Monorail as mass transport?

Print edition : March 07, 2014

On February 3 in Mumbai, a day after the monorail began operations. Photo: DANISH SIDDIQUI/REUTERS

INDIA’S first monorail transport system began operations in Mumbai on February 2. The pink, blue and green monorail cars do a lot to brighten the city’s drabness, but the system’s limited reach has raised doubts about its ability to help solve Mumbai’s transport- and traffic-related problems.

Its limited reach and the early closure in the evening are seen as factors that could go against it. The services, each carrying 560 passengers in four cars, are scheduled at 15-minute intervals and for the present cover a distance of 8.93 km, and run between 7 a.m. and 3 p.m.

The monorail route, Jacob Circle-Wadala-Chembur, passes through some congested areas that have seen unplanned growth. The huge pillars of the monorail’s superstructure have taken up chunks of space on already narrow roads, adding to the woes of road users. But in its favour is the fact that it passes through areas that are not serviced by mass public transport.

A sum of Rs.1,100 crore has been spent on it so far. An additional Rs.800 crore is the final estimate, and that is if it is done next year. Once complete, the line will be 20.21 km long and will connect south central Mumbai and the eastern suburbs. Some terminuses are within easy reach of bus stops or suburban train stations. Those that are not, say the monorail managers, will soon have better access.

The publicity around the monorail stems from two reasons—that it is the first in the country and that it is technologically advanced. But its critics point out that it carries 560 people as against the suburban rakes that are designed to carry 1,500 but end up carrying eight times that number. Trains run every few seconds during peak hours and services stop only for three hours in a day. The suburban system is under stress and this should have made the next choice of mass transport obvious. Why a system that caters to so few was constructed is difficult to explain. One explanation could lie with the overall development of the areas that the monorail crosses. It also perhaps explains why the Mumbai Metropolitan Regional Development Authority, devoted largely to town and country planning, has diversified into transport. The areas that the monorail runs through are dominated by the lower middle class and the poor and have plenty of industrial projects and warehouses. But land in these areas is being purchased by builders to construct luxury as well as middle-income homes. Activists who initially protested against the monorail because it involved the resettlement of slums now say that the system is part of the building boom scam in the city. Real estate prices in these areas have risen sharply. Furthermore, the recently opened eastern freeway has been a bonus for builders.

For a city whose population was pegged at 18 million in Census 2011, it is obvious that something that carries 560 passengers does not qualify as mass public transport.

Lyla Bavadam

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