Mumbai Metro Fare Row: Government Should Foster innovation, relinquish control

The Mumbai Metro from Versova to Ghatkpoar, the first 11 km leg of  Bombay’s much needed Metro began yesterday. The reports are impressive, both in media, social media and on this remarkable infrastructure discussion forum .  A quibble remains.

Reliance, the company response for building and operating the metro has notified the fares to be Rs 10, 20, 30 and 40. The Government wants the metro to be priced much lower at Rs 9, 11 and 13. Legally, Reliance, being the majority stakeholder is free to set the fares. Perturbed, the Government has moved the court.

On the surface the Reliance metro fare seems very high. Especially the latter two slabs (Rs 30 for 8 ams, and Rs 40 for 10 kms) seem rather unaffordable. Yet, I am not convinced that the fares need to be drastically reduced or regulated by the government.

Currently Reliance has announced a flat (anywhere to anywhere) promotional fare of Rs 10 , which will prevail for a month.A  smart move.  In that time, they would announce monthly and other season (quarterly) and tourist (weekly, three day and one day) passes , which would presumably work out to much lower than the existing Rs 40 for a single ride, for a medium to heavy user. Further they could introduce lower weekend rates or differentiate between peak/off-peak rates. In other words, there are ways in which Reliance cold make the metro affordable for a regular user but keep the charges high for an occasional user. This is how most systems in the world operate.(For instance in Chicago you pay $2.5 for a single ride on the subway, but $10 for unlimited rides a day, $28 for a week and $100 for a month.)

In sum, I believe that Reliance needs to keep an innovative fare structure that lets the occasional commuter subsidize the regular user. The fares proposed by the Government could make it difficult to maintain the system, and would dissuade the operator from running the service with the needed efficiency and upkeep.

For now, the Government needs to step back, relax and watch if Metro become a long overdue  comfortable means of transit for a section of Bombay. And expedite lines 2 and 3!