How to make life smoother for Mumbaikars—A Singapore example

There are problems in every city and everywhere the poor and elderly have their own problems, but looking around what is good for us can be replicated if it suits our culture and ethos without compromising on the safety and security of our people

Mumbai is the fourth populous city in the world with a population of over 12.47 million, as per the latest census. So it can never be compared with a small city-state called Singapore, which has a population of 5.18 million and is ranked 38th in the world in terms of population. It is preposterous to compare these two cities, as the former is the capital of the richest state in India; the latter is a single city-state  Nevertheless, leveraging technology, Singapore has developed a few very useful systems, which can be duplicated in our cities as well, with a view to improve the lives of ordinary citizens of our country. A short visit to Singapore strikes you at what could be achieved through proper planning and executing the plan with such precision that makes life easier and smoother for the people of the city. In fact its president till recently was of Indian origin and the present deputy prime minister-cum-finance minister is also of Indian origin. Singapore has a population of Indian origin of more than 9% and Tamil is one of the official languages of the country, along with English, Chinese and Malay.

Here I am talking of only three areas of surface transportation of the city which can considerably improve the living conditions in any city and can be implemented with the initiatives on the part of government officials and also the co-operation of the people of that city. I have taken the liberty to suggest these projects for Mumbai, as Mumbai is a city that has an excellent transportation network, a very good civic infrastructure, praiseworthy civic sense among the people of this city, a large number of philanthropists live here and the citizens are responsive to the changes, if it can save the environment for the benefit of the society at large.

The following facts and figures of both the cities would be useful to understand the need for a change in Mumbai which is one of the fastest growing cities in the world.

Note: Vehicles flowing from neighbouring districts and states into Mumbai will be considerably large, and hence there is no comparison between the two cities. These figures are therefore, only for statistical purposes.

In order to control the growth of motor cars in Singapore, the government here has introduced a number of restrictive practices, which makes it expensive for people to own cars. The first requirement is to obtain a permit to buy a car by payment of what is called as licence fee for each car which is substantial and depends on various parameters and decided through the auction method. This system of licensing of cars will not be desirable in our country as it cannot be done in one city and it is not necessary to do this in the whole country.

Electronic Road Pricing (ERP)

The most  transparent, flexible and practical solution working successfully in Singapore to control congestion in roads is the electronic road pricing (ERP), which has been systematically implemented for over the last 10 years in this small city-state. The concept simply requires any car passing into the downtown to pay a toll, which is collected through an electronic mechanism without human intervention and without obstructing traffic in any way. And because it is controlled through technology, it is so flexible that the toll can be increased, reduced or even shut off any time of the day,

The scheme consists of ERP gantries located at all roads linking into Singapore’s central business district to discourage usage during peak hours. The gantry system is actually a system of sensors on two gantries, one in front of the other. Cameras are also attached to the gantries to capture the rear license plate numbers of vehicles. At present, there are currently 76 gantries in operation in Singapore and new gantries are fixed where congestion is severe, like expressways, etc. 

An electronic instrument known as In-Vehicle Unit (IU) is fixed on the lower right corner of the car windscreen within the sight of the driver, in which a stored a value card or a cash card is inserted for payment of the road usage charges. It is mandatory for all Singapore-registered vehicles to be fitted with an IU if they wish to use the priced roads. They have made the system so efficient that the IU now accepts what is called EZ-Link cards, which are used by all individuals while travelling on bus, train (MRT) and ERP, and this card can be loaded with cash at any metro station where there are plenty of machines located conveniently for the purpose.

The present cost of IU is said to be Singapore dollars 150 which is equivalent to around Rs6,000 as per the present exchange rate. This could be produced much cheaper in India, what with the bright minds we have in the field of technology and innovation.

When a vehicle equipped with an IU passes under an ERP gantry, a road usage charge is automatically deducted from the cash card in the IU. Sensors installed on the gantries communicate with the IU via a dedicated short-range communication system, and the deducted amount is displayed to the driver on an LCD screen of the IU.

The charge levied through a gantry depends on the location and time, peak hour being the most expensive. The ERP is shut off during Saturdays, Sundays and public holidays, so that people can use these very roads on these days without any payment. Foreigners driving foreign-registered cars on priced roads, during the ERP operating hours, could choose to either rent an IU or pay a daily flat fee when leaving Singapore.

