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Why Mumbai needs an integrated transport system

mid-day examines the city’s various modes of transportation and their governing bodies and finds that without a nodal agency to chalk out a long-term urban transportation plan, our travelling woes are here to stay

In the financial capital of the country, you would expect authorities to put their money where their mouth is. Yet, public transport infrastructure in Mumbai is dismal, to say the least. There is no coordination between the dozens of agencies and organisations that build and maintain rail and road networks, worsening the situation for Mumbaikars.

Monorail stations are neither close to suburban railway stations, nor are there frequent BEST buses connecting them to important destinations. File pics
Monorail stations are neither close to suburban railway stations, nor are there frequent BEST buses connecting them to important destinations. File pics

Every day, 75 lakh people travel by local trains; 40 lakh take the buses run by the BEST and nearly 50 lakh commute by auto rickshaws and taxis. The Metro also has a significant user base, which is missing from the Monorail. Despite so many users, planning agencies have bungled up time and again in executing projects and making life easier for citizens.

WR and MMRDA have been unable to reach a consensus over who will put up a railway ticket counter for passengers going from Metro to Andheri railway stations via the skywalk
WR and MMRDA have been unable to reach a consensus over who will put up a railway ticket counter for passengers going from Metro to Andheri railway stations via the skywalk

In his budget speech, Railway Minister D V Sadananda Gowda emphasised the need for integrating Indian Railways with other modes of transport. Even a behemoth like Indian Railways — which carries 23 million people every day and has an outlay of Rs 35,241 crore a year has recognised the need to join hands with local transport systems.

This, however, has been traditionally wanting, with different bodies like the BMC, MMRDA, PWD and MSRDC being unable to see eye-to-eye on several projects. The simple task of acquiring permissions takes months and even years.

While government agencies blame each other for the poor condition of roads, commuters are stuck in traffic for hours
While government agencies blame each other for the poor condition of roads, commuters are stuck in traffic for hours

The result? Project costs escalate manifold due to delays, and the already crumbling infrastructure bears the additional load of incomplete bridges, dug-up roads and other bottlenecks.

mid-day analysed several cases where Mumbaikars have suffered immensely due to the involvement of multiple governmental agencies and the self-serving nature of political parties, which has held back the city from becoming truly world-class.

Rail transport: Railways, Metro and Monorail
It took the Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority (MMRDA) and Mumbai Metro One Pvt Ltd (MMOPL) six years to complete the Versova-Andheri-Ghatkopar (VAG) corridor of the Metro (The Delhi Metro opened eleven years ago).

Though it has received tremendous response and provides vital east-west connectivity, ego battles between MMRDA and the Railways have marred what could’ve been a landmark in public transport for Mumbai. The bone of contention a simple rail ticket counter.

Western Railway (WR) and MMRDA have had disagreements over the setting up of ticket counters for commuters who come out of the Metro station and walk into Andheri railway station. Currently, there is no railway ticket counter at the exit point of the Metro, where the skywalk connects to the railway bridge.

Thus, Metro commuters are pulled up by ticket checkers for not buying a ticket before entering railway premises. This leaves people with no option but to climb down the skywalk, buy a ticket from the railway counter below, and climb up the stairs to the railway bridge again an unnecessary detour that is a result of the inability of the two bodies to be on the same page.

“MMRDA was supposed to set up the ticket counter,” said Hemant Kumar, WR’s general manager. On the other hand, Metro officials blame WR for the mess. “We did create a separate ticket counter for Central Railway (CR) commuters at Ghatkopar, which is directly connected to the Metro skywalk.

WR authorities disagreed on many grounds, including the setup cost. Finally, they are the ones managing it,” said a Metro rail official. Even at Ghatkopar Metro station, the railway ticket counter is inconspicuous and is difficult to find. Even the skywalks that connect Metro and railway stations have multiple bodies involved.

According to MMOPL officials, part of the skywalks connecting the stations are built by the BMC and part by the MMRDA. The city’s other mega project, the Chembur-Wadala Monorail corridor, has received a lukewarm response.

