An era of Mumbai's transport history is set to repeat itself. A two-member delegation sent by the state government to Kolkata to study its tram system and see whether it could be replicated in Mumbai has returned with positive news.
MTSU officials said the team suggests that trams are feasible for Mumbai and suggested that they are first started in south Mumbai's heritage precincts. If the idea is accepted, the trams will probably be faster and air-conditioned.
"It's a practical idea. We are analysing the data put together by the delegation," said Ajit Kumar Jain, project manager of the Mumbai Transformation Support Unit (MTSU).
The MTSU was approved by the World Bank and the Cities Alliance and set up under agreement with the state government and the All-India Institute of Local Self-Government (AIILSG).
The idea for trams in heritage precincts was also put forward by an MTSU paper on new approaches to mobility in Mumbai. The paper, presented on December 9, stated: "Trams can be used to effect dispersal of commuters in heritage areas, where the right of way is too constrained for a full-fledged bus service."
The delegation members - transport expert Bina Balakrishnan and AIILSG programme officer Gautam Kirtane - refused to share details of the study tour, but Secretary (Special Projects) Sanjay Ubale had said earlier that the government was seriously thinking about bringing back trams.
Trams are one of the options before the state government, which is looking to strengthen the city's public transport system. It figured prominently in a meeting chaired by Chief Secretary Dr DK Sankaran on November 17 that discussed different options.
"Trams are ideal for south Mumbai. They have a low accident rate, are cheaper to build and maintain and are more spacious than buses. A tram system would cost Rs 35 to Rs 45 crore per kilometre and would take two years to build," said an official who attended the meeting.
"The tram is no longer a throwback to a bygone era. Its hardware and look has changed completely. Trams today are faster, more comfortable and efficient. Given Mumbai's traffic, they could go underground or even be elevated," said Arun Mokashi, a senior transport expert with the World Bank project.
It's not just transport experts who are giving trams the thumbs up. "Mumbai should never have discontinued trams. They were such a wonderful mode of transport. They could have been upgraded to complement road traffic," said urban historian Sharada Dwivedi.