposed Bill on ‘Maharashtra Mechanically Propelled Vehicles and Safety Act 2015’. He was on Government of Maharashtra’s erstwhile Steering Committee on BRTS for Mumbai and Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority’s erstwhile Technical Advisory Committee on BRTS for Mumbai).