Public Transportation

Transport demands in most Indian cities have increased substantially due to increase in population as a result of both natural growth and migration. In most cases the demand has
in a city like Mumbai with a population of 1crore, 34 lakh people (2011 census). Although Mumbai is served with public transport facilities like the BEST bus and suburban rail, the ever-growing population’s demand could not keep up with the existing infrastructure. This further encouraged those who could afford it to shift to 2 wheelers or cars, thus progressively leading to more congestion and bottle
necks within the city.

A lot of independent projects such as the Mass Rapid Transit System (MRTS) and coastal ring road are believed to be an answer to the traffic woes the city is currently facing. But before diving into these projects a thorough investigation of its pros and cons need to be measured. These upcoming projects would not only bring about a change in the traffic movement pattern but will influence the land use and land values. We attempt to look at Mumbai’s transport scenario and suggest solutions in a direction which is away from “projectification” to a more holistic, sustainable and people friendly transportation design.

Major issues
The collapse of the public transport: In Mumbai, 11 million people travel daily by public transport, whose share amounts to more than 85% of people commuting in the city. Suburban rail traffic increased by 6 times while the capacity increased by only 2.3 times. In today’s time, 4500 passengers travel per train against the carrying capacity of 1750 resulting in unbearable overcrowding. Buses, in the meanwhile, given our roadway conditions have unfortunately become agents of congestion rather than the public facility they are intended to be.

While the total number of vehicles in Mumbai has increased by 93,432 since 2009, the number of buses, taxis and auto rickshaws used as public transport increased by only 5,083 until March 2010. Hence it is imperative that immediate actions are undertaken to strengthen the existing overstretched public transport system. For example, increase in the number of train coaches, increase in the number of BEST buses can be very simplistic solutions (and are already being implemented partially).

If public travel is made more comfortable, then more people will start using them rather than opting for private modes of transport. This in turn will help in managing the congestion situation in the city. Merely adding new flyovers and bridges should not be the only policy adopted.

Independent “projects” and failed attempts: The best example to critique the various policies of the state is – the Bandra Worli sea link. Initially it was predicted that the bridge, connecting Bandra and Worli in south Mumbai would get one to 1.2 lakh vehicles daily. However last year, an average of 40,808 vehicles drove across the sea link every day which is less than half the initial expectation. The bridge has not lessened the burden for public transport in any manner since buses are not allowed to run on it; it even has no provision for cyclists. Its construction cost, escalated from Rs. 300 crore to Rs. 1600 crores due to project being delayed for 5 years. That indirectly means high toll fares for years to come. Rather than being a boon to people, the sea link is rather being under-utilised and hence failing as a project. And there have been questions of why Rs. 1600 crores have been invested in a project that only benefits 40,000 vehicles.

Similarly, the coastal road plan that is currently being vouched for will require reclaiming land and building a road on stilts from Nariman Point to Kandivali. In pure numbers, it is a proposed project costing around Rs. 15,000 crores and will only benefit about less than 1% of Mumbai’s population. However the current environment policy does not allow coastal roads. Environmentalists are also questioning the impact of further reclamation. The sea link’s limited success should be a wake-up call to the state. It should prompt new priorities and measures to stop initiation of multi-crore “projects” and look at Mumbai’s transportation problem holistically.

The neglect of the pedestrians: By far the largest group of commuters in Greater Mumbai are the pedestrians; about 55 per cent walk to work. Rather than making walking easy for pedestrians, they are made to negotiate the impractical and unsafe subways. Footbridges are built to ensure that pedestrians do not obstruct the traffic and roads are available “only” to motorised vehicles. It is clearly a matter of prioritizing the vehicles more than pedestrians; it is here we argue that pedestrians get their Right of Way and be given preference over petrol guzzling vehicles!

Lack of planned intervention: Any new transport project unavoidably affects urban land, its uses and activities. The consequence of this will be an extensive variety of impacts over the area of influence, ranging from negative to positive aspects. These projects are anticipated to escalate the development all along the corridor and bring about a major change in the traffic movement pattern and activities along the corridor. Hence, it is invariably necessary to induce changes in land use pattern such that economic activities become more dispersed and the integration between transport and land use is improved.

Most of the transportation requirements and concerns (except for the ones at city level) are specific issues that need to be dealt locally. Hence comprehensive surveys and participation of the local communities involved should be encouraged in creating the secondary transportation system. Hence, we demand that the development plan (2014-34) should involve ideas from groups representing transportation sector.