Alternative modes of transport

THE END OF THE TRAM WAYSTransport is a very important factor in the economic organisation of a modern city.  With  the concentration of industrial and other employment in a city, there is tremendous increase in the movement of men and goods.  The pace of such movement has an impact on the economics of the organisation Transport is like the lungs of the orgniszation.  Transport in the  city of Mumbai is handled by the two railways and the B. E. S. T.   Undertaking.  The Undertaking carried more passengers than the two railways put together and yet, it must be admitted, there is considerable scope for improvement in its bus service.

The  B. E. S. T.  Undertaking is always thinking to use other modes of transport.  It gave consideration to the following alternative means of transport, having obtained expert advice on them :

(1) Aerial Ropeway,
(2) Underground Railway,
(3) Overhead Railway (Aerial Monorail), and
(4) Water Bus


The idea of installing an aerial ropeway in Mumbai first came up in  1953.  It was to connect Chowpatty and Malbar Hill.

Coaches each with four seats were to slide up and down the steel ropeway.  To enable the passengers to get a panoramic view the coach was to be fitted with glass windows.  A German expert helped finalise the details of the scheme.  The  Corporation approached the Government for permission to operate the aerial ropeway. But somehow inspite of all efforts the scheme never materialized.

Underground Railway
This form of transport for Mumbai was first thought  of as early as in 1924. As conceived at first, it was to be a circular route joining Bombay Central, the Khada Parsi Statue (Nagpada), the J.J. Hospital, Pydhoni, Crawford Market, Bori Bunder, Marine Lines, Charni Road and Kennedy Bridge. Later, a straight north-south route was proposed. In 1954, the scheme was submitted to the State Government for approval. The government thought it impracticable as the outlay on the railway would be huge.  But the population of the city kept growing so fast that the need for such a railway was felt more  and  more keenly by the Corporation, the B. E. S. T. Undertaking, and by the  Government as well.

In 1956 the scheme came up, once again, with much impetus this time.  During his visit to Japan,  Shri  T. S. Rao, the then Chief  Engineer of the Undertaking made a study of the underground railway system in that country, and  on his return  submitted his report on it.  In the light of the report, the scheme for an underground railway in Mumbai was considered at a meeting attended by the members of the B. E. S. T. Committee, the representatives of the Central and the Western Railways and the Special Engineer of the Municipal Corporation.  The meeting decided to conduct a geological survey of the city for this purpose, and assigned the job to Messers.  Higashi and Tsuji, a Japanese firm.  This was  the first actual step taken in direction of providing  Mumbai with an underground railway.  After the report of the survey was received, the General Manager of the  Unertaking drew up a plan to build an underground railway from Museum to Dadar, via Mohamadali Road and Dr. Ambedkar Road,  Then the Government was approached for financial assistance for the preliminary work on the scheme; but the Government would not give it, and the scheme got stuck  once again.

The next time the scheme moved was in 1962, when the then Engineer-in-charge of the Undertaking, Shri P. G.  Patankar, was sent to Berlin and Milan to study the underground railway systems there, and for training.  He recorded his observations and  suggestions on underground railway in great detail in the report he submitted. His plan for proposed underground railway for the city envisaged five stages.    In 1964  the Japan Consulting Institute invited the Undertaking to send its representative to see the working of Japan’s underground railway system. Accordingly, the Undertaking’s General Manager, Shri G. A.  Sharma; the Chief Engineer of its Electric Supply Department, Shri K. N. Rao and its Engineer-in-charge, Shri P. G. Patankar, visited  Japan.  On their return, they  submitted their report to the  Undertaking.  However for want of huge capital investment it could not be materialised.


Having examined the underground mass rapid transit system, the Undertaking also gave thought to overhead rapid transit which principally comprises of  electric rolling stock with pneumatic tyres running on a single wide flanged concrete rail instead of the two conventional narrow steel rails and supported on elevated pylons.  This system is popularly called ‘Monorail’.

The idea of monorail dates as far back as the 19th century.  There  were certain patents, designs and achievements though they are not much known to-day.  These achievements did gain much ground but ultimately fell into the greatest disrepute, except a few short lengths probably in Germany.  There were mainly two reasons for this disrepute.  Firstly, they  made unbearable noise for the inhabitants of the streets over which they ran and, secondly, the elevated lines encumbered in an abusive manner the sky over the streets.


With the city of Mumbai surrounded by the sea on three  sides, water bus  transport for it was bound to suggest itself, and it did in 1958.  In December that year the Bombay Steam Navigation Company decided to close down its launch service linking the city with Uran, Rewas and Dharamtar.  This  naturally agitated those who used the service daily, and they could be counted in hundreds.  A meeting of citizens passed a resolution requesting the Municipal Corporation to take over the launch service.  It was intended that the B. E. S. T. Undertaking should run the service, and extend it later to more places in the Kolaba district,  like  Mandva and Alibag.  The sponsors of the proposal argued that if a safe, convenient and punctual service of this kind was available it would help reduce the congestion in the city – and the strain on its transport systems – by  encouraging industries and people to migrate from the city to the mainland across the harbour.  In 1959, the Corporation submitted the  proposal to the Undertaking for consideration.  The Government too was interested.  In March 1969 the Director of Transport suggested that a water bus service  be run on two routes, one starting from the Sassoon Dock and going up the creek to Chembur, touching Ballard Pier, the Ferry Wharf and Wadala on the way, the other, on the Western side, starting from the Foreshore Road and terminating at either Bandra or Versova,touching Chowpatty, Walkeshwar and Mahim.  The  Undertaking  however pleaded its inability to work such a scheme for lack of funds.

