Wednesday , 19 June 2019

Need of the hour Modal Integration in vehicle-congested Mumbai

Though populated, most cities in India do not go beyond 20km end-to-end, nor do all have proper public transport. And where it exists, connectivity is poor. This makes the use of motorised two wheelers (M2Ws) a necessity in these cities. Because when it comes to costs and flexibility, public transport cannot match with M2Ws at all – a reason why M2W users are fiercely loyal to their mode of transport.

Only when the distances to be commuted are large do the M2W users prefer a ‘park and ride’ to their mode of transport. It is important to note if parking space is allotted near a bus terminus. Generally, these terminuses are either at some remote place in the city – inaccessible by walk or bicycle; or in a crowded area. Either way, when the ‘park and ride’ facility is not provided, people are forced to go in for the ‘hire, drop off and ride’ option. To meet the increasing demand of commuting, multitudes of modes such as six-seater autos, jeeps / SUVs, mini buses, horse carts, bullock carts and camel carts have sprouted under the pretext of public transport. Though this organic emergence has been well integrated with other modes, the points of transfer and manner of transfer have often been wrong and dangerous.

In Mumbai, a huge number of commuters use public transport. Until recently, 80% users of motorised transport used to opt for public transport. But of late, public transport system’s capacity has been severely challenged owing to the increase in the number of passengers, making it overcrowded, uncomfortable and unsafe; and in the case of road public transport – congested and unpredictable. This has led to a shift towards the use of personal motorised transport. Again, due to inadequate space for walking, badly constructed footpaths and hawkers narrowing down the walking space in crowded areas, many people who would have otherwise walked or cycled, have either shifted to public transport or begun using personal motorised transport. Railways and Brihanmumbai Electric Supply and Transport Undertaking (BEST) bus services form the two main modes of motorised public transport in Mumbai. Most people walk to the place where public transport, usually a BEST bus, is available. Many use BEST services only to go to the railway station. But congested roads force them to walk, or, in some cases, use an auto rickshaw or taxi.

BEST runs essentially two kinds of bus services. The long distance ones that run almost parallel to the railway lines and those which could be termed as feeder services. East-west connectors also fall under this category. Bus stops are located at convenient places to which people can walk. Hence, the need to provide space for parking cars or even bicycles at these stops is done away with. There has been a natural development of what one could term as modal integration – walking and buses.

Not many people understand that Mumbai is an elongated north-south city comprising Island City (72sqkm), the Western Suburbs (226sqkm) and the Eastern Suburbs (168sqkm). The development of Mumbai has taken place along two main railway lines — the western railway and the central railway. There are no railway lines to connect eastern and western suburbs.

The first modal integration was between the two railways – at Dadar. It facilitated the commuting from the region of Mumbai’s Island City lying near the Western Railway route to eastern suburbs; and from the locations close to the Central Railway route in the Island City to Western suburbs. Commuters climb the Foot Over Bridge (FOB) and change the railways to proceed to their destinations. Central Railways, besides running suburban trains on the main line, has a harbour line that goes close to the Mumbai Harbour. In recent times, the modal changes within the railway system have been facilitated at Thane to enable people to commute from Navi Mumbai areas to Eastern Suburbs of Mumbai and towards Kalyan and beyond. The changing of trains at Kurla has also been dispensed with by running direct trains to Chembur, Mankhurd and Navi Mumbai.

Except for the modal Integration at Dadar, all other modal integration facilities within the railway system have taken a long time and are being dispensed with by introducing direct trains. However, these are not very commuter friendly even now. The commuter has to climb a height of six to eight meters via crowded staircases during peak periods with hand rails provided only at the sides. This makes it difficult for the disabled, elderly, expectant women, children, the infirm and patients of arthritis and cardio vascular ailments to negotiate the change.

Does integration of other modes with railways and among themselves exist? BEST, as we know, has bus stops in close proximity to each other as well as at various locations that enable people to walk till the bus stops. BEST has had a practice of providing a bus route that does away with changing buses. And if a change is necessary, then commuters often have to change only once to reach the destination from the point of origin. Most often, the bus can be changed at the same bus stop where one alights or at the one adjacent to it. In recent times, BEST has become a little more innovative by issuing day and monthly passes which enable a commuter to use the bus system extensively, thereby saving travel time. This also means the crowd gets evened out in a bus and extreme crush load of yesteryear is a thing of the past. BEST has also provided front end boarding facility to the disabled, the elderly and expectant women. All these have helped in commuters’ comfort and safety.

A large number of commuters change their modes of transport at stations after reaching there by buses, auto-rickshaws, taxis and personal modes like M2Ws and bicycles, or even by foot. Practically every area is short of parking space and people have to fall back on walking; or taking buses, rickshaws or taxis for commuting.

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