A hovercraft in the Mumbai Harbour (Bachchan Kumar/Hindustan Times via Getty Images)
Snapshot
  • Water transit can easily be the next big idea in the Mumbai infrastructure story

With the Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority (MMRDA) awarding work orders for construction of Line 6 of the Mumbai Metro last month, India’s financial capital is currently on an overdrive to build rapid transit systems. The city currently has nearly 140 kilometres of metro lines under construction and has bagged approvals for another 20 km.

While the new lines will certainly help ease the severe congestion the island city faces today, there is still a minor hitch – what about those leaving the city to access satellite townships such as Navi Mumbai, Kalyan-Dombivili or Vasai-Virar? Passengers bound for these places still have to rely on the overcrowded suburban network or use buses that ply on major trunk roads that are already chock-a-block with vehicles.

The answer to this shouldn’t be much of a surprise, for Mumbai has an abundance of one element – water.

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Mumbai has a fledgling water transit system but it is disorganised with a bulk of it being used by fisher folk or for tourist purposes connecting the Gateway of India to places such as Gharapuri Island (for the Elephanta Caves) and Rewas and Mandwa (connecting to Alibaug). Between 1994 and 1999, hovercraft services were operated by Mahindra and Mahindra between Vashi and CBD Belapur in Navi Mumbai and the Gateway on the island city. Services, however, wound up due to lack of proper permanent infrastructure.

Over the last two decades, various plans have been drawn, the most recent of which was in 2012 when the Maharashtra State Road Development Corporation (MSRDC) decided to go in for a public-private participation (PPP). Poor response resulted in the project being handed to the Maharashtra Maritime Board (MMB), which went ahead and set up the Maharashtra Water Transport Corporation (MWTC) as a special purpose vehicle (SPV) that would set up and operate the required infrastructure while private players operate would operate services.

What Model Should The Government Try Implementing?

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There are models that are operational, both within India and globally – completely private, public-private partnership and completely public that are operational.

The completely private model is what the MMB is currently hoping for, wherein the infrastructure required is set up using public funds, but the actual boats are privately owned and operated.

The completely private model exists in Kolkata and its twin city, Howrah. Operated by the Hooghly Nadi Jalpath Paribahan Samabay Samiti Limited (HNPSSL) – a cooperative of boat-owners, it carries passengers across the Hooghly river.

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However, the best example of all three models would be the city of New York in the United States. The Staten Island Ferry, connecting the boroughs of Staten Island and Manhattan is a government-run system operated by the New York City Department of Transportation (NYCDOT). While it has been the cheapest ferry in the city historically, it has been a fare-free system for over two decades now.

The NYC Ferry, meanwhile, is a public-private partnership, launched by the city administration but operated by a private player. Apart from this, other service providers such as the New York Water Taxi and NY Waterway ply across the Hudson river and the New York Harbor that are completely private in nature.

Mumbai should ideally have all three models in place, similar to New York. The rationale behind this – the private sector may not be enthusiastic to operate on ferries that may be expensive or witness low footfalls. At the same time, government bodies would find it easier to integrate a ferry with existing modes of transport within the city. Operating ferries along the western seafront – essentially open-sea – would require larger and more expensive vessels capable of navigating the open sea, something best left for the government to fund.

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However, for the ground infrastructure in terms of jetties and terminals, it can either be publicly funded or built on PPP similar to bus stations that have been built on the model earlier. Repair and maintenance facilities can be handled individually with each operator having a workshop of their own.

The MWTC, as an umbrella organisation should set up the terminals and then set up a mechanism for other players to operate their vessels. Along the Western Seafront, terminals can come up in major areas such as Gorai, Manori, Marve, Madh Island, Versova, Juhu, and Bandra in the suburbs. Further south, terminals need to be built once the construction of the Coastal Road project is complete. On the Eastern side, terminals need to built at Thane, Mulund, Ghatkopar, Trombay, Mankhurd. Further south on this side is the Mumbai Port Trust (MbPT) which houses several terminals including Roll-on/Roll-off (Ro-Ro) terminals at Ferry Wharf (Bhaucha Dhakka) and Ballard Pier. Terminals should also be capable of supporting hovercraft operations (hoverports) which can be operated as a premium or express service. On the mainland, terminals need to be set up at Airoli, Ghansoli, Nerul, CBD Belapur, Uran and Ulwe.

Currently, a myriad of operators, operate services in the region, including the city’s bus operator – the Brihanmumbai Electricity Supply and Transport (BEST) undertaking that operates one service. With the requisite infrastructure in place, BEST should be encouraged to launch additional routes, which will help nudge private players and other agencies such as the Navi Mumbai Municipal Transport (NMMT) and Thane Municipal Transport (TMT) undertakings – BEST’s primary competition – to enter the sector, thus giving passengers more services.

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Examining Gadkaris Plans

Union Minister for Shipping Nitin Gadkari has in the past shown a lot of enthusiasm towards setting up a functional water transit network in the MMR. Among the rivers in India that he upgraded to the status of a National Waterway (NW) are the Amba River (NW10) near Alibaug and Revas and the Ulhas River (NW53) which is also referred to as the Kalyan-Thane-Mumbai Waterway.

