Congratulations on recently getting the nod for the coastal road project in record time, a first in our country and that too in a city we all love. No matter how we refer to the city, Bombay or Mumbai, the effort to ease the traffic woes is widely appreciated. However, if I am allowed to, I beg to differ. Please don’t classify me as intolerant or an anti-national because I decide to challenge the government’s thinking and express my dissent. But from the way I see it, you can blame my years of experience as an analytics professional, this idea of a coastal road is only designed to be of very little help a few years down the line, just like how many of our link roads have become.
I do not doubt your resolve at making Mumbai a world class city and even as your coalition partner put it, a dream city for the lakhs of us who stay in it, and for the majority of us for whom Mumbai is our only world. I even do not doubt your or your government’s intention. I only wish to cite my thoughts, which probably if nothing else, could work as a sounding board and probably help if not strengthen the case for a coastal road. I will not be bringing up the environmental concerns as these have been already debated upon, so please don’t worry.
Every day in Mumbai on an average around 300 vehicles are registered, which is one of the highest in the country. Handling and managing traffic of 25 lakh registered vehicles till date[i] needs roads and manpower, both of which come at a premium. In a city starved of land where the direction to go is only one i.e. North – South, there is not much for the taking. Also, in a country like ours, where the unofficial mantra of life is “Find a place and fill it” how can a coastal road prove to be the Messiah for our clogged roads, noisy traffic and pollution? Wouldn’t such a road become just like another JVLR in due course of time? I definitely think so.
Since I am a non-believer in complaining and a great believer in thinking of solutions, I have a few suggestions which may be of some use. I wouldn’t say these are the easiest to implement, but yes, there would stand the test of time at a far lesser cost and prove effective. Some of my suggestions may already be in the pipeline, but they are worth mentioning.
1. Revamping the local trains
The local trains of Mumbai are its lifeline. Daily, they serve 75 Lakh[ii] people of Mumbai. But they also suffer from some of the most severe overcrowding in the world. During peak hours over 4,500passengers are packed into a 9/12-car rake as against the rated carrying capacity of 1,700. This has resulted in what is known as Super-Dense Crush Load of 14 to 16 standing passengers per square meter of floor space[iii]. Though the trains of today look and serve far better than they were in yesteryears they have not been able to completely solve the major concerns of its riders.
The locals of Mumbai run at an average frequency of 4 minutes[iii]. Since this is an area that deals with traffic management I shall stand clear of commenting on this. If this point is left out the only area of improvement is the capacity in the trains.
- Increase the standing capacity
Probably due to my misfortune, most of the times whenever I have travelled by the locals I have never got a seat to sit. For an hour I have had to stand, listen to songs or observe people to help build the characters in my stories or books. In spite of standing I did not mind it as my only focus was to be able to stand comfortably, a thought which many of my co-passengers share.
Since hardly anyone minds it, why not increase the standing capacity to overall increase the volume of passengers ferried? The metro-styled seating capacity is a welcome move and perfectly fits the bill. The seating along the sides of the train covers the need for the elderly or sick or those in dire need of one. But overall it ensures that the locals are being used to their true capacity and what they are built for.
- Introduce double decker locals
This idea may sound lame or even strange to some, but it can prove effective. The intercity double-decker seating trains (take the Mumbai-Surat trains for example) have proved to be a boon for long distance travelers; then why not use them, or even have a trial run for a few months to ascertain their viability on our local lines? It is for all to see that such trains would need no re-aligning of our existing Rail Over Bridges and probably even electrical lines, a major worry for the introduction of such services. This way we could maximize space, vertically instead of horizontally, similar to a double-decker bus.
Fact: Even though the population of Sydney, Australia is far lesser than Mumbai, all local trains are AC double-decker and serve the people well.
It is shocking to say the least that in spite being a city which is surrounded by deep water bodies on 3 sides, we still haven’t been able make use of them from a public transport perspective. Moderately priced ferries plying every hour with stops in between would help take off the dependency on roads and ease our current traffic woes.
Example: A route from Gorai to Marine Drive with stops at Marve Beach, Madh Island, Versova, Juhu, Bandra, Koliwada, Mahalaxmi, Nepean Sea Road and Girgaon Chowpatty would automatically enable faster, comfortable and streamlined movement of people who stay at the coast and eliminate their need to travel to the nearest train station (which is quite a distance) by road. This way connecting South Mumbai to Navi Mumbai would be easier and would not warrant the need for a new bridge.
