The ‘Is-it-urban-legend’ Mumbai metro finally opened today. Well yesterday, but today being Monday and this being workaholic Mumbai, let’s count this as Day 1. I took a couple of rides to see the fruits of 5 years of tolerating rising pollution, deteriorating road conditions and everywhere smelling like construction and bad traffic.
Each journey is priced at Rs.40 but it’s only Rs.10 for this first month. At this price, it fits exactly between the auto rickshaw fare and the train/bus fare. I guess the metro is going to be a transport facility of the mid-upper middle class, after all – those who aren’t too snobbish to use public transport but can afford the air-conditioned luxury of international level travel system. I started at DN Nagar and rode all the way to Ghatkopar (the last station). On my return journey, I did a full run from Ghatkopar to Versova (the other end). Then I rode it back to Azad Nagar. I wondered whether I could just do the Mumbai train-traveller thing, getting in a station before the last stop, riding to the end and then back in the opposite direction. Perhaps this is possible too. The coach I was in, announced that it would be taken to the sidelines and that everyone had to alight. A security guard also came in and ensured that everyone was off the coach.
The metro platform appears to be on the second floor of most stations. The first floor houses the token counters, sundry shops (Havmor ice-cream, a mobile phone store) and security. You buy a token, put your bags through security as in a mall and walk throughout the body-beeper thing. I’m a little concerned with this stage because if you’re travelling alone and during rush hour, your bag is out of your sight for a few crucial minutes while you go into the cubicle to get body-beeped and your bag is in the scanner. Also, the stations give you a sense of being open (and hence safe). But given that they are so above ground and the multiple big pillars, this may not be as safe a place as it seems. Attacks on women have been getting reported with increasing frequency, even in public places in Mumbai. So I would caution women to be extra mindful while using the metro and not go by their usual train-travel safety guidelines.
On the platform, it’s generally advised that you stand well away from the tracks. At one place (I don’t remember which), I was told that the tracks could electrocute a person to death on contact. I have no idea if this is true and whether it will deter the Mumbaiker need to stand at the very edge to be able to jump on board first. Today there was a guard on each platform tooting a stern whistle but I don’t know if Reliance intends to continue keeping them on to do this policing.
The seats line up along the walls with plenty of standing room in between. One row also says ‘Ladies only’ but it’s not very clear whether they mean just the seat under the sign or the entire row.
At Andheri station, the conductor announced that a boy had got onto the metro and left his parents behind by mistake. They entreated the passengers to look around and bring the child to the Andheri train station office. The metro also stopped at Andheri for much longer while security personnel searched the metro for the kid. I don’t know whether they found him but I thought it would have been even better if they had described him (age, height, clothes etc).
The level of finesse in design appears to deteriorate as we go from West to East on the metro. To be fair, I didn’t actually get in and out of Versova or Andheri stations. But even from the platforms, Ghatkopar station is distinctly inferior. The platforms are narrower. There aren’t proper walls even though there are crowds thronging a third-floor platform. The staff seemed much more harried than the ones at the other stations. And finally, getting out was a holy nightmare. In addition to clogged single-person-at-a-time-exits, the metro crowd spills out onto a footoverbridge and a tiny staircase that seems tacked on to the main train station as an afterthought. I do not envy anybody having to use Ghatkopar station now. An already chaotic station has just been made even worse through bad planning.
Getting back in proved to be just as complicated. The crowds rush into a wide open space which has no signages indicating ticket counters. The security guards were shouting to everyone to go around a massive room-sized pillar and duck under a staircase to get to the counters. Does that sound like intelligent design to you? There were four counters with people behind them but only two were operational. And given this is a terminus point for the metro AND a major train station, I’d have thought the planners would allow for more queue space.
All in all, it was an exciting experience. I am a Mumbaiker and an Andheri girl to boot. This signifies an important milestone in my city’s timeline. Having lived in Andheri all my life, this journey gave me a different view (literally) of the suburb I call home. It’s astonishing how many slums there are in the city. Mumbai is not a city that looks good from a height (unlike the other cities that I’ve ridden a metro in). Still, I imagine that’s a sight and sensation I’ll be numb to, within a couple of rides.
How to board and alight:
- If you’ve ever ridden a metro or a monorail, you’ll have no surprises. You buy your token at the counter. This is a plastic coin-shaped piece. And like with the Mumbai trains, you’ve got to keep it with you throughout the length of the journey. No, seriously, you can’t get out of the station unless you have the token with you.
- Unlike the trains, the fare is not for one-way or a return journey. You can ride along as many times as you like and get down wherever you want. But once you’re out of the station, you’ll need to buy a new token to make another journey.
- After security check, the token allows you to ‘open’ the blockade. Pass between the waist high machines, place the token on the indicated side. The blockades will open for a few seconds, letting you pass through. Do this fast to avoid a poke in uncomfortable places.
- Above each door, is a map of the stations and a light appears atop the side of the train where the doors will open at the next stop. Each station is also announced beforehand along with which side the platform will come on.
- The station order is Versova, DN Nagar, A
- When you get down and approach the exits, you’ll come to similar looking machines that you walked through on entry. Here, you deposit your token into the coin slot, which causes the blockade to open and let you leave (see, this is why you need to hold on to the token).