Mumbai’s new metro begins services despite ticket price fight

The long-delayed commuter railway finally launches services as its operator and city officials continue to clash over fare levels

PUBLISHED : Monday, 09 June, 2014, 11:05pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 10 June, 2014, 3:59pm

Mumbai's metro rail, delayed since 2011 and heading for a dispute with the government over fares, has started service. Thousands crowded a station to witness Hindu priests offer blessings.

Indian billionaire Anil Ambani's Mumbai Metro One will charge a promotional 10 rupees (HK$1.30) for a one-way ticket for the first 30 days, and later increase it to as much as 40 rupees, according to its website.

But the regional government wants it to charge between 9 rupees and 13 rupees in accordance with a contract it signed, Business Standard reported , citing Maharashtra state Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan.

"This is not the time to ask such questions," Ambani said at the inauguration ceremony in Mumbai on Sunday, when asked for comments on the dispute over fares.

Ambani and his wife, Tina Ambani, a former Bollywood movie star, were part of the crowd that got on to one of the train's pink and white cars. The train was decorated with flowers and took 27 minutes to travel the12-kilometre stretch.

Before taking the escalator up to the platform, the Ambanis prayed on the station's ground floor. About 40 children sat on the carpeted floor in front of idols as two priests chanted prayers. Police officers struggled to control the rush of reporters, cameramen, passengers and children.

India now has about 225km of metro rail lines, almost all accounted for by New Delhi's 190km. Nationally, that is about the same as Hong Kong's MTR, while mainland China has about 1,700km of metro lines.

India needs to increase its total more than 10 times to at least 2,500 kilometres by 2031 to accommodate the expected surge in intracity commuters, reduce pollution and cut road deaths, according to Venugopal Garre, Manish Agarwal and Saurabh Mishra, Barclays Bank analysts in Mumbai.

Infrastructure in India has failed to keep up with the demands of a population that's the second biggest in the world. Former prime minister Manmohan Singh vowed a decade ago to make Mumbai another Shanghai, yet creaky infrastructure, real estate that is among the most expensive in the world and urban squalor remain hallmarks of India's financial centre.

The Mumbai metro, whose construction started in 2007, connects the northwestern suburb of Versova to Ghatkopar in the east and was originally scheduled to commence service at the end of 2011. Ambani's Reliance Infrastructure owns a 69 per cent stake in the Mumbai Metro One venture, which is building the metro and will operate it, while the Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority holds 26 per cent, according to Mumbai Metro One's website.

An estimated 200,000 people rode on the metro on its first day of operation, the venture said.

Trains will run on an elevated line with 12 stations; the system is designed to reduce a 90-minute commute across the breadth of the city to 20 minutes, according to the website.

The Mumbai metropolitan region needs US$60 billion of investment in public transport over the next 20 years and the current plan falls short, according to estimates by Shirish Sankhe, Mumbai-based director at McKinsey. In a 2010 study, the consultant said India must spend US$2.2 trillion by 2030 on urban transport, housing and office space to boost infrastructure.