Saturday, April 28, 2012

A Lesson from Mumbai for NZ Rail?

The New Zealand long term plan 2012-2022 initