A public transport system on a knife-edge: Mumbai

On the shores of the Arabian Sea nestles the jewel of India’s crown – Mumbai. With a total metropolitan area population of approximately 20.5 million, it is the largest urban centre in India and the fourth most populous city in the world. To survive in this sea of humanity you need lifelines of asphalt and steal. In this megacity public transport is its most important organ. Simply put, the city cannot live without buses and trains.

Unfortunately, Mumbai’s public transport system will be in for a shock: statistics claim that by the year 2020, the city will be home to nearly 26 million people making it the world’s second largest city.[1] How do Mumbaikars manage their commute to work? And how is the Bombay Municipal Corporation (BMC) preparing for this steep increase in people in such a short time? We shall try and understand how business mobility works in one of the world’s fastest growing cities.

Mumbai’s transport system is a lifeline

Let’s start with some numbers: 88% of all commuters use public transport as it is the most convenient, most efficient, and cheapest form of business mobility. Statistically, buses carry roughly 5.5 million people and the Mumbai Suburban Railway around 6.99 million people every day. And if you work in Mumbai you will need to go to the south where most of the city’s companies are located.[2] This creates the first obvious problem: most people will wake up in the suburbs, which are spread across the entire north of the city, and then move southwards to downtown Mumbai where they work. During peak hours, this causes trains to be overfilled by 3-4 times their seating capacity. Imagine a train that has been designed and engineered to carry 1700 people transporting 6800 people. Absolute madness.[3] With this sheer immense number, it is no surprise that Mumbai’s public transport carries more passengers per kilometer than any other public transport system on earth.[4] Needless to say, the system is stretched to its limits every single day.

Mumbai’s plans for business mobility in the future

With its current problems and a rapidly growing population, transport must see improvements. And these we can expect! It is the largest public work project in Mumbai’s history: an elevated freeway running north to south and a 4 km sea bridge are supposed to improve travelling to downtown Mumbai. A more extensive project is the Mumbai Metro, which started construction in 2008 and is said to be overall completed in 2021. By the end of 2012, the first line is expected to be ready for use. The Metro, which will benefit from high-tech signaling and communication systems, is planned to cover a network of more than 140 km.[5] Most importantly, however, Mumbai will build an entire new metropolis.[6] It will be the largest planned city on earth providing the utterly needed space for new and existent companies. This is a clever idea because the “new city” will be in the north and thus the south will be relived from thousands of commuters having to travel there every morning. On top of that, it could help solve one of the city’s most persistent problems. Mumbai can only be reached via three major routes from the mainland as it lies on a peninsula. With companies situated closer to these traffic arteries, less people will have to move through the entire city to get to work.

Movement or stagnation?

With the current plans to upgrade its public transport system, Mumbai is on track to keep its millions of citizens moving. The only problem is time: Mumbai will need to be quick in implementing its initiatives to keep up with the growing demand. Because if not, this giant’s lifelines will come to arrest – an unimaginable scenario for Mumbai’s business mobility.

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