Mumbai – BEST woes

posted in: City Updates | 0
If wishes were horses, beggars would ride – The condition of transport in our cities is hopelessly in disrepair and it will take more than mere slogans and policy pronouncements for it to improve. -Vidyadhar Date

When the National Urban Transport Policy (NUTP) was announced in 2006, one expected urban travel would become more tolerable. Unfortunately, 10 years down the line, this situation has worsened for the common man. NUTP definitely had some good features-it sought to promote public transport, discourage private transport, provide better facilities for pedestrians, curb car parking use, among others. The decline in urban transport is visible in the case of the BEST bus undertaking in Mumbai. The BEST has been a good example for the rest of the country all these years. Its virtual collapse sent waves of unrest all over, but the officers still remained indifferent.

“Why is the government wasting crores of rupees on studies by foreign experts when all it needs to do is to look across the road to realize what is wrong?” is all us commoners can say at the moment.

The bus stop next to the Y.B. Chavan auditoriumis badly located and cars are parked right in front blocking the space for buses and commuters, resulting in the commuters being forced to stand on the road. If knocked down by speeding vehicles, authorities accuse them of jaywalking or trespassing. And this is not a onetime situation; it’s repeating itself at an almost frightening pace. Buildings housing top-ranking government bureaucrats, retired bureaucrats (two ex-cabinet secretaries), high court judges, and bungalows of ministers are in the vicinity of this bus stop but no sign of any action on the ground.

Big pronouncements are made about improving transport, making it smart with new technology. It always sounds so hollow.
The collapse of administration is clear if one visits the eastern side of the Bandra railway station which is the gateway to the Bandra-Kurla Complex, venue of the Make In India spectacle. The complex is a major business and financial centre but its gateway is in a shameful state and this exposes all the ludicrous talk of smart cities and governance.

Mr.Modi wants to spend nearly 10000 crore rupees for the proposed high speed railway link between Mumbai and Ahmedabad, but look at the hypocrisy and inefficiency. Look at the state of the Bandra terminus in Mumbai from where currently trains leave for his home town Ahmedabad. There is not even a proper access to the Terminus.In fact, its access has become more difficult.You just cannot reach the place by public transport. A bus service to the terminus has in fact been stopped and one has to reach there either by car, taxi or an auto rickshaw. One cannot even walk because the whole road is filthy. A flyover has been built recently but it is serving little purpose as vehicles find it difficult to reach the area because of major traffic congestion.

This glass-roofed terminus itself is badly designed, environmentally unfriendly, and ungainly for users. The area under the flyover has been handed over for car parking and the whole area is shamefully dirty and neglected. There is no point in blaming the slums nearby. There is simply no evidence of administration in the area which is more shocking considering that it is so close to the head office of the MMRDA, the metropolitan authority and the residence of the Shiv Senachief, Uddhav Thackeray, whose party is in a majority in the civic body for the past several years.

Buses find it very difficult to reach Bandra east station because of congestion caused mainly by an excess number of auto rickshaws, which are totally unregulated. Bus commuters have to wait in the filthiest conditions and amidst deafening traffic noise and fumes. A dirty drainage nullah flows right behind. It never seems to have been cleaned which is clear from the dark colour and the stench. Is this how you look after a gateway to a modern business and financial centre? Have the politicians and bureaucrats no self respect?
The road from the Bandra east railway station to Kala Nagar near the Bandra-KurlaComplexis in an utter mess which is a pity because it is named after AnantKanekar, a left-wing writer, known particularly for his book onthe Soviet Unionwhose title translates as“Fromthe Fog to the Red Star,” that means from despair to hope. Here there is a reversal; things have worsened, not become better.

A flyover built in the area has served to punish pedestrians and create space down below for unauthorized car parking and dumping of garbage on the road below.The Indian State is bound by an international convention to provide facilities for the mobility of the physically handicapped, but the State makes things tough even for the physically fit. There is still a lot of open space here which can be used as a bus terminal, but they just do not want to promote public transport even as they mouth empty slogans off and on. A bus depot has been created on a small plot of land and was inaugurated two years ago by Mr Aditya Thackeray, son of the Sena chief, who heads the youth wing of the Sena but holds no position in the administration.The whole area is a disgrace to an administration claiming to represent efficiency and smart governance.

The authorities also need to clean up the Kurla terminus. The approach is unbelievably filthy and has remained so since a long time. I have seen that the nullahs flowing near the terminus are dirty and stinking. The government gives a lot of importance to airports saying these are the gateways to the country and to our cities. But then the railway terminals at Bandra and Kurla are also major entry/exit points, but since, our upper class now travels mainly by air, not train, the authorities do not care. So, in Mumbai there is virtually no decent public transport connecting the three main transport hubs to the city and suburbs. By these hubs I mean the international and domestic airport, the Kurla railway terminus, and the Bandra railway terminus. Both the railway terminals should have been properly aligned with the suburban stations, which are some distance away. But it is a pain to reach Bandra terminus from Bandra suburban station or Kurla terminus from the Tilak Nagar suburban station. The callousness towards public transport at the Mumbai airport has to be seen to be believed.Even small countries have better local bus connectivity with their airports as I saw in Colombo and elsewhere. The two miserable bus stops outside the international airport in Mumbai, one of them without even a shed overhead, are worse than bus stop in neglected rural area.
Vidyadhar Date is a senior journalist and author of “Traffic in the Era of Climate Change”.