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Q&A: Outlook for Mumbai’s Monorail
Monorails are expensive, carry limited capacity, and can fall victim to bankruptcy, as the Las Vegas Monorail (above) did.  Photo: http2007.

Monorails are expensive, carry limited capacity, and can fall victim to bankruptcy, as the Las Vegas Monorail (above) did. Photo: http2007.

Mumbai’s monorail has been in the news this week, with the Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority (MMRDA) announcing that it will approve the master monorail plan by the end of the month. But there has been vocal opposition to the monorail from civic leaders in Thane, and controversy over news that alignments of the Thane monorail link and new flyovers (overpasses) are going to clash. As discussion about the project goes on, TheCityFix talks with Madhav Pai, the technical director at the Centre for Sustainable Transport in India (part of the EMBARQ Network, which produces this blog) about the prospects for the city’s planned monorail.

TheCityFix: How will the monorail impact transportation in Mumbai?

Madhav Pai: The monorail will probably not make much of a dent in Mumbai’s transportation problems. Projections show that it will carry 7,000 people per hour and 200,000 people per day, a fraction of the daily trips made here. At the same time, it is very expensive, with construction costs of almost Rs 1,500 crore. That is a significant amount of money to spend on a project that captures an insignificant mode share.

In addition, many people wonder whether the project will be completed. Monorail projects have a track record of falling through with costs and timelines often underestimated. Scomi, the contractor for the project, shares that history. For instance, Scomi’s Kuala Lumpur monorail went bankrupt in 2007 and the ministry of finance had to bail it out.

TCF: What are the most important things to consider when building the monorail line?

MP: The two most important considerations are access and fare integration, but unfortunately, no one is paying much attention to these issues currently. For instance, the proposed monorail route will be located near the suburban rail system, but fare integration has not been addressed. As the project stands now, passengers will have to buy a separate ticket to board the suburban rail.

TCF: Critics say monorail projects are too expensive. How else could that money be used to make sustainable transport a reality in Mumbai?

MP: Building roads, and some transport projects like the monorail, are the government’s priorities right now. But there are other cost-effective transport alternatives that could carry more people and also yield environmental and quality of life benefits. For instance, the city’s bus system sees 4.5 to 5 million trips each day, about 25% of the city’s motorized trips. But the government resists funding the bus system with subsidies of Rs 50-100 crore because of its inefficiencies. Government subsidies should not support inefficiencies, but they could support improved quality of service. In order to avoid subsidizing inefficiency, the government is starving the buses, and that is not an effective approach.

When you compare the capacities of bus and monorail and the investment in the two modes, it is clear that the government is not getting much for the money it is spending on the monorail. It is spending large portions of its budget for 1-2% mode shares. Officials could get a lot more out of their money with investment in other improvements, such as giving priority to buses.

Additionally, 42% of the mode share is still on foot – people are walking to work. Mumbai also has a significant bicycling population. Cyclists are often workers in the informal sector, but there is a growing interest in cycling among other people, including some who now commute in their own autos. For both groups, there is one solution: providing cyclists with safe space, including bicycle lanes and parking. This is the most important thing the government can do to increase the viability of the bike as a commuting mode for a wider population, and it’s relatively affordable.

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