The Metro railway in Mumbai may at some later date prove a success. But as of now it seems to fit the mindset of megalomaniacs obsessed with power and delusions of grandeur. It is perhaps a cruel coincidence that the monumentally expensive network was opened by the chief minister on the Hindu new year day on April 2 when millions of ordinary people all over Maharashtra have been denied their most essential bus service of the ST corporation for the last four months. On the same day thousands of affluent people in Mumbai enjoyed a free Metro ride in air conditioned comfort.What a cruel irony this is.
The Shiv Sena has got all the limelight at the opening, making the BJP angry, but all major parties including the Sena must share the blame for this very costly project built while denying more relevant and inexpensive modes like buses.
Some 55,000 people had a joyride on the Aarey Dahisar Dahanukarwadi stretch yesterday, a Sunday, April 3. But this morning the trains ran almost empty.I travelled the whole stretch for more than an hour and did not encounter more than fifty people in the train or at all railway stations put together. The originating and concluding stations Aarey and Dahisar and Dahanukarwadi looked deserted.This sector is expected to carry lakhs of people daily. The actual results are pathetic.
Worse news for the Metro people and the general public. I then travelled during the peak hour by the suburban network from Kandivali to Bandra and the train to Churchgate was far from crowded, there was plenty of space even though it was the first working day of the week and in fact the crowd instead of swelling declined as the train went further.
This should really worry the Metro people. If this is the condition on the much cheaper existing suburban network, where then are the riders going to come for the much talked about metro line 3 from Cuffe Parade and Navy Nagar at the southern end of Mumbai to Bandra and SEEPZ area ? This is the even more expensive stretch as it is underground and has been causing untold hardships to road commuters for the past four years or so.
More empty seems to be the talk that Metro will reduce private vehicle use. High rise buildings dot the skyline over vast areas of the newly opened route. Right outside Dahanukarwadi station I saw two large buildings of Hiranandani group coming up. Then there are posh buidings with names like Ruparel Palacio, Symphony and Aspire to name just a few. It would be foolish to expect even a small section of these residents to take to the Metro as the rich are addicted to the motor car and in a poor country the car is especially a big status symbol. If the government had been really sincere, it would have drastically reduced car parking provisions in these areas but it is doing the opposite. In fact, it expects and wants more and more high rise buildings to come up on remaining stretches of land on the route which includes localities of the poor so visible from the overground train with stones piled on the roofs as a protection against being blown off by the wind. The whole idea is to displace the poor occupying what is considered prime space which only the rich deserve, our rules think. So there will be further swelling of motor car use, not reduction. Elementary.
The public needs to ask very serious questions to the establishment about its grand projections of big ridership and double standards. The authorities are spending thousands of crores on the Metro. If they had invested even a fraction on buses the whole state would have benefited. The government must be exposed on several counts. It is good that there are clean toilets at each Metro station including separate toilets for the physically challenged. Why on earth should these not be provided at suburban stations and in bus depots ?
That apart after some time, the Metro stations start looking boring, they all look the same, clean and posh but sterile, the vibrancy of the suburban stations is entirely missing.
There is also poor signage. At Goregaon suburban railway station or the bus station on the eastern side outside there is no indication of how to go to the Aarey metro station which is about a km away. Local people do not seem to have much of an idea. The Metro authorities have been talking day in and day out about bus connectivity. I saw absolutely no signage at the Aarey station for the bus stops which are some distance away on the western express highway which saw heavy car traffic even early in the morning but there were few buses. That is where the authorities are completely exposed.
Buses can reach all corners of the city. At Goregaon east bus station I saw a BEST bus number 341 going all the way to Antop Hill, Wadala, some 20 km away, past the Aarey forest, Marol, Kurla, Sion and so on. Such long distance routes are essential. BEST must be allowed to play its full role, given more scope, it should not be made subservient to the while elephant that is Metro rail network.
The real irony is this. Just outside Kandivali west railway station buses for several routes operate from the road side, there is not a regular bus station but this small space caters to thousands of commuters many than all those dozen or so posh, costly Metro stations spread over lakhs of sq ft. are doing. There lie the Metro authorities full exposed. Do these people have the courage to face reality ?
Vidyadhar Date is a senior journalist and author of the book Traffic in the era of climate change