Mounting losses, competition from Metro, Mono spark out-of-the-box thinking
A white paper to be submitted to the Railway Board also proposes the formation of a Suburban Rail Tariff Authority.
In a radical suggestion, the Mumbai Rail Vikas Corporation (MRVC) has proposed different fares for fast and slow locals in Mumbai and also an independent fare fixation committee for the suburban network.
In a white paper to be presented to the Ministry of Railways, MRVC, the nodal body for development of local rail network in Mumbai metropolitan region, has suggested that that local trains’ ticket pricing must take into account fares of competing modes of transport like BEST buses, Metro, and Mono.
Currently, the ticket prices for both fast and slow services are the same and the only price differential is between first and second-class tickets.
The same formula applies to season passes. If MRVC’s suggestion is accepted, a premium will be charged for fast trains.
The new thinking comes in the wake of the Western Railway preparing to introduce air-conditioned trains early next year. Since the fare structure of AC trains will be different, the corporation believes it also provides an opportunity to rationalise ticket prices across the suburban network. The white paper talks about how the transport landscape in Mumbai has changed with the introduction of Metro and Mono and stresses the need for local trains to keep pace.
Since a fare revision in Mumbai suburban system has always been a sensitive issue, the white paper suggests formation of an independent Suburban Rail Tariff Authority to fix ticket prices.
The white paper was ordered by Railway Minister Suresh P Prabhu with directions to cover the whole gamut of issues connected with Mumbai’s over-burdened local train network. Once the white paper is presented to the Railway Ministry, it will be put up for commuters’ suggestions.
Chapter 4 of the report, which deals with the economic status of Mumbai’s locals, states that the poor financial performance of the suburban network is a major concern and time has come for serious introspection and appropriate remedial measures.
The report states that Mumbai locals at present are the cheapest mode of public transport at 50 paise per km as compared to Metro at Rs 5 for a km, Monorail Rs 1.67 and BEST buses at Rs 4 for a km.
Mumbai suburban railway network’s losses have increased five fold in the past five years and the cumulative loss for 2014-15 stands at Rs 1400 crore.
Former chairman of Railway Board Vivek Sahai said different fares for slow and fast locals is the most practical solution to deal with the local train network’s failing financial health. “A passenger on long-distance train pays separate fare for fast and passenger trains, so why not on suburban railway? In Mumbai, time is important and local trains are the fastest mode. There could be separate colour-coded season ticket for slow and fast trains,” he said.
Transport expert Ashok Datar too agreed the differential fare structure could bail out the suburban railway system. “It is a very nice idea and we have been pushing this one for quite some time. This and many more such ideas could be tried out in the existing scenario to increase the revenue of suburban trains.”
Rajiv Singhal of the Divisional Railway Users Consultative Committee, however, said different fares for fast and slow trains will work only if the former offer something more than a quicker commute.
Mumbai suburban railway runs 2923 services daily. This includes 1618 (245 fast) services on Central Railway and 1305 (466 fast) services on Western Railway. The report adds that with every new service introduced, the operating expenses go up. In 2004-05, the cost of running a single service of a 12-car rake was Rs 52.73 lakh. In 2013-14, it went up to Rs 97.14 lakh.