If a vehicle owner does not have sufficient value in his/her cash card (or EZ-Link card) when passing through an ERP, the owner receives a notice of a fine by post within two weeks and the violator must pay the ERP charges plus a $10 administration fee within two weeks of the notice. Online payment is allowed; listing just the vehicle registration number is required. Otherwise, a penalty of S$70 is levied by sending a notice through registered post to the vehicle owner, which rises to S$1,000, or one month in jail, if not settled within 30 days. (One Sing $ = approx Rs40 at present)

Whether Mumbai is ripe to introduce such an ERP is a big question mark, as it hinges on what the state government and the municipal authorities feel about the need to control congestion on roads. If not today, in a couple of years when the number of cars may multiply many folds, the government may be left with no option but to start this system in some way or other, as this system prevails in many international cities of the world. So it would be worth the while to experiment now in a limited way, as any project of this type may take a minimum of two to three years to commence and stabilize, subject of course to the support of the citizens. Besides, as most of the traffic in the island part of Mumbai moves from north to south and vice versa, it is much easier to implement this project in Mumbai with minimum gantries compared to any other city in India. To begin with, this system can be introduced only on that part of the city, which allows only cars to operate and no three-wheelers are permitted to ply, like from Mahim Creek to Colaba and Sion Circle to southern tip of Mumbai. 

To get the support of the people of Mumbai and to ensure that it does not support inflation by increasing the cost of transportation for common people, the ERP charges may be waived for all public transport—including buses and taxies— and two-wheelers, so that it is confined to only private cars at least initially. There will, no doubt, be objection from the car manufacturers and other business and industrial lobbies, but this project will ultimately provide respite to car owners by a smoother ride and lesser petrol consumption due to faster movement of cars. 

The next question is whether it will result in a toll being charged for just coming out of your gate if you live within this central business district, where the system is to be implemented. These users can be exempted by a system of pre-registration of their cars with the authority concerned. 

Bus Bays at Bus Stops 

In Singapore more than 95% of the bus stops have bus bays attached to them, i.e. each bus stop provides a separate bay for the buses to alight and pick up passengers, so that the buses do not have to stop on the main thoroughfare. This will result not only in  faster movement of traffic coming behind the buses without any obstruction when the buses stop at bus-stops, but also prevent people waiting at the bus-stop from spilling over to the roads whenever there is heavy rush during peak hours. 

Lack of adequate space behind the bus-stops may have prevented the BEST (Bombay Electricity Supply and Transport Undertaking) to have such a facility in Mumbai, though I understand that there are already a few bus bays in some parts of Mumbai. In the absence of dedicated bus lanes in Mumbai, it is time now to seriously think about expanding this facility to as many bus stops as possible for the purpose of reducing congestion, faster movement of traffic and preventing accidents on the roads, besides, overall improvement in the surface transportation in the city. 

The land available in all the roads in Mumbai being limited, this may cost a fortune for the local authorities to even attempt providing this facility. But certainly a beginning can be made at least at bus stops now located in front of government land, if it is available for this purpose. In case of bus stops in front of housing societies, these bus stops can have their names, if they cede any part of the land for this purpose to recognise their contribution to the cause. Many innovative ideas can be floated to get the co-operation of the people and land developers of Mumbai, as this will be one of the simple methods to ease traffic on congested roads and provide some respite to both bus travellers and car owners in this metropolis.

Footpaths for pedestrian movement

It is really a pleasure to walk on the footpaths of Singapore. These pavements are so wide that there is enough space not only for pedestrians to move comfortably, but also most convenient even for wheel-chair users, as these pavements are so evenly laid out that there are absolutely no ups and downs and no obstructions whatsoever. This results in more people preferring to walk for their daily shopping needs to the nearby markets.

