Despite a lack of coordination between the state government and the Reliance Infrastructure-led Mumbai Metro One Private Limited (MMOPL) and the escalating row over the fare structure, Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan inaugurated Mumbai’s first Metro on Sunday morning at Versova.
Commercial services on the 11.4-km Versova-Andheri-Ghatkopar Metro started soon after the inauguration around Sunday afternoon, more than six years after the construction had started in February 2008, with the number of commuters having crossed the one-lakh mark by 6 pm on the first day itself. The project is the first Metro in the country to be constructed on a public-private-partnership model. While former prime minister Manmohan Singh had laid the foundation stone in June 2006, the concession agreement for the project was signed in 2007 and construction started in February 2008.
“There are some disputes between us (the government and MMOPL) over the commercial aspects of the project, but we will sit and discuss these, and interpret the law (the Metro Act) with the help of the Bombay High Court,” said Chavan, who was officially not invited for the project’s inauguration till Saturday evening. The CM had said that he would not inaugurate the project if the fare is not as per what the state government has decided. He confirmed his presence at the inauguration only late on Saturday night. Reliance Infrastructure head Anil Ambani and his wife Tina Ambani were among those present at the inauguration.
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As per the Metro Act, the Metro Rail Administrator (MRA) has the flexibility to fix the initial fare.
Before October 2013, however, the project was under the Tramways Act, where fare fixation was as per the provisions of the concession agreement. While the state government had fixed a fare of Rs 9-13, the MMOPL as MRA declared a tariff of Rs 10-40 on Saturday, intensifying the logjam between the two parties. On Sunday, services started with an inaugural promotional flat fare of Rs 10, which will prevail for a month. Trains were packed as people came with their families to experience a ride .
Services, however, ran with several delays and cancellations. While the MMOPL has decided to maintain a frequency of one train every four minutes during the morning and evening peak hours, and one train every eight minutes otherwise, the frequency on Sunday was anywhere between four and 15 minutes. Passengers complained of trains halting midway for unexplained reasons, sometimes for close to 10 minutes.
An MMOPL spokesperson said there were no technical issues and services were deliberately curtailed for crowd management. “The trend everywhere has been that when operations are first launched, due to crowding within the first few hours, stations have to be closed. Here, we deliberately stopped trains, cancelled services, skipped stations to curtail services for crowd management and ensure that stations don’t have to be closed to prevent entry.” He said ‘joyriders’ would continue to pour in for the next few days and to control the crowds services will run with delays and stoppages till the number of commuters normalise.