The Mumbai Monorail ride

On 1 February 2014, the Mumbai Monorail, the city’s newest (and third form of) public transport was inaugurated. Or rather the first leg (Chembur to Wadala), of the first phase of the Mumbai Monorail was inaugurated. A much-anticipated addition to Mumbai’s public transport system, the Monorail saw 20,000 people queuing up for a ride on the first day itself. The days following the inauguration saw newspaper reports with pictures of long queues of people patiently waiting for their turn to take a ride as well as experiences of people who had managed to go on one. Though I had wanted to take a ride during the initial period, I decided to wait till the novelty wore off and the crowds lessened.

And then on 11 March 2014, I read a newspaper report that claimed that the Mumbai Monorail ridership had fallen to 92,771 per week. This meant that only regular commuters were using the Monorail now, except perhaps on weekends when people still came out to “check out” the Monorail. So, two days later and at 7.30 in the morning, I was standing outside the Chembur Monorail station and looking up in anticipation of the ride to follow. Join me as I take the ride to Wadala and back on the Monorail and check out its efficiency and efficacy.

Mumbai Monorail, Public Transport, Mumbai
The Chembur Monorail Station

There is a security guard at the foot of the stairs leading up to the station and he waves me in. More guards are in place near the ticket counter, where I get a token for my ride to Wadala for Rs.11/- (no return tickets are possible at this time). And then more security guards before I reach the stairs leading to the platform — this time my bag is checked and I’m frisked before being allowed to pass.

Mumbai Monorail, Public Transport, Mumbai
The station signboards in blue and scarlet

The platform has more security guards keeping an eye on the few passengers waiting for the train to arrive. The platform has guard rails along the edges with gaps, which I presume would be where the train doors are located. As I start taking my first pictures, the incoming train is announced and within minutes a blue-coloured train glides in.

Mumbai Monorail, Public Transport, Mumbai
The Mumbai Monorail glides into Chembur Station

The security guards gesture at the passengers to keep a good distance from the platform edge (see photo above). They also ensure that none of us get into the train until all the arriving passengers have gotten off. My co-passengers on the ride were school children, some college kids, domestic help and casual labour on their way to work. And once the doors close, we’re off.

Though the ride per se is pleasant, I cannot say that it is smooth as there are times when the train lurches, shakes and rumbles, and even negotiates a bumpy portion or two. The stations come at regular intervals and 5 stations and 20 minutes later I reach the last stop, Wadala Depot. Some images captured during the ride are presented below:

Mumbai Monorail, Public Transport, Mumbai
The interiors of a monorail coach. Blue for a blue train, pink for a pink train, green for a green train…
Mumbai Monorail, Public Transport, Mumbai
Slums…
Mumbai Monorail, Public Transport, Mumbai
A patch of green that is the Chembur Golf Course…
Mumbai Monorail, Public Transport, Mumbai
Oil tanks and the flare that burns up all the gas that cannot be stored
Mumbai Monorail, Public Transport, Mumbai
The white mounds in the background are salt
Mumbai Monorail, Public Transport, Mumbai
The Eastern Freeway
Mumbai Monorail, Public Transport, Mumbai
Bus Terminal for private bus operators
Mumbai Monorail, Public Transport, Mumbai
Wadala Monorail Depot
Mumbai Monorail, Public Transport, Mumbai
Outside Wadala Depot Monorail Station

Wadala Depot comes as a bit of a shock. Two shocks actually, and I mean it in the not-so-nice way. First, it appears to be in the middle of nowhere, doesn’t look like any part of Wadala I know, and there is no bus stop or cab in sight. A chat with a security guard at the Wadala Depot Monorail Station confirms what I had guessed — Wadala is a few kilometres away, the nearest bus stop was a 15-minute walk away, and cabs do not ply from here.

The second shock should really not have been one, considering that this is Mumbai, but still… When you exit the monorail station, on one side is the newly constructed road (see photo above), and on the other side is a slum (see the photo below). It is a little past 8 am and air is ripe with the unpleasant and unmistakable odour of an open toilet. Yes, the area around the slum is one big, open-air dump. Literally.

Mumbai Monorail, Public Transport, Mumbai
More slums…

I look around a bit and then leave when I realise that some people from the slums were waiting for me to leave so that they could get on with their…er… jobs. I buy my ticket token, pass through security again and board the train that takes me back to Chembur. This time around my co-passengers are young executives and some college students. And 20 minutes later, I am exiting Chembur station in time for a coffee before I head to work.

