Union railway minister Suresh Prabhu on Monday said the railways and the state are looking at staggering office timings to reduce overcrowding in suburban trains during peak hours.
“Any business works on demand-and-supply model. If supply has reached its saturation, we should work on the demand. The state, too, is keen on staggering the timings. The chief minister has agreed to do it and we will soon work it out,” said Prabhu, during his visit to the city on Monday.
More than 75 lakh commuters use the suburban railway network daily to travel to work, with a majority of them heading towards central and south Mumbai. Transport experts have been suggesting tweaking working hours as a solution. Staggered office timings was one of the suggestions made by transport experts during a discussion as part of Hindustan Times’ Unclog Mumbai initiative in September 2014.
Prabhu had first suggested it to the state government in a meeting with CM Devendra Fadnavis in January 2015. He has now asked senior railway officers to discuss with the state officials ways to even out peak-hour rush. The minister was in the city on Monday to inaugurate various facilities, including WiFi at suburban stations, new ticket booking offices at Borivli, Goregaon and Nalasopara and inauguration of new toilets at different stations.
“We will contact the state government officials concerned to discuss if staggering office timings is feasible. It is a good idea, but we have to take it to its logical end with implementation,” said a senior railway official, requesting anonymity.
The state officials said the Fadnavis government was yet to take a decision. “Although there is a demand for it, it is not under active consideration so far. We need to study how it is implemented in other cities that have a population of more than 10 million, what impact it will have on people and who will monitor it. Departments that don’t have direct public contact can be allowed staggered hours, but this needs to be studied,” said an official.
The issue has been debated several times before, but no steps have been taken towards it. Taking the increasing vehicular traffic and passenger growth in trains into account, flexible work hours is the need of the hour, said experts, adding it is a common phenomenon globally.
“All cities in America, Germany and Japan have an unwritten rule of flexible working hours and days. Employees are allowed to work one day from home, although it also depends on the nature of the work. Developed countries are promoting flexi-hours to reduce burden on their public transport and road infrastructure,” said Ashok Datar, transport expert.
Authorities in populated cities in Asia such as Singapore have been practising it for many years. The Shanghai government, too, was planning to experiment it two years ago to reduce road traffic during peak hours.
Referring to CST-Panvel and Bandra-Virar elevated corridor, Prabhu said the city needs elevated corridors to accommodate the increasing rush. “The additional infrastructure would need Rs20,000 crore to Rs40,000 crore and should have been built 15-20 years ago to cater to the current passenger growth. As it didn’t happen then, we are trying to work on it, but it is not possible to construct all of it in a short span.”