While the people blame the route itself which is far away from residential and business hubs transport experts believe Monorail stations aren’t properly connected to roads or railway stations. Except for Chembur, which is connected by a skywalk, the rest of the Monorail stations are quite far from railway stations.

Wadala, for instance, is surrounded by a gigantic truck terminal almost in the middle of nowhere. There are very few BEST routes catering to this line, contributing to commuters’ decision to give the Monorail a miss.

Experts feel the Monorail will pick up pace once the entire line, up to Jacob Circle, is completed. Other phases of the Metro are also in the offing Phase 3 will connect Seepz, Bandra and Colaba.

The Railways, meanwhile, plan to extend Harbour lines to Goregaon, while also adding two new lines on the Churchgate-Borivli and CST-Thane routes. With so many developments taking place simultaneously, there is an even stronger case to have a single body overseeing these projects.

Road transport: BEST, autos and taxis
As the city expands ever further and different areas are connected via various modes, the lack of a common integrated vision shows at the points of intersection of two projects. The Traffic department, which is responsible for policing vehicles, for instance, is struggling to manage vehicular traffic on the stretch below the Metro.

Sources in the Traffic police said that their workload has unnecessarily gone up due to lack of coordination between agencies while planning and constructing the VAG Metro line, and roads like the Eastern Freeway and Santacruz-Chembur Link Road. “We are deploying around 200 more traffic policemen at these locations to manage the increasing traffic,” said B K Upadhyay, joint police commissioner (traffic).

Every day, 450 vehicles are registered in the city and there is no space for new ones. There are already 20 lakh vehicles plying in Mumbai and poor public transport leads to an increase in vehicular density. Officials said that there is a need for thinking about the corresponding load on the infrastructure and transportation due to the overlapping projects.

They pushed for having public transport run more on the new highways, while also ensuring adequate connectivity of other modes of public transport from the Metro/Monorail stations. Traffic cops assert the need for Railways, Metro, Monorail, BEST, taxis and auto rickshaws to coordinate at various levels and become different interconnected gears that collectively take the city forward. That, however, is not the case.

Around a month ago, the BEST launched two new routes outside Marol, Airport Road, Chakala and Azad Nagar Metro train stations to ferry passengers walking out from these stations. “We may increase feeder routes outside Metro stations depending on the demand. There are no plans to have bus services close to the Monorail stations,” said BEST General Manager Om Prakash Gupta.

Sadly, these feeder services haven’t got much response not because there people don’t want to used them travelling, but due to interference from auto rickshaws, that are either run by trade unions or individuals.
Auto rickshaws hog space right in front of Metro rail stations and park there haphazardly, waiting for passengers.

Locals pointed out that as the Metro ate away from their share of commuters from Andheri and Ghatkopar stations, these drivers wait in a disorderly fashion outside the 11 Metro rail stations, causing traffic jams and affecting the BEST’s feeder bus routes. People are yet to use or even know about these new services.

The Transport department and Regional Transport Offices (RTOs) are only responsible for giving permission for licences, approving them and taking action in case of issues. Yet there is no body to directly oversee the daily functioning of auto rickshaws and taxis.

BEST authorities agreed there is a lack of coordination that results in duplication of different modes of transport. “We will wait for four months or so, and if the demand for these feeder bus routes at Metro rail stations doesn’t increase, we will be forced to discontinue them,” added Gupta. The undertaking is already in the red, with only one of their 504 routes making a profit.

Too many cooks
MMRDA, which is supposed to be the planning agency for the city, complains that ideas suggested by various bodies throw a spanner in their works. A senior MMRDA official told mid-day, “In order to have a better transportation system that is interconnected, there should be a single agency to plan and implement projects. The various agencies looking after different aspects of development of transport create problems, as each one comes up with their own plans and projects.”

