“The worst thing about Mumbai is that if one thing fails, everything else comes to a halt,” says 23-year-old technology consultant Shrihari Sivaraman.
Sivaraman is talking specifically about his daily commute.
And the profound truth of his statement became apparent last week, when striking motormen brought the city to its knees.
How was this possible? Because, in the 50 years since the state of Maharashtra was born, the country’s commercial capital has not managed to build a single new mass transit system.
Work on the city’s Metro lines crawls along, missing deadline after deadline. Work on the 10 proposed monorail links and the water transport systems has not yet begun.
Meanwhile, the Mumbai commuter continues to depend almost entirely on an 84-year-old ‘lifeline’. And 6.5 million people continue to pack themselves into the 2,000-odd daily train services.
“There is too much of a burden on the trains, and the buses,” says Sivaraman. “I am waiting… we are all waiting, for the Metro and the monorail to ease the burden a little.”
That easing of the burden could begin in December, when the state government has promised to finally finish work on the first of nine Metro links — an 11-km stretch linking Versova, Andheri and Ghatkopar.
By May 2011, the first monorail link should also be complete — a 19.54-km stretch from Jacob’s Circle to Chembur via Wadala.
In addition to easing the burden on the railways and the roads, these links will improve east-west connectivity in the city, allowing commuters to criss-cross the city more easily and more quickly.
“Mumbai currently has a linear transport system which only provides north-south connectivity,” says Metropolitan Commissioner Ratnakar Gaikwad said. “There is a strong need for alternatives that will reduce the burden and dependence on this network and make it possible for a commuter to move between the farthest points of the city in an hour.”
By 2015, a second Metro link will likely be ready — the 32-km Charkop-Bandra-Mankhurd stretch.
That is also the year Mumbai is expected to finally be able to board hovercrafts and catamarans, making use of the city’s most obvious commuting solution: It’s 62-kilometre coastline.
A total of 10 monorail links are also in the making, though there are not dates yet for these.
These links will allow Mumbaiites to speed along from east to west or north to south, and will act as a feeder service to the railways, Metro lines and water transport system.
The bad news: Delays have sent costs soaring. Phase I of the Metro Rail project, originally estimated to cost
Rs 19,525 crore, is now expected to cost over Rs 50,000 crore.
The red tape and delays are also keeping private investors away in some cases.
And Deputy Chief Minister Chhagan Bhujbal recently asked the Centre for help with the proposed water transport system.
Meanwhile, Mihir Pai (25) continues to spend four hours a day travelling just 27 km either way between Thane and Currey Road.
“It takes 40 minutes just to get from the railway station to my office, a distance of two kilometres,” says the human resources professional. “The trains are packed, the roads are packed. There are traffic jams everywhere. It’s just exhausting.”