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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.