Leave alone the big-ticket projects; even basic infrastructure work like roads have multiple players. While the BMC looks after a road network spanning 1,800 square kilometres, the Western Express Highway (WEH), Eastern Express Highway (EEH) and the Sion-Panvel Highway are with the Public Works Department (PWD). The Maharashtra State Road Development Corporation (MSRDC) has an agency called Mumbai Entry Point Ltd, which collects toll on the WEH and EEH and is also supposed to maintain the flyovers on these highways.

It has become an annual rite of passage for Mumbaikars to suffer backbreaking potholes on these roads and two-wheeler riders die every year due to these craters. Yet, government bodies simply pass the buck or do a temporary job of fixing them. Contractors have absolutely zero accountability and yet, they keep getting contracts to ‘maintain’ the roads year after year.

For example, this paper had reported on a road in Santacruz that had 180 potholes, some of which measured 3x3 metres and were 10 inches deep. The road was part of a slum rehabilitation project under the Slum Rehabilitation Authority (SRA), yet another government body. “If there was a single agency constructing and maintaining the roads in Mumbai and MMR, there would be better roads and lesser potholes. It would ensure that the quality of roads is not compromised, thus preventing reckless spending of taxpayers’ money,” said a senior official from MSRDC.

In another case, it took the MSRDC years to procure permission to widen the bridge atop the Kanjurmarg railway station. The six-lane Jogeshwari-Vikhroli Link Road used to converge on this narrow bridge passing over the tracks, creating a huge bottleneck. Traffic would stretch from Kanjurmarg all the way to IIT-Bombay. After years of red-tape and delays, the bridge was widened a couple of years ago.

One for Mumbai
The need of the hour is a single body with a long-term vision of how the city’s infrastructure needs to be created and maintained in order to sustain the ever-growing population.

This body needs to envisage a grand scheme that encompasses all forms of transport in an intricate network ensuring that citizens can travel with ease. One should be able to take the local train, hop onto the Metro and then take a BEST bus or auto rickshaw to reach one’s destination, without having to worry about being stranded at any point.

When there is a single body looking after the city’s project planning and implementation, not only will the project be implemented in time, it will also help in saving money. Most of the time, bodies spend crores only on planning. Then, they follow different Acts and rules and varying standards of quality, which only results in the creation of transport silos that are disconnected from each other.

A common goal and consensus would help in executing the project in a fluid manner, at minimum cost. It is imperative that the different planning bodies come under the aegis of one grand organisation which is of Mumbai, by Mumbai and for Mumbai.

Official speak

Sadananda Gowda, Union Railway Minister
With the challenges posed by the steadily increasing urban population concentration in metros and in million-plus cities, a holistic approach to urban transport is required. We will coordinate with other transport ministries and urban bodies to develop optimal systems of integration of Railways with other transport modes. (From his budget speech)

Spokesperson MMOPL
MMRDA is the planning agency and they are coordinate with various agencies like BMC, Mumbai Police, CR and WR from time to time for completion of various facilities. MMOPL has cooperated and worked along with MMRDA, and implemented various systems as per plans. For instance, as CR had a direct connection with the Metro station at Ghatkopar, we made the provision to set up a separate ticket counter within the Metro station.

Dr B K Upadhyay, Joint Commissioner of Police(Traffic)
There needs to be a policy decision on an integrated transport system run by a single agency. There is a need for integration of public transport.

Expert speak

Vivek Sahai, Former chairman of the Railway Board
When we deal with urban transport, a lot depends on passengers cleared, especially during peak hours. For a city like Mumbai, there needs to be integration of Railways, Metro, Monorail on the lines of other developed cities.

Jitendra Gupta, Member, Citizen Transport Committee
Every project is delayed due to lack of coordination between agencies. Each project passes through a number of agencies such as Railways, BMC, PWD, environment ministry, power ministry, telecom ministry, traffic police and the local police and local politicians for removing encroachments

Jagdeep Desai, Architect and transport analyst
The timetables of different public transportation agencies should be interconnected and there is a need for a complete overhaul. The authorities should introduce a universal timetable for suburban railways, which matches with the bus service and other services.

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