It is not uncommon to find narrow footpaths in our country with full of obstructions like hawkers occupying a major part, dogs sleeping comfortably, junction boxes of telecom and transformers of electricity companies laid out in the middle of footpaths, lighting poles indiscriminately placed in the centre with wires hanging perilously and building material dumped not only on the footpaths but also spilling over to the roads, making it impossible for the pedestrians to move, not to speak of elderly and disabled people who have no place even to stand and stare. If the municipal authorities take a little extra care while laying footpaths by ensuring that they are evenly laid out with no potholes and obstructions, it will make life much smoother for the people of any city, more so for Mumbaikars because of the large number of floating population in this city.

Not that everything is hunky dory, as there are problems in every city and everywhere the poor and elderly have their own problems, but looking around what is good for us can be replicated if it suits our culture and ethos without compromising on the safety and security of our people. The whole purpose of the exercise is not only to reduce congestion on the roads, but also to reduce pollution, save precious oil, improve environment and more importantly improve the quality of life of ordinary citizens to the extent possible. If this suggestion receives the interest it deserves, the state government can make it mandatory to use the funds generated from ERP to be compulsorily used for developing road infrastructure in the city without frittering away the funds on any other project. This is, however, only a food for thought for all those interested in improving the plight of the citizens of Mumbai and even if some action is initiated towards this goal by the powers that be with the cooperation of the affected citizens, the purpose of this article will be served.

(The author is a banking and financial consultant. He writes for Moneylife under a pen-name ‘Gurpur’)


1 decade ago
We can not implement in India and Indian politicians and bureacrats are totally corrupt.

Our Politicians and govt officials use their position only to make money for themselves.
Ratanlal Purohit
1 decade ago
There is one essential difference. The political will. It is not the constituency to nurture. IT IS THE COLONY. ITS CASH COW FOR MILCHING TO BLEED. MUMBAI CHA KING KON. DONS.
Solution is simple if you want Mumbai to become Singapore or Sanghai. It should be a Union State like New Delhi.
prashant n
1 decade ago
As a Safe ePayments Motivator, the best part of this article is the ERP model. Yes, this will be successful in India. Wondering which city in India will first adopt it.

Thanks for sharing this information.
nagesh kini
Replied to prashant n comment 1 decade ago
There is no reason why this device that is corruption free cannot be installed everywhere. It may even end up in saving lives and earning money without human intervention!
1 decade ago
In Singapore every project is planned very thoroughly. Then it is implemented in absolutely in time, with minimum nuisance to people, with severe penalties for delays, dirtying, defaults and substandard work. Every law is implemented mercilessly, irrespective of the position of the person, and his financial position. No criminals are exempted on the ground that he is poor. The rule, as stated by the Home Department is the punishment must be SEVERE AND CERTAIN. It works.
1 decade ago
Some suggestions - I do not know whom to forward....
1] At any given time 80% of the passenger vehicles on the road are occupied by single or double(driver+ boss) occupants.As against that most cars occupy 3 times the space on the road.So in mumbai you can occupy precious land by spending few lac of rupees. Can one of the local car manufacturer design a car which can substitute a two wheeler by making it safe and weatherproof.{ Scooter designed for handicapped person if can be covered it will have economy of 2wheeler and will be stable and weatherproof. This can be used by all those who have to use self driven vehicle.
2] A. C. buses on their return journey run almost empty. No wonder BEST is making losses. They can always offer tickets at half price when running in opp direction and add to profits. Information about buses and routes and connections should be available on the spot ie on a disply in the bus stop.
1 decade ago
Such an elaborate study and analysis. The crux and key word is 'planning' - which India never does (or cant it do). When planning is done it ought to be meticulous, dynamic, unanimous and with a considerable amount of foresight. With all power mongers sitting out there right at the top to perform only for and with shortsightedness and without the synchronization with all other related departments what else could we expect ? Today, Mumbai, which is supposed to be a representative cosmo and most developed metro city of India, is in such a state ....imagine the other ignored cities of India. Atleast when the other cities are developed, it is hoped that planning and development is done with some professionalism and standards. Thanks for bringing this Global comparison to sight - in case we want to really achieve international standards !!
Harshad Kanu Kamdar
1 decade ago
A welcome idea, but implementation requires a political will. It can certainly be implemented now with Sion/CST elevated road almost in place.

