Pay attention to Metro in Mumbai, but don’t ignore BEST
The Fadnavis government now aims to build nine metro lines to connect Mumbai vertically as well as horizontallyUpdated: Aug 01, 2017, 00:35 IST
Over the past few months, chief minister Devendra Fadnavis has been pushing an ambitious agenda to build a network of metro projects in Mumbai.
The city already has one metro project operational—Versova-Andheri-Ghatkopar. The Fadnavis government now aims to build nine metro lines to connect Mumbai vertically as well as horizontally. This will be a much needed and significant addition to city’s public transport system since the construction of Mumbai suburban railway which is the largest mass transport system that ferries 75 lakh people daily. It will involve enormous investment of over Rs80,000 crore.
Among the metro lines that have actually reached the construction stage, the most significant is the 33.5-km Colaba-Bandra-SEEPZ (Metro 3) that will connect business hubs of Nariman Point, Central Mumbai, Bandra Kurla Complex and Andheri-SEEPZ as well as the Mumbai airport. It is expected to cost Rs23,136 crore and according to Mumbai Metro Rail Corporation Limited managing director Ashwini Bhide, it is expected to carry 17 lakh commuters every day when it will be ready in 2020-21. Bhide and her team say the work on the project will start in a month or two and will take three years to complete.
Some other lines like Wadala-Ghatkopar-Kasarvadavali and Andheri-Bandra-Mankhurd will also provide much needed travel options to Mumbaiites. Though there have been some hurdles, the state seems to be keen on getting construction of most metro lines on track. This is a significant step in improving city’s public transport and will help reduce congestion on roads. But none of these projects is expected to be operational before 2019-2020.
While the state’s thrust on metro lines is understandable, it is probably ignoring the crisis the city’s second largest mass transport system, the Brihanmumbai Electric Supply and Transport (BEST) is facing.
The BEST bus service that caters to 30 lakh commuters daily is passing through its worse financial crisis. The losses are mounting, the number of commuters is on decline and it doesn’t have enough funds to replace its aging fleet of buses.
Majority of BEST commuters are those who are travelling short distances or for last mile connectivity, students and senior citizens. Decline in number of BEST travel would obviously mean more people using other means of road transport and adding to the congestion on city roads.
The BEST has been an undertaking of the BMC and is governed by political nominees. What they have done over the years is there to see. There was little planning and vision. In the past two decades, Mumbai changed significantly. Once a city that housed both industries and finance sector establishments, is now only a financial and service sector city. This has changed the way people work. South Mumbai’s business district is not the only business hub in the city. BKC has become a parallel address to Nariman Point. With commercial development of defunct textile mill land, central Mumbai has emerged as a new hub. The industrial belt in Andheri east-Marol turned into another commercial district. Some smaller hubs have also come up in the suburbs. Considering this, the BEST should have reworked its routes, introduced smaller AC buses and adopted new technology. This did not happen.
Unfortunately, while the state is willing to spend thousands of crores on metro projects, it seems to be unwilling to bail the BEST out of the crisis. As transport experts are pointing out, the state and the BMC must step in to help the BEST and take lead in its revival. Unlike the metro projects, the BEST is cheap when it comes to building infrastructure for it. Unlike metro routes, it won’t take much time for improvement in the BEST which means better public transport services can be offered to the city in a short time.
HT has started the ‘BEST Bachao’ series to highlight the importance of reviving the city’s iconic public transport system. While Mumbai needs metro transport, it also needs BEST bus service.