Mumbai: In an attempt to smoothen the operations of Mumbai monorail, the Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority (MMRDA) plans to set up an independent department to run the public transit system and hire more staff.
Since its inception in 2014, the first-of-its-kind public transport system in the country has been plagued with low ridership and technical glitches.
In an authority meeting last month, the MMRDA decided to hire 17 people across technical, financial and administrative backgrounds to run the department, looking to boost its capacity to handle the operations and maintenance of the transport system, which lacks sufficient domestic expertise.
“The contractor who built the monorail, a consortium of India Larsen & Toubro and Malaysia’s Scomi Engineering, has been out of the picture since December 2018. Since then, the MMRDA has been looking after the project. There is a monorail unit, but it is run by nine officials from the MMRDA’s transport and communications department, one from administration and one from finance,” an official, who attended the meeting, told ThePrint.
He added: “The work is of a highly technical nature. Plus, these officials work in eight-hour shifts, where as we need manpower 24/7 to effectively tend to the operation and maintenance of the monorail. So, we decided it was better to have an independent department.”
Of the 17 newly created positions for the independent monorail department, 11 are technical in nature, with the bulk of the work being related to elements such as signalling, communications, station operations, safety, electrical maintenance, procuring spare parts and so on.
Three each are from administrative and financial backgrounds.
Glitches in operations
The 19.5-km monorail, which runs from Chembur to Jacob Circle via Wadala, was fully opened for commuters in March 2019, almost 10 years after its construction started. In 2014, the MMRDA had opened the first phase of 8.8 km from Chembur to Wadala.
The route, however, did not attract much ridership, impacting the operation and maintenance of the line.
Ridership has been low because of various reasons. From 2014 to 2019, only one phase was operational and that wasn’t a very frequently-travelled route. After 2019, when the second phase, which goes through some thickly populated areas was opened up, the monorail began suffering issues of maintenance, lack of spare parts etc.
The development authority eventually terminated its contract with Larsen & Toubro and Malaysia’s Scomi Engineering, which built the monorail and were in charge of running it, citing contract breaches and failing to maintain the quality of monorail services.
The quality of monorail services, however, did not improve despite the MMRDA taking it over. The authority was initially struggling to procure spare parts because of little domestic experience in manufacturing monorail spare parts and rakes, and successfully running them.
The spares also had to match the specifications of trains supplied by Scomi Engineering.
The authority then started trying to source spare parts locally to operationalise rakes lying in the depot to improve the frequency of the monorail system, and thus attract more riders. Last year, the MMRDA refurbished two such trains by sourcing 213 spare parts from local vendors.
“This year, we are hoping to run both phases of the monorail all year round with more coaches, so there should be an increase in passengers as well as fare box revenue,” the official quoted above said.
The MMRDA is aiming to collect fare revenue of Rs 29.25 crore in 2021-22 as against an estimated Rs 8 crore this fiscal, when it was out of operation from 22 March to 18 October due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
(Edited by Rachel John)
Also read: The failure that is India’s first monorail