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Comfort or cattle class? The fare question

Friday, 9 May 2014 - 8:07am IST | Place: Mumbai | Agency: dna

The Verosva-Andheri-Ghatkopar (VAG) Metro corridor, a few days away from becoming Mumbai's latest mode of transport, is in the midst of a debate that concerns commuters the most – fares. On Wednesday, officials from the Mumbai Mteropolitan Region Development Authority (MMRDA) and the Relaince Infra led Mumbai Metro One Private Limited were in talks on how best to go about the fares.

Central to the debate is a dilemma that has been faced by every metro system around the world – do you keep the fares high to keep the rakes less crowded and more comfortable or do you keep the fares low enough that the lowest strata of the public transport user can hop in, somewhat like our peak-hour local trains (cattle class)? For the moment, the correct phrases are being bandied about on the fare issue. MMOPL has made it clear that the Metro system is a public mode of transport and 'must encourage as many people as possible to travel by it'. But those in the know agree the debate is very much real.

What's the debate all about?
According to government officials, the VAG corridor, like any other metro, is a part of public transport. It will have to be run in such a way as to bring down the load on the other modes of transport that run on the same sector. In this case, it is the bumper-to-bumper traffic-afflicted JP Road, Andheri-Kurla Road and the Andheri-Ghatkopar link Road. It needs to give train commuters the comfort of reaching from Andheri to Ghatkopar without having to change trains at Dadar. So for the MMRDA it is clear that the VAG corridor needs to have fares that will make it the primary mode of transport for people in the Versova-Ghatkopar sector. That is why in September 2013, the chief minister while giving in to RInfra's demand for a fare revision had still kept it closer to suburban rail fares. The initial metro rail fares were Rs 6 (up to 3 km), Rs 8 (3-8 km) and Rs 10 (over 10km). Chief minister had increased it to Rs 9 (u pto 3km), Rs 11(3-8 km) and Rs 13 (over 8km),

Comfort not crowds theory:
Should the VAG metro be a comfortable, if one dare say, elitist mode of transport that will complement the ones running on the Versova-Ghatkopar corridor rather than being the primary mode? The debate has taken place earlier as well with the supporters of this 'comfort journey' talking about how the VAG corridor can have fares that will attract the private car-driver as well as the man who cares nothing before hailing a rickshaw, pay upwards of Rs 175 and get from Versova to Ghatkopar. "Would such a man mind paying a high ticket price if he gets from Versova to Ghatkopar in say 20 minutes in air-conditioned comfort. Remember the VAG corridor takes care of 48 road traffic signals between Versova and Ghatkopar ?" asked an official supportive of this 'comfort not crowds' theory. The demand made by RInfra during the fare revision demand was being seen by many as part of this theory. RInfra's demand was for Rs 22 (up to 3km), Rs 28 (3-8km) and Rs 33 (over 8km).

What the rule says:
With the VAG corridor being brought under the Metro Railway (Operations and Maintenance) Act 2002, the onus of fixing the fare is now with the Metro Railway Administrator, in this case the MMOPL. As per Section 34 of the Act, the power to fix the first set of fares without the interference of any outside body will also be vested with the MRA.The subsequent fare hikes revision will however be made by a three member Fare Fixation Committee to be headed by a retired or sitting judge of the High Court. The fare fixed by this committee would however be binding on the MRA.

MMOPL's take
"Metro system is a public mode of transport and must encourage as many people as possible to travel by it . Mumbai metro has been designed for an ultimate capacity of 11 L people per day , therefore ,all commuters will have comfortable travel in an air-conditioned environment . Fare structure of metro is always decided on the basis of affordability and sustainability of system."

Time for a rise? Reliance's view
Particulars 2004-5 2013 % increase

1) Consumer price index Rs 115 Rs 231 101
2) Increase in govt salaries Rs 19580 Rs 60030 206
3) Steel (per ton) Rs 24000 Rs 55000 129
4) Electricity unit rate Rs 2.7 Rs 7.97 195
5) Rupees to US dollar Rs 45 Rs 63 40

The multi-mode transport comparison:
Mode Versova-Ghatkopar

Best bus Rs 25
Best bus AC Rs 60
Auto-rickshaw Rs 163
Taxi AC Rs 337
Taxi fare ordinary Rs 204

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