Bus stop parking slots and better footpaths a must


1 decade ago
I empathise with and support all these ideas, but am sorry to say that these are just pipe dreams. Zonal restrictions and similar ideas have been broached since the 70's at least. Ideas like:
1. No encroachments on public land and pavements.
2. AC coaches in locals to reduce road traffic.
3. Trans harbour bridge from Sewri to open up the hinterland.
4. Shifting Mantralaya, Vidhan Sabha and MLA/Minister's acco and other govt offices from Nariman Point to Navi Mumbai.
5. Better utilisation of Mill and govt land (including Ralilways') for public purposes.
None of this worked because there is no political benefit seen in these schemes - while disadvantages are many. Perhaps the possibility of making money was also limited in those comparably honest days.

A comparison between Singapore with its efficient law-driven society and Mumbai with its incompetent, low-politics driven democracy, is painful!

I MUST add that Mumbai is still a great city despite its pathetic leadership, only because of its fantastic, professional people, who have got a completely undeserved rotten deal. Such a pity!
Ratanlal Purohit
Replied to Java comment 1 decade ago
A lot of sense. Not common.
He promised Sanghai to Mumbaikars.
Deepak R Khemani
1 decade ago
Nothing I repeat NOTHING is going to happen, we have a Government in a coma which only gets up at the time of elections and all that it does is regularize illegal hutments and shanties for votes and sometimes allows them to add floors onto their hutments so that the "children can study".
We were promised that Mumbai will become Shanghai 10 years ago, has anything changed?. Those who have been to Shanghai say that Mumbai can NEVER become Shanghai, Singapore is a few light years away! Hundreds of cars get added onto Mumbai's streets everyday with no corresponding increase in the roads, No proper footpaths to walk, forget footpaths there are no roads which are really motorable, take for example the roads where the Metro is coming up, try going to Andheri Kurla road in the evenings and you will understand what I am saying, No thought is being given to transport via the sea, The sea link took more than 10 years to build when large bridges in China get built in a few years, when the Worli Nariman Point link will come up is anyone's guess, I'm sure not in our lifetime, that's for sure!
Nagesh Kini FCA
1 decade ago
When all that is in Singapore happens in amchi Mumbai, and I think it is just not difficult to have not just a Shanghai that is promised in the election manifestos but conditions far better even a San Fransisco, now that the Rajiv Gandhi Setu is a desi version of the Golden Gate.
Our Municipal Commissioner in a deposition in the Adarsh Enquiry says something unusual about having any regulations on foot paths - whether they are needed at all! Atrocious.
Like London and Singapore we need to introduce cess at entry points of the Sea Link, Mahim Cause way, Sion, Fort, Kalbadevi, Nariman Point, Bandra-Kurla Complex, MIDC/SEEPZ.
What we badly need is more of walkable unbroken broader pavements and lesser Foot over bridges, skywalks and flyovers.
With easy finance we see more cars in the families - a Papa limo, a SUV for Mom and a Nano for the daughter and a high speed bike for the son.To curb this there ought to be levy on the second and more vehicles in a family by insisting on the PAN of the head of the family.
Ratanlal Purohit
Replied to Nagesh Kini FCA comment 1 decade ago
My humble suggestion. Let rich buy as many vehicles but contribute for the Roads to run their vehicles. In Geometric progression for each addition.
1 decade ago
Thank you for this article, and I hope Mumbai does something about better surface transport, and soon. The inertia levels which would want to maintain the present status quo of inefficient public transport will certainly be formidable opponents.

However, while the comparision with Singapore for Central business district tolling is one point which benefits from comparisions, the other two - buses and footpaths - are making some progress in places like Delhi also. And add to that the improvement in Metro trains as well as local EMU/DEMU/MEMU trains in Delhi and suburbs. A city to city comparision may attract some amount of commotion, but fact remains, 2 million people on the Metro in Delhi up from nil a decade or so ago, is something which has had a bigger effect on Delhi in terms of sociology also.

Good luck with Mumbai. Many people are not aware how some of us are increasingly wary about coming to Mumbai only because the transport scenario is what it is. There are silver linings, ofcourse - the Mumbai-Pune MSRTC bus service, for example - and the recent change from DC to AC for Mumbai's local trains.

But so much more needs to be done, can be done easily, and does not get done because the forces against change appear to be stronger.

Thanks again for your article . . .
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