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Sunday, Sep 22, 2019

Forget Hyperloop, what city needs is hyper-connectivity

With nearly 1.25 lakh vehicles a day and nearly 100 million people travelling every year on the Mumbai-Pune stretch, perhaps there is a niche market for the Hyperloop

mumbai Updated: Aug 01, 2019 00:58 IST
Smruti Koppikar
Smruti Koppikar
Hindustan Times
Representative picture.
Representative picture.(HT Photo)
         

The most alluring part of the journey from Mumbai to Pune, or in the reverse direction, is often the opportunity to quietly absorb the majesty and peace that the mountains and troughs of the Sahyadris have to offer.

In the monsoon, this stretch between the cities acquires a breath-taking beauty in multiple shades of lush green that only Nature knows how to unravel. It’s balm for city-battered souls.

The train ride offers the best view once habitation and traffic of one city falls away and that of the other is yet to begin. The road trip is a close second. The Expressway has taken some old thrills off this journey and brought more cement concrete in nearer view before the green takes over. But it allows us to literally drive through the Sahyadris wherever the road tunnels through the mountains. Imagine giving up these perks of the Mumbai-Pune travel to save time, reaching the other city in a few minutes via the Hyperloop bubble without seeing or feeling the Sahyadris.

The Maharashtra government approved a test track for the Hyperloop this week and gave it the status of “public infrastructure”. If all goes according to plan, the Hyperloop, costing ₹70,000 crore and running at nearly 500 kilometres an hour, will cut down the Mumbai-Pune travel time to mere 23 minutes.

That is, if the entire planned stretch between Bandra Kurla Complex (BKC) and Wakad is laid in the next six-eight years.

With nearly 1.25 lakh vehicles a day and nearly 100 million people travelling every year on the Mumbai-Pune stretch, perhaps there is a niche market for the Hyperloop. But this would mean little to travellers who must negotiate regular road traffic at both ends of their journey. Nearly 60% of the three-four hour road journey is spent negotiating traffic within the two cities. So the Hyperloop could become a grand show piece but do little for actual travel.

What could – and would – make a huge difference to citizens, not necessarily only Mumbai-Pune travellers, is the seamless integration of all transport options within the Mumbai Metropolitan Region (MMR) with their inter-channel linkages and change-overs worked out to the last detail. The Mumbai Metropolitan Region (MMR) is spread over 4,355 sq km, Mumbai is just over a tenth of the total spread. Official statistics show that in the last decade, the population growth rate of Mumbai was 3.9%, and 40.3% for the rest of the MMR.

The MMR is the sixth largest metropolitan area in the world. Transport options within each node or district of the MMR leave a lot to desire, transport options between them comes close to a nightmare depending on which geographies are to be covered. The railway connections and change-overs may have improved in the last decade but travel is not as seamless as it could be. The road transport linkages could do with a huge overhaul. Commuters should not have to change two buses to get from, say Mahape to Mira Road.

Why is this important? Because nearly half of all those who travel in the MMR use the railways and another 25% use the bus networks. Also, the trans-harbour links and waterways have not got the boost they need to make a real difference to travellers. There should ideally an integrated transport system of public and multi-modal options. That ideal, at this time, seems as fanciful as the Hyperloop. Its need, though, is more real and urgent.

What could be a modest start to this seamless blend would be an integrated ticketing system. We have been promised this for years but it was still in the feasibility stage late last year – after four extensions – when the Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority (MMRDA) was coordinating with 14 transport agencies to make this happen.

A staggering 75-80% of the office space and commercial headquarters are still in Mumbai city, according to a report by a property consultancy firm two years ago. This makes the need for integrated transport within the MMR a high priority. Meanwhile, the Mumbai-Pune travel won’t be poorer for lack of an ultra-rapid and scenery-less Hyperloop.

First Published: Aug 01, 2019 00:51 IST