The wait of Mumbaikars for metro services in the city came to an end when Maharashtra chief minister Prithviraj Chavan flagged off the first service from Versova Station in the western suburb on Sunday.
The metro service is available on Versova-Andheri-Ghatkopar corridor. After inauguration, Chavan travelled in the metro from Versova to Ghatkopar.
The service was launched by Chavan along with ADAG Chairman Anil Ambani at 10.10am.
The launch of metro services will revolutionise the commutation of Mumbaikars, Chavan said after the launch.
With this service, the journey on the 11.4 km Versova-Andheri-Ghatkopar stretch will reduce to 20 minutes which otherwise takes around 90 minutes at present by road transport.
The launch of the metro services was, however, not without controversy as Chavan had on Saturday said that he will inaugurate the services only if MMOPL (Mumbai Metro One Pvt Ltd) adheres to the state government-notified fares. But, later on he agreed to flag-off the service.
Admitting that there was a dispute over the fares, Chavan expressed the hope that the issue will be resolved through court.
MMOPL Director Debashish Mohanty had on Saturday said they would go ahead with the launch of the service on Sunday even if the Chief Minister does not come for the inauguration.
MMOPL and the state government have been locked in a dispute over the fares for quite some time. The operator fixed a minimum fare of Rs 10 and a maximum of Rs 40 for a one way journey, going against the Maharashtra government's notified fare band of Rs 9-13, citing cost escalation in the three-phase project, work on which began eight years ago.
The government is insisting on keeping the fare between Rs 9 and Rs 13 as finalised in the concessionaire agreement. Reliance Infra, however, has revised fares to Rs 10-Rs 40 owing to an increase in operating costs and in line with the Central Metro Act.
“This three-fold hike in tariff is unacceptable to us. I am fighting solely in the interests of the citizens. This kind of a hike has to be justified before a central tariff fixation committee or the court,” said Chavan earlier. “I will flag off the metro. But, this promotional fare (Rs 10 for the first 30 days) can’t be a compromise. We want them to stick to the earlier tariff or get the new tariff ratified by a competent authority.”
MMOPL is a joint venture company comprising Anil Ambani's Reliance Infrastructure, Veolia Transport and the Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority (MMRDA).
MMRDA has already moved the Bombay High Court against the hike and the matter would come up for hearing tomorrow.
The metro train services on the 11.4 km Versova-Andheri-Ghatkopar stretch, phase 1 of the project, will be available every four minutes.
MMOPL will operate 200-250 services a day, carrying around 11 lakh passengers. Every coach can carry 375 passengers, while the entire train can transport 1,500 commuters.
Over 70 lakh commuters use the suburban railway every day.
The metro service comes four months after the city got the country's first monorail between suburban Chembur and Wadala on February 1 this year.
Reliance Infra is planning to study traffic pattern for a month and then revise the fare. “The fare structures we have come up with are based on provisions of Central Metro Act, which has superseded the concession agreement. But, we will study traffic pattern, customer preference for 30 days and then take a call on fares,” added Jalan.
When asked why Reliance Infra did not wait for a few days to resolve the fare issue before announcing opening of the Metro line, Reliance Infra chief executive officer Lalit Jalan said: “The issue has been pending for a year. I don’t think it would have been resolved in two-three days.”
Chavan said this project was conceptualised in 2006.
"It had faced several challenges during execution mainly because it is an elevated corridor. But, finally we have started the first Versova-Andheri-Ghatkopar corridor," he said.
"This project is important for a populated city like Mumbai. It definitely has taken time. The government has been insisting on all safety measures should be met and that there is no compromise on safety of passengers," he said after the launch.
"The launch of monorail, now metro and other transport projects now shows we have really entered the 21st century," Chavan said.
This is the country's first metro BOOT project. Earlier, when the bids were invited it was under the Indian Tramways Act. But, later the Central government introduced the Metro Act and this project will henceforth be governed under that Act, the chief minister said.
(With PTI inputs)