Weak public transport, Mumbai’s bane


Public transport is the backbone of Mumbai but this is an area which has been neglected for too long, resulting in increasing dependence on private vehicles and traffic congestion that is adversely impacting human life, writes Amit Bhatt.

India is growing rapidly and transport is a foundation pillar of that growth. But the current focus on facilitation of private transportation (two and four wheelers) does not augur well for the economic growth of the country. Our cities are congested and polluted, and on an average we are losing one to two percent GDP growth annually due to this. In addition, the current transport approach is contributing to inequitable growth with people in the lower economic strata getting priced out from many options as there is no space for them to travel by cycle or walk safely, which are the only transport modes they can afford. This is adversely impacting the quality of human life.

Mumbai has about 12.43 million people living in 437.7 sq kms, with high levels of concentrated economic activities. The current status of Mumbai’s traffic and transport cannot satisfy the numerous requirements of urban mobility and this impacts the productivity of people. Extreme growth in population and vehicles, poor quality service of public transport modes coupled with on-going construction works and parking related issues have increased mobility related issues in the city.

Mumbai in a grid lock

In the last few decades, Mumbai has considerably grown and is expected to go up to 34 million by 2031 in the Mumbai Metropolitan Region (MMR). Its repercussions will be more pronounced in Greater Mumbai as the concentration of employment and activities in this area will continue to be the nucleus. The growth in population and pedestrian activity has dramatically impacted the usage of footpaths and crosswalks. Footpaths have been encroached by motor vehicles, vendors, hawkers and other activities due to which in many places, pedestrians are forced to walk and use traffic lanes partially or fully.

Traffic congestion is mainly due to the rapid growth in motorisation, while the road network has not changed much in the last four decades. This rapid growth in motorisation is despite problems of traffic and parking, and can be explained by the income growth of a highly aspirational population coupled with extreme saturation in public transport.

Of the approximately 20.3 lakh vehicles as of March 2012 (Source: Total Cost of Ownership), two wheelers account for 55.7 percent, four wheelers account for 30.6 percent, auto rickshaws account for 5.5 percent, buses account for 0.5 percent, trucks/lorries/delivery vans account for 3.9 percent and other vehicles account for 3.8 percent. While two wheelers and four wheelers have a vehicle share of about 86 percent they carry only 13 percent of the total trips. Despite a small population using personal vehicles, the road transport infrastructure investments are made to cater to this minority.

The numbers of private motorised transportation modes have steeply risen and the quality of life of urban dwellers has drastically deteriorated with this rapid motorisation. On an average 450 new vehicles are being added to the road network each day in Mumbai. As the number of vehicles increase day by day (with the growth in the last decade alone being 88 percent), the travel time of people who have to commute for work has also increased. In addition, more than one lakh vehicles per day enter/leave Mumbai city, adding more load to an already strained system.This sharp increase in automobiles in the last decade has pushed Mumbai into a situation of a grid lock.

Eighty percent of the people access public transport by walking; apart from this there is also a high volume of walk trips – as many as 42 percent people make their entire journey by walking and these high walking shares are an asset and need to be encouraged even more.

Public transport fails to meet the demand

Public transport is the backbone of Mumbai’s transportation need. However, the existing road public transport provided by bus service fails to meet the demand of today. This is one of the major reasons for increase in automobile dependence. Till last decade the percentage share of public transport was 88 percent which has fallen to 78 percent. This has a lot to do with the low quality of service which is offered by the mass transit system, especially the suburban rail system. In order to maintain the public transport share, given the limited scope for further expansion of road work, public transport should be given utmost priority. Various studies have strongly recommended and have accorded priority to public transport for catering to the future travel needs. In the recently conducted Comprehensive Traffic Study (CTS) (2005-2008), 100 kms of BRTS (Bus Rapid Transit System), 450 kms of metro rail system, and additional 250 kms of suburban transport system, have been recommended for the metropolitan region. Long term policy measures including projects recommended by CTS need to be incorporated in a phased manner based on the priority.

Integrate multi-modal transport networks for seamless travel

Apart from public transport what it also needed is integration of Multi-modal Transport Networks. It is necessary to ensure multimodal integration. With multiple modes of travel used for completion of a journey it is necessary to ensure seamless integration of different modes at various suburban, metro and monorail stations with measures such as integrated ticketing system, passenger information system, and physical integration. Once the much needed public transport system is in place with the desired level of service and comfort, it can then be coupled with demand restraint measures such as congestion pricing etc., to reverse automobile dependence.

We also need to focus on some important areas at the planning stage e.g. In existing areas in Mumbai land use and development strategies should preserve densities and a mixture of uses or encourage them where they are missing. In suburbs/new greenfield developments, master plans should zone for good densities and mixed uses, especially around new public transport stations, as this will help in preserving open spaces and producing affordable housing, with good connectivity to area jobs and areas of major activity.

In existing and new urban developments, public transport and non-motorised modes should be prioritised. Flexible busbased services for transit should be considered. Bus of High Level of Service (BHLS) and BRT are excellent options for medium to high capacity corridors, while metro lines can be considered for very high density corridors. High quality pedestrian and bicycle infrastructure should be built to complement the mass transit corridor and provide last kilometre accessibility. These facilities will not only encourage sustainable development of Mumbai, but will dramatically improve the quality of life which is now becoming an increasingly important indicator of development.


Amit Bhatt

The writer is the strategy head – urban transport at EMBARQ India. He is based in Delhi and provides vision and leadership to all transport initiatives across EMBARQ India, managing relationships with partners and stakeholders.