Mumbai Monorail, Public Transport, Mumbai
Seamless connection to Chembur Station on the Harbour Line of the suburban railways from the monorail station

I am just 2 Monorail rides old, but that was enough to notice some issues with the service and facilities.

1. Route: Granted that this is only the first leg of the 1st phase, but the route does not make any sense at the moment. Why couldn’t the line have been extended up to Mumbai Central, which would have benefited outstation travelers arriving by bus and train?

2. In-station facilities: Though there are elevators for the elderly and the disabled, the signage is not very clear. In Chembur, I realised about the existence of the elevator only when I reached the platform, which incidentally has no seats or benches. The stations have no toilet or drinking water facilities. When this newspaper asked the authorities for the reason, the response was, “Toilets cannot be provided as monorail is an alternative to bus transport.” I’d like to know what the Monorail and security personnel at each station do for toilet and drinking water facilities.

3. Station Names: Some of the names had me wondering over who decided on it. I have already mentioned that Wadala Depot is not in Wadala. The VNP & RC Marg Junction is quite a mouthful, not to mention silly. Since the area is called Chembur Naka, why couldn’t the monorail station be called the same? I have a similar issue with the Fertilizer Township station; calling it Chembur Camp would have been the right thing.

4. In-train announcements: The in-train announcements are almost continuous during the journey — either about the approaching station or safety announcements. The volume is loud and the voice irritating. By the time, I got off at Chembur on my return from Wadala, I had the beginnings of a headache. Just wondering, why do announcements always have to be done in a female voice? Why can’t announcements made by a man, preferably one with a baritone?

5. Security: After all the frisking and security checks, the Monorail’s route through the high security Bharat Petroleum Refinery seemed anti-climatic and a bit of a joke. What were the good people of Monorail thinking? The security checks are not too much of a bother right now. But this will change when the full route is operational and the number of passengers increase. I can already envision the long lines and angry customers !

Overall, travelling on the monorail is a bit surreal. The interiors are plush and swank and is something that has never been seen before in Mumbai. But looking out from the clean and clear windows one can see that the outside remains the same with slums, indiscriminate construction, negligible green cover… If anything, the ride throws the difference between the inside and the outside into even greater and sharper  contrast. This is particularly true when you exit the Monorail Station at Wadala. I couldn’t help thinking that it might have been a good idea for the Mumbai Monorail authorities to build some toilets for the slums. If not as a goodwill gesture, then at least to keep the area around the station clean !

I am a huge fan and proponent of public transport and like many others in Mumbai was eagerly waiting for the Monorail to take off. While the Monorail is not going to be of any help to me in my daily commute to work, it would definitely have helped in some for journeys into the city on work. Like many others, I hoped that the Monorail would be a step towards de-congesting or connecting existing public transport services. But the planning and execution leaves much to be desired and is a perfect example of infrastructure development in isolation.

It is early days for the Mumbai Monorail and the real impact will be felt only when the full route is operational. I’m looking forward to the day when I can travel on the full route and see whether the investment was worth it. Till then, it’s going to be mixed feelings about the Monorail.

24 thoughts on “The Mumbai Monorail ride

  1. What else to expect in this Slumbai? Though, in theory slums need not mean squalor. Clear abdication of urban planning function perhaps too busy building Adarshes?

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    1. I quite agree with you that slums do not mean squalor. While most slums in Mumbai will have electricity and cable TV connection, basic water and sanitation facilities are non-existent. An urnab planner once told me that denying these basic rights is to deter people from settling in slums. But it doesn’t seem to have worked, hast it?

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  2. Well Sudha, the sight of all those slums was sort of expected. After all, that entire route has been so haphazardly developed. And the same goes for the logic of having a monorail between chembur and wadala in the first place! All I hope is that the monorail at least remains well maintained unlike its other cousins – trains and buses 🙂 and now that you have gone for a ride too, I seem to be the only one who hasn’t tried it so far 🙂

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    1. The sight of slums was expected, Anu. The sight of so many slums was not expected. One doesn’t always see them at ground level. As for the logic of the route, I mean what more can one say.

      So, when are you going on a ride? 🙂

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    1. Nope, it wasn’t at all. We must have been about 20 people in all during the ride to Wadala. The return trip had more people.

      Thanks for stopping by and commenting 🙂

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      1. Able to read the post now, Sudha. Thanks!

        Interesting post. The monorail looks classy, both its exterior and interior. Hope the feedback of people is taken into consideration, the infrastructural and other issues are resolved, and a resounding success is made of the system.

