Public Subsidizes Costly Car-Centric Link to Mumbai
Photo by seanpinto.

The Bandra-Worli Sea Link was intended to provide a shortcut around unbearably congested city streets. Photo by seanpinto.

The Bandra-Worli Sea Link, a cable bridge that links Bandra to the western suburbs of Mumbai across one of the region’s many bays, is experiencing greater cost overruns than expected, compounded by lower rates of use and thus less toll income. The road is the first part of a proposed coastal highway system commissioned by Maharashtra State Road Development Corporation (MSRDC).

The bridge, which opened in March last year, was hugely expensive and took 10 years to build, far longer than expected. The coastal highway, though it reduces travel time to Mumbai from the Western and Central suburbs, is an inherently flawed road. As we wrote in a previous post: “The Sea Link is a symbol of the explosive growth in car travel in recent years.”

Says Rishi Aggarwal, director of institutional relations at EMBARQ India: ”The essential context is the continued pattern of neglect towards investments in public transport and pedestrian infrastructure to facilitate sustainable transport.” Ultimately, investment in Mumbai has focused on roads that facilitate the movement of cars, Aggarwal continues, “in spite of a National Urban Transport Policy that establishes a platform to focus on mobility and end motor-friendly policies.”

Only half of the expected 70,000 car drivers are using the bridge, which means less toll revenue to fund the massive costs of the development. And the 5.6-kilometer road only shaves off about 10 minutes of travel time, according to Madhav Pai, the director of EMBARQ India.

An image of the bridge's span.

The bridge connects the island city of Mumbai with its surrounding western suburbs. Image via Google Maps.

To pay for the sky-high costs of the new road, MSRDC officials considered instituting a higher toll, but they feared that such a toll would deter more motorists. An article from Daily News & Analysis questions the public subsidization of this massive road, considering that few people in India drive cars:

According to the World Bank, only 4.7% of commuters — broadly, those who have white-collar jobs and use automotive transport —drive to work in Mumbai every day. The mega city used to have the highest proportion in the world of commuters using public transport — 87% — but that has come down to 78% due to over-congested trains and buses. Two-wheelers have been growing and, in the suburbs, auto-rickshaws.

These roads are also causing tremendous environmental impact in the city’s Coastal Regulation Zone. Still, the government is planning more roads to span more bays in the city, including Worli-Haji Ali Sea Link.

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