It’s 10 in the morning on a Tuesday, and Mumbai is rushing, or stuck and chafing. Roads are blocked with vehicles piled up for long stretches. Local trains are packed, and suburban stations are a mad scramble. Even the metro, the city’s latest mode of mass transport, is bursting at the seams.
But a little way to the city’s east, the monorail platforms are a world apart. A brightly coloured train rolls in to the Wadala sation. There is no jostling, no commuters spilling out as the doors open. A security guard waiting at the largely empty platform chuckles when an apprehensive commuter — who appears to be a first-time passenger — asks him, “Since it is a weekday morning, is the train likely to be crowded?” “Arre monorail mein sirf Sunday ko bheed reheti hain (The monorail is crowded only on Sundays),” he replies.
What was meant to be a first-of-its-kind transportation system in the country, catering to about 1.25 lakh passengers daily, is now mostly an 8.8-km joyride, a tourist attraction for visitors to Mumbai.
Two years after its launch, according to figures from the Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority (MMRDA), the Chembur-Wadala monorail carries just about 15,000 to 18,000 passengers a day on an average. Yet, the operation and maintenance expenditure of the line comes to about Rs 75 lakh a month, officials said.
A beaming Jaspal Singh (38) emerges from a pink train, holding on to his two children.
“It was my day-off so I brought my family to have the monorail experience. I work in Mumbai, but the monorail route is such that I never need to use it,” says Singh, originally from Gwalior in Madhya Pradesh.
Inside the monorail, two girls stand in a coach, their faces pressed to the windows, admiring the view of the Eastern freeway and the vast swathe of salt-pan land dotted with slums.
“I have travelled in the monorail before this, but my friend here never had the experience,” 17-year-old Safina Khan says. Khan says she lives close to the monorail station near Bhakti Park and has to travel to Wadala every day to college. “But I take the bus. The Wadala station is at such a location that it is very tedious to travel to any place from there,” she says.
MMRDA officials say that the ridership will go up once the second phase of the line — extending the corridor by 11.3 km right up to Jacob Circle near Byculla and connecting places such as Dadar, Lower Parel and Mahalaxmi — is completed. The stretch was supposed to be operational by mid-2015.
“It will take some time, and should be opened to public by the year end, but the ridership will jump to about 1-1.25 lakh a day,” a senior MMRDA official said.
The entire project from Chembur to Jacob Circle is expected to cost Rs 3,000 crore or about Rs 150 crore per kilometre.
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