        When the first leg of the Metro started in Bangalore, I was wondering about the route too. It runs a very short route now, something that is really of no use to anyone. That said, it is only a trial run, and the entire system is expected to be up and running by the end of 2015. I was quite happy with the brief ride I had on the Metro about a year back though, short route or not.

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        1. The Monorail is posh, colour coordinated, air-conditioned, affordable, and what not. But all this is of no use when it does not serve the purpose it is supposed to. The current route is poorly planned and if there is a logic behind it, I can’t see it. Still, one needs to wait till 2015 when the full route will be opened up.

          The Banaglore Metro is still not up and running? I knew about the trial run part and saw it when I visited the city in February 2012. I thought it must be up and running by now. Bangalore seems to taking forever, like Mumbai, to get its Metro in place. The first Metro route in Mumbai was supposed to be inaugurated today. Let’s see if it happens.

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  3. The Monorail is no doubt classy and swank. The Monorail stations do not have benches because you’re not allowed to stay in the station premises for more than 20 minutes. The Monorail is anyway a loss-making initiative meant for joyrides until the full route. I’m four Monorail rides old and the only thing I can use the Monorail for is photography. It has some excellent vantage points especially near the refineries. The full route is expected to commence only in March 2015. So, until then…

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    1. I’m hopeful too that once the full route is functional, the monorail will make more sense and money. But the problems with the way the route has been planned will remain a concern. It’s time to wait and watch.

      As for the other basic facilities that any public transport is supposed to provide, I’m simply not able to understand their logic for not placing at least a couple of benches. So what if people cannot spend more than 20 minutes inside the station?

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  4. Having seen some major traffic glitches in Delhi I think very little thought goes behind planning. Although there is always room for teething problems it takes more than it’s share.It is more of knee jerk reactions.

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    1. I would look a non-functional or confusing signboard as a teething problem, running out of ticket tokens as a teething problem. But lack of toilets and drinking water facilities, or an ill planned route is plain short-sightedness and not coordinating with other infrastructure agencies in the city as poor planning.

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  5. Hey Sudha! Interesting observations. Some of these initial experiences of commuters will hopefully get factored into improvements for future phases. Is there a feedback mechanism? I can perhaps compare your points with the Delhi Metro experience, which has shown a remarkable change in behavior on part of the commuters over its life cycle. Less eve teasing, bad behavior compared to buses, though it still happens. Here’s where the security matters I guess! In Delhi, the frisking and x-ray seemed strange to us at first, but now it has become habit and they’ve managed to put in systems even at crowded stations. In Chandni Chowk station one evening, for example, I was pleasantly surprised to see the long line snaking all the way out of the station, but very little pushing and shoving!
    Station names in Delhi are also equally nuts. I got off at Hauz Khas station once and had to walk 20 minutes to get to Hauz Khas! We have toilets, usually run by Sulabh, at some but not all stations. I really do not see the justification for not putting in toilets. In fact, it is a great opportunity to put in public services. Totally buy your point about isolated infrastructure planning and development. The entire things is seen as a pride issue and the motivation is spending and political gain, but the citizen is not at the center of the exercise. A pity indeed!
    Other value adds once the network increased at Delhi have been smart cards, self recharge stations for these, good signage, women’s help desks manned by lady constables, fines for bad behavior and losing tokens etc, murals and art work at stations and hopefully, many many more! Perhaps Mumbaikars should put together a feedback petition and take it up to the concerned people?

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    1. I read your comments with interest and hope that some the positive things experienced in Delhi Metro will happen with the Mumbai Monorail as well. Thanks a lot for your suggestions, Mukta. I am an active proponent of using public transport and I should initiate something to get the feedback to the right people.

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  6. As ramblinginthecity has pointed out, the security and frisking have all become second nature to the commuter on the Delhi metro. But then there are security checks at practically every place in the Capital, including markets like Sarojini Nagar. As for the rationale behind the route, have you thought of the fact that infrastructure is built where there is space for them to be built, and not where they are needed. So that come election, and we can have ads extolling the ‘development’ made in the previous government’s rule! I am with you about the slums. They strike a blow at my pride at everything when I see one. There is no getting used to the sight. I feel that it is the most dehumanising sight one can see.

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    1. Thank you, Zephyr, for enlightening me with this perspective. What would I ever do without you? 😀

      The slums are dehumanising, but I think that the buildngs built by the Slum Rehabilitation authority are worse. There is no ventilation, and the buildings are constructed badly and more people are packed in the same area.

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    1. And where do you think is Chembur Camp? In Chembur or some other place?

      The golk course is in Chembur and parts of it may fall into the area that you cann Chembur Camp. Regardless of where it is, the Golf course is in Chembur !

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