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Future and options

mumbai Updated: Dec 11, 2009 01:09 IST

The late British Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli said travel teaches tolerance. But for the one crore Mumbaiites who use the public transport system every day, travel is the exact opposite. So stress-inducing is it that it’s often been blamed for the lower life expectancy that Mumbaiites have — 56.8 years compared to the national average of 63.7.

In trains, eight people stand in less than one square metre of space. On the 319-km rail network, a train meant for 2,340 commuters carries 5,000. Hardly surprising then that 4,000 people fall to their deaths from our trains every year.

A United Nations Development Programme report stated: “Travel detracts at least four hours from people’s workday lives, which means less time to socialise and much less time for families. It is the salient travel pattern of Mumbai.”

This observation only underscores the futility of dreaming of becoming another Shanghai while depending on a 84-year-old transport system.

The government has finally woken up to the need for an alternative transport system, which includes air-conditioned Metro coaches gliding 18 feet above the ground and hovercraft that will make use of Mumbai’s 62-km coastline, something that’s never been achieved before.

The new mutli-modal transport system will comprise a nine-line Metro and a citywide monorail system that will act as a feeder service for railway and Metro lines. The water transport system will exploit the seafront, though that’s having trouble getting off the ground.

“That a city like Mumbai offers only linear north-south connectivity doesn’t bode well for the future. What we need is east-west connectivity, which assures that commuting between any two points doesn’t take more than an hour,” Metropolitan Commissioner Ratnakar Gaikwad said.

The Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority (MMRDA), which Gaikwad heads, is attempting just that through the Metro and monorail projects, which are likely to cost over Rs 50,000 crore.

Two Metro lines have already been cleared; the Ghatkopar-Andheri line is likely to be ready next year, while the other will be finished by 2014. Together, they’ll carry 18 lakh commuters.

Mumbai’s trains carry 65 lakh people every day.

MMRDA’s first monorail — Jacob Circle to Wadala — should be ready by 2011. Sleeker and lighter than other transit systems, monorails will provide connectivity to relatively congested areas where heavier systems like the Metro and trains can’t go.

“Mumbai needs a system that occupies less space and reduces travel time. The monorail is effective in areas where there are space constraints,” Gaikwad said.

Even though the Metro and monorail are becoming a reality, one of the cheapest alternatives — water transport — hasn’t found any takers. Many potential bidders feel the concept is not viable.

Deputy Chief Minister Chhagan Bhujbal recently requested the centre for help on this front. “The Centre should help us implement the water transport system,” Bhujbal said.

Till the Centre does so, lakhs of commuters will have to make do with overcrowded trains and choked roads.


‘Three Metro lines by 2014’

Ratnakar Gaikwad, Commissioner, MMRDA

As the man driving the Metro and monorail projects, Ratnakar Gaikwad is in charge of perhaps the most ambitious part of Mumbai’s transport makeover. The Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority (MMRDA) chief spoke to Hindustan Times.

What is the need for an alternative transport system in Mumbai?

Mumbai has a linear transport system, which only provides north-south connectivity. In a city like ours, people should be able to move between the farthest points in an hour. We plan to do this by setting up a multi-modal system transportation corridor comprising a Metro and monorail network, which will provide east-west connectivity and take the load off the railway system. It will make suburban travel more comfortable.

When will these systems be operational?

We expect to gift the city three Metro lines by 2014. One monorail line will be operational by 2011. We have started work on the details of the other monorail lines too. A consultant has been appointed to identify more routes for the monorail.

There was opposition to the projects.

There was opposition from certain quarters, but these projects have been planned such that they cause minimum inconvenience to people.