In addition, this could become another tourism highlight of our city. Major cities across the world, and even in Alleppey, Kerala pride themselves for using water taxis for conveyance.
Almost everyone in Mumbai has visited Goa. I am sure you must have too. But I wonder if anyone has observed one such mode of transport in Goa which is hardly found anywhere else – motorcycle taxis. Recently, Gurgaon became only the second place in India, after Goa, to introduce motorcycle taxis. The two-wheeler taxi services are already popular in many countries across the world, like Cambodia, Philippines, Indonesia, Thailand, Vietnam, Brazil, Cameroon, China, Nigeria, and Sweden.
These black-and-yellow motorbikes help men and women alike, to travel pillion to places in a 20 KM radius, or even more. Given Mumbai’s chock-a-block traffic where two wheelers seem to rule the roost these motorcycle taxis would help tremendously. Also, this could help control if not eradicate the trend of cars having sole occupants.
Motorcycle taxis could sport the same colours or others to uniquely identify them. They could be fitted with meters and charge less than the current auto rickshaws as they are more fuel efficient and would serve only one customer. Such a service could be tried out in small pockets like Chakala. Surprisingly Chakala boasted of rail connectivity on the Salsette-Trombay Railway till the rail line closed down in 1934.
4. App based taxis
Having the power of calling taxis at ones fingertips is second to none. Smartphone apps give us this power of calling for taxis how, when and where we want them. Much more than giving us the power of getting a taxi these apps guard against rejection or incomprehensible charges. Rolling motorcycle taxis and even auto-rickshaws into these apps would make the system more durable and effective.
However, the best thing about app based taxis is the level playing field it creates and opens opportunities for diverse ways of travel. They give clear options varying from economy to luxury over a wide range of cars. With share-a-taxi options rolled into them, they facilitate carpooling while being easier on the pocket minus the hassles.
In my opinion, tinkering with the prices of app based taxis is not a good idea and that would get more people off the system than on it. Competition is good and allows for creativity and better services at the same price. This should always be maintained.
5. Traffic rules
People often wonder how a driver in the US is more disciplined than a driver in India. The answer is simple. The driver in the US knows that he has to follow traffic rules to the T or else he will be charged a hefty penalty and can also be barred from driving again. In India, though the rules are detailed and stringent on paper our roads tell a different story.
Education is important, but unfortunately, till it hits the pocket we don’t understand things clearly. By paying a small bribe instead of the hefty fine we can successfully cover our trails and forget the lesson. Things like honking, jumping the signal, not stopping at the stop line till the lights turn green, driving on the wrong way and blocking pedestrian crossing (zebra crossing) makes walking on the roads a torture. No wonder people prefer being in the safety of their cars rather than be exposed to such nuisance.
So what’s the solution? The question should rather be why do we have to be so dependent on our permanently under-staffed traffic police force? Why can’t we have CCTV cameras to monitor a place and catch the offenders? The evidence would be caught on film, facilitate conviction and also monitor traffic policemen who look for quick ways to supplement their income.
Though this may sound huge to implement I feel it is not so. No one can ever eat a hamburger in one bite. And the same rule holds here. Implement it in a small locality and work on the areas of improvement. Automatically the system would begin to perform well, ways of getting around the system would reduce and people would adhere to rules.
6. Turning the pyramid
Unfortunately in Mumbai and in India, a person is judged by the size of his car; bigger the car greater his status and greater his/her ownership of the road. This is nothing but a recipe for disaster.
On the road, pedestrians should have the highest privilege. This means they should have access to proper, clean and unobstructed footpaths. These footpaths should also have barricades in place to prevent our ever so creative and brave motorcyclists to use them to circumvent traffic. Giving pedestrians and cyclists preference will encourage people to walk or cycle to work or to nearby spots, which in turn would reduce traffic and pollution.
In the end I would like to say that building a perfect transport system is a herculean task but one that has more merits than demerits. A public transport system allows for greater control on people and traffic, which private transport doesn’t allow. Yes, no matter what, public transport can never beat private transport, but it can prove to be a deterrent to using private transport. It is after all no joke, that a developed country is not one where the poor can buy cars but where the rich use public transport.
A good public transport system not only takes care of pollution and traffic, it also reduces our ever-growing dependency on fuel, which features in our top expenditures. We would be doing not only our country but also our planet a great service. Hence, in my humble opinion, spending millions on a coastal road would not serve any creditable purpose. However, if we still insist on having something coastal let’s have ferries or even a coastal metro that would run parallel to the shore. It would serve the purpose and also provide for a spectacular view.