The Great Divide: 200 civic buses, 50,000 autos for 22L population is the story of Thane transport system

Updated on Feb 04, 2022 09:01 PM IST

There should be more than one option of public transport in Thane in order to ensure that even one particular mode of transport is not overburdened; commuters are heavily dependent on private transport facilities as buses just act as feeder system

Work in progress for Metro project in Thane. With over 10 lakh people out of the population of over 22 lakh commuting to Thane railway station from different parts of the city, the only modes of public transport here are the 200-odd civic buses and 50,000 auto rickshaws. (PRAFUL GANGURDE/HT PHOTO)
Work in progress for Metro project in Thane. With over 10 lakh people out of the population of over 22 lakh commuting to Thane railway station from different parts of the city, the only modes of public transport here are the 200-odd civic buses and 50,000 auto rickshaws. (PRAFUL GANGURDE/HT PHOTO)
ByAnkita G Menon, Thane

With over 10 lakh people out of the population of over 22 lakh commuting to Thane railway station from different parts of the city, the only modes of public transport here are the 200-odd civic buses and 50,000 auto rickshaws.

Over 23 lakh private vehicles including cars and two-wheelers are registered in the city, as per the RTO records till 2020-21. This is largely due to the lack of public transport.

Thane is connected with Mumbai with the help of the overly-burdened suburban railways. There is no other efficient system that provides easy connectivity to the city as of now. Commuters are heavily dependent on private transport facilities as the bus services just act as a feeder system. Hiring auto rickshaws for daily commute becomes an expensive affair for the middle-class population in the city.

The concept of Last Mile Connectivity is still alien to the city. If a person stays in Shivaji Nagar, he first has to travel to Majiwada or Vartak Nagar to get public transport as bus services are far away from most residential areas.

Moreover, there should be more than one option of public transport in order to ensure that even one particular mode of transport is not overburdened. Ghodbunder Road is a large stretch of road that has branched out and developed into areas like Patlipada, Waghbil and Kapurbawdi. To reach these areas from railway or metro stations, Last Mile Connectivity is the need of the hour.

The city has a vehicular population equal to that of its population. As per the pollution control report of Thane Municipal Corporation (TMC) and the RTO statistics, 23.13 lakh vehicles are registered in the city including 13.41 lakh two-wheelers and 5.23 lakh four-wheelers.

The missing Last Mile Connectivity has led to more than 30,000 private vehicles including two-wheelers at any given time plying within the city on a regular basis. “There are around 40,000 to 60,000 private vehicles that cross the toll naka on a daily basis along with around 20,000 heavy vehicles,” said Balasaheb Patil, Deputy Commissioner of Police, Traffic.

According to urban planners, public transport helps cities reduce traffic congestion and the overall level of pollution.

“There are many townships along Ghodbunder Road that can provide shuttle services during peak hours and ease the load of private vehicles or crowds in public transport. A macro transport service is the need of the hour. Metro or monorail can provide ring route services within the city and enough provisions need to be made to ensure that an individual can reach their final destination with the help of public transport,” said Pankaj Joshi, principal director, Urban Centre, Mumbai.

TMC currently has bus services and auto rickshaws that provide internal transport facilities. Given the population of the city, these are not enough, especially during the peak hours.

LAST MILE CONNECTIVITY, NEED OF THE HOUR

As per calculation for every one lakh population, the city requires 80 buses. With a population of 22 lakh and more, Thane city requires around 1,760 buses.

However only around 300 buses exist as of now and even among these, 50% need to be scrapped as they have completed their running period.

Hence, a macro transport service that focusses on Last Mile Connectivity is essential. Auto rickshaws have a share-service to reach out to different parts of the city. However, this only adds to the traffic on the roads.

Thane city has more than 50,000 autos and more than one lakh commuters travel by auto on a regular basis. “It was only during the lockdown that a slight lull was noticed in people opting for autos. But now, the peak hour rush is back. Only around 10% autos are found waiting at different stands across the city. All others are plying commuters most of the time,” said Vinayak Surve, president, Thane auto union.

Chandrahas Tawde, activist and former general secretary of Thane District Commuters Association, said, “The bus services in Thane city, if compared to neighbouring cities, are fewer. Considering the population and vast area of the city, around 50% of the services should be in areas like Kasarvadavali and Ghodbunder Road. However, Thane Municipal Transport (TMT) does not have enough fleet and is awaiting funds from the government to increase its services. Thane is connected with Mumbai and Navi Mumbai with only a handful of TMT services. The rest are bus services from the neighbouring cities.”

Sudheer Raut, retired transport manager, Thane, said, “TMT needs to improve. Only buses running on public-private participation (PPP) basis are functioning properly but those that are under the TMT need proper maintenance.”

A senior officer from TMT said, “We have faced losses amounting to around 80Cr amidst the pandemic. We are currently planning to add 200 buses on PPP basis, 100 electrical buses and 50 mini buses to our fleet.”

This still does not solve commuter’s issues. Last Mile Connectivity is the need of the hour.

INTERNAL METRO IN THE PIPELINE

Every year, the governing authorities have come up with plans to increase connectivity and make commuting easier for locals. Projects like Metro 4, internal metro, water transport, driverless pod cars were planned, but most remain only on paper.

TMC has approved 10,000Cr for the internal metro that will be linked to the Metro 4 line. The internal metro will be operated in areas like Wagale Estate, Manpada and Pokharan Road and will also connect the old and new Thane stations.

“Internal metro is in the pipeline, we have submitted a detailed project report to the State Government. This is a crucial mode of transport for the city as it will connect with Metro 4 and 5, thus forming a ring route that connects with the old part of the city as well,” said Vipin Sharma, TMC commissioner.

WATER TRANSPORT TO REDUCE TRAVEL TIME

The water transport in the city is in three phases. The first phase will be from Vasai to Thane and Kalyan; the second from Thane to Mumbai; and the third phase will be from Thane to Navi Mumbai. The presence of dense Ulhas River, creek and coastal network offers viability of inland water transport in MMR region of Thane, Kalyan and Vasai. This phase will cover a distance of over 45km and cut the travel time from two hours to an hour and 10 minutes.

As of now, the detailed project report of the water transport submitted by TMC has received sanction from the State government and is currently under the Maritime Board.

Sulakshana Mahajan, town planning expert, said, “Thane’s neighbouring cities like Mumbai and Navi Mumbai have their bus services that interlink these cities with Thane as well. A similar system needs to be developed as well as most of the residents travel to nearby cities for work purposes. There are highways that run through the city and the Ghodbunder Road is a major link to the Eastern Express Highway and also connects to Mira Road. With the speed of expansion, a plan needs to be in place that will make travelling from Ghodbunder Road in both directions feasible and accessible. The water transport and internal metro facilities will be useful only if both the metro services are inter-connected and similarly a link to the jetties for water transport is made available.”

Metro 4 plans to connect Wadala to Kasarvadavali. This stretch, according to Mumbai Metropolitan Regional Development Authority, would reduce the road travel time anywhere between 50% and 75%. The upcoming Metro services are a ray of hope. However, residents are unsure as to how much time the project would take to complete.

Pramod Ahuja, director (works), MMRDA, said, “We have completed 45% of the planned work as of now. The project will take six to eight months more than the scheduled completion.”

BARRICADES SLOWING DOWN TRAFFIC

As most of the roads are already barricaded for Metro construction, residents are finding it difficult to commute.

Waman Kale, president, Ghodbunder Road Housing Society Welfare Association, said, “Metro work is already blocking 25% of the road at various places, making it difficult to drive through. After pillars are put up for the Metro, ideally the barricades should be removed, but that is not being done, increasing traffic.”

There are plans to develop another railway station between Mulund and Thane stations. Such a station will definitely ease the pressure at Thane station during peak hours. The current location for a new station will help divert crowds from Lokmanya Nagar, Kisan Nagar and areas in the vicinity to travel towards the new premises to catch a train. Another option would be to have all long-distance trains from the new location and local trains from the existing station. Either way, it will help ease the crowd.

“Unlike other cities, Thane has a very different demand. Here, those travelling outside the city towards Mumbai and other areas are more than those travelling within the city. For any development, we need to also focus on these aspects and plan accordingly. As of now, we are looking at acquisition of 38 electric buses that will cater to more routes and make commuting within the city easier. Our focus is on areas that are in demand. In the next five years, we shall have one third of our fleet with electric buses,” said Sharma.

Sharma added that buses are a public service. “Buses under maintenance, repair and purchasing new ones are all part of a routine cycle of a civic transport system. We are building on this depending on the funds available with the TMT.”

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