But the Undertaking could not be indifferent to the water bus scheme, with the strain on its bus service growing worse year by year.  So in 1969, a committee was appointed under the chairmanship of Shri G. H. Lalwani, the then General Manager, to examine the scheme in all its aspects.  More important aspects were : the financial viability; whether it could be an all-weather  service or would it have to be suspended during the rainy season, with the financial repercussions, if the latter were the case;  the traffic the service was likely to draw; and the precautions to be taken to ensure safety for the passengers;

Mumbai is not the only big city harassed by the problems of providing adequate transport for its people.  It is the same all over the world.  The pressure of traffic is heavy only during certain hours.  And it is only in one direction.  A transport service therefore has to have enough vehicles to cope with the peakhour traffic.  During the rest of the time the  vehicles don’t have enough passengers   It is not so with a State Transport bus.  It has evenly distributed traffic.  Moreover, a city transport service, in catering to the needs of its passengers, has often to operate unprofitable routes.


Horse-drawn tramcars had been running in Mumbai since 1874,.   When the electric tramcar appeared for the first time in the city on 7th May 1907, it was given a warm welcome as a  very modern mode of transport.  When the bus  arrived on the  scene in 1926, the tram-car  ceased to be modern;  but this did not affect its usefulness.  In fact it became quite important as the poor man’s transport’  and continued to be so till the Second World War.  The years that followed brought dramatic changes in the life of the city.  Its population started growing  rapidly.  The people wanted faster transport.  the tramcar was, however, innnocent of the fast-changing environment and it  continued  to rumble up and down, in its 1907 manner.  There was, of course, little scope for improvement.  If anything, it moved at an even slower pace, thanks to the congestion on the  roads.  It found the crowds bothersome and the  crowds found it a clumsy, lumbering impediment to the smooth flow of traffic.  The poor thing had no place in this swift-changing city.  It had to go.  The city had already started thinking of quicker substitutes for it.

When the B. E.S. T. Undertaking took over the tramway in 1947 it was quite decrepit. Eight days later, Mumbai went gay in celebration of the advent of freedom. There were illuminations on two consecutive nights, and  almost every Mumbaite was out on the street to enjoy the dazzling sight.  Every available vehicle was pressed into service by the people,  and it was made to carry the maximum number.  The poor tramcars had the worst time of all, with crazy persons riding on  the top and hanging on to the windows, when their inside was jam-packed.  Ill-treated thus, many of the tramcars became ‘sick’.  The city soon recovered from, its delirium of joy and got back to  its normal life, but somehow the tramcars continued to be abnormally crowded.  Their number too kept dwindling, with more and more of them being withdrawn fom service.  The Undertaking tried to get the Government to impose a limit on the number of passengers a tramcar might carry, but to no avail. By the beginning of 1948, only 186 of the total fleet of 258 tramcars were fit to ply.

The tramway system had been running at a loss when the Undertaking took it over. The losses kept on mounting year after year and something had to be done about them. It was not quite so easy to raise the fares. So other methods were tried. One of them was to abolish the transfer ticket. This concession had been there since the tramway started. It was an interesting concession and this is how it worked : Suppose, you had to go from Colaba to Dadar. You boarded a tram bound for Pydhoni. The conductor would give you a ticket for Dadar, punched for ‘transfer’ Dhobi Talao. You got off at Dhobi Talao, did what work you had there, and took a tram bound for Opera House, The Conductor now punched your ticket for ‘transfer’ at Girgaon, where you got down for some work you had there, and then boarded a tram for Dadar. And all this for just one anna! Not more than two ‘transfers’ were allowed. To get the best out of one ticket, through two ‘transfers’, used to be looked upon by practical people, as a test of your ingenuity, and of your knowledge of tram-routes! The concession was withdrawn from 2nd January 1951.

But this did not improve matters appreciably for the Undertaking. The service continued to incur losses. In 1952 a survey of tram traffic was conducted. Acting on it, the Undertaking put fewer trams on routes with insufficient traffic.

This did not go far enough, either. The truth was that tramway had come to be an outdated mode of transport and the Undertaking had to face this squarely. So, in 1953, it started closing down the uneconomic routes. The one plying between Null Bazar and Jacob Circle (Route No.12) was the first to be closed down, its place being taken by a bus route. That was on 6th April 1953. Then a few others went, one by one No.19 from Ballard Pier to Sandhurst Bridge. No.20 from Dhobi Talao to Reay Road No.21, from Sandhurst Bridge to Tank Bunder, No.2 from Golpitha to Tank Bunder, No.22 from Museum to Tank Bunder. They were all replaced by bus-routes. More and more tram routes were closed down in the years that followed. Finally only one remained : the one between Bori Bunder and Dadar. And the last tram on this route left Bori Bunder at 10 p.m. on 31st March 1964. Thus the tramway in Mumbai came to an end!

One Response to “Alternative modes of transport”

  1. 12creation Says:

    hasta la vista baby

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