Back in 2014, a Shiv Sena MP had asked the MMRDA to examine the feasibility of Kalyan-Mumbai-Virar waterway along the Ulhas River and Thane Creek. Four years on, the Thane Municipal Corporation (TMC) has been silently working on a Rs 600 crore project that involves setting up ten jetties across 47 km. TMC plans to operationalise three jetties at Nagla, Parsik and Kolshet first with an aim to also connect Mira-Bhayander.

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Apart from this, the MMB and Maharashtra Tourism Development Corporation (MTDC) are looking to redevelop an integrated cruise terminal in the city while Gadkari has proposed an ambitious cruise tourism circuit with an aim of hosting the Formula One Powerboat (F1H2O) championship as well. Mumbai however lost the chance to host 2018 Grand Prix to Andhra Pradesh capital Amaravati.

Building Integrated Terminals

The biggest thing that the administration must remember, however, is that the water terminals need to be connected to other modes of transport to ensure a thriving system. A crucial example of this is the Mumbai Monorail, which currently is seeing a low passenger turnout mainly due to a lack of connectivity. The existing line of the Mumbai Metro, however, is India’s fastest growing metro corridor despite being only 10 km long because of its connectivity to the Andheri and Ghatkopar railway stations.

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Integrated terminals for road, rail and water are common across the world. In India, the Vytilla Mobility Hub in Cochin was envisioned to do so, although the rail connectivity (Kochi Metro) is still under construction while ferry jetties will be set up in the next phase of expansion.

Two major terminals – the St George Terminal in Staten Island, New York and the Hoboken Terminal in Hoboken New Jersey are the perfect examples of how Mumbai’s integrated water terminals need to be. Situated on the northern tip of Staten Island, St George is common hub for Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA) buses, the State Island Railroad and the terminal for the ferry along with a parking lot to facilitate the park-and-ride model. Hoboken meanwhile is situated across the Hudson from Manhattan and connects NJ Transit’s rail operations, the MTA’s Metro-North line on the NYC Subway, the Port Authority Trans-Hudson (PATH) rail line and the Hudson-Bergen Light Rail serving New Jersey. It also acts as a transit stop for buses and the NY Waterway.

Coming back to the MMR, the only plans for integrated connectivity are at Kolshet, Thane where the proposed Thane Internal Metro/Personal Rapid Transit (PRT) will connect the terminal to the suburban rail and Mumbai Metro lines. However, this line is still under consideration by the Maharashtra Metro Rail Corporation (MahaMetro).

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Possible Integrated Terminals

There are three possible locations where the government can actively consider building integrated terminals for multi-modal transit – Mankhurd, CBD Belapur and Bhayender.

Mankhurd is the last stop on Salsette Island along the harbour line of the suburban network. Adjacent to it is the penultimate station for Line 2 of the Metro as well. The next station on the suburban line is Vashi in Navi Mumbai, around 7.5km away while the Mandale terminal on the metro is nearly a kilometre away.

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Around 2.5 km away from Mankhurd station is the Mankhurd Octroi Naka, sandwiched between the Sion-Panvel Highway and the harbour line. Post the implementation of the goods and services tax (GST), it is now an empty plot of land that can be used. This author had earlier proposed to use the land as a pumping station as part of a system to pump stormwater towards the mainland.

The empty plot of land can be put to use as an integrated terminal. For this, a station would have to be built on the harbour line while the Metro too would require an extension. The Octroi Naka land can be used to build a parking lot and a bus station with an elevated metro line atop it and the harbour station adjacent to it. The jetty can be built to the east of the proposed complex. Mumbai’s second port, built on a PPP model by Yogayatan Ports is coming up barely 100 m south of the railway track. Located barely 10 nautical miles from the Nhava-Sheva port and Uran, this area can easily become a gateway to the city. Most modern boats do an average speed of 25 knots (nautical miles per hour). A ferry could reduce the travel time from Uran to Mankhurd to less than half an hour from the current three hours by public transport and one hour by car.

On the mainland, a hoverport and passenger water terminal exists at Sarovar Vihar in CBD Belapur, Navi Mumbai. While the Navi Mumbai Municipal Corporation (NMMC) is looking at running hovercrafts to the city from here, a second terminal can be set up near the upcoming Sagar Sangam station on the Nerul-Uran branch of the harbour line. This would make it easier to access the terminal.

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The last major terminal possibility is at Bhayender, near Indralok. An extension of Line 7, tentatively called Line 9 has been approved by the Maharashtra cabinet. Located not far from the coast, the line can have a terminal station that is integrated with a jetty.

Uniform Ticketing

Another point to note is a unified ticketing system. While the MMRDA has been discussing a single system to work on the suburban network, buses, metro and monorail, ferries must not be left out. Simultaneously, the Centre is looking to revive the National Common Mobility Card (NCMC), also known as the More Card which includes support for ferries and tolls as well. While government agencies can be asked to take up common ticketing, private players should be allowed to have their own systems. Despite being operated under the NYCDOT, the NYC Ferry does not accept the MTA’s MetroCard, using app-based tickets or tickets sold at counters instead. The other private ferries too have their own ticketing systems.

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With work on the Shiv Smarak underway, the time is ripe for the city to focus on integrated water transit. With Mumbai being a city with the maximum employment potential, trans-harbour solutions would help residents across the bay lead a more comfortable life, while not having to spend most of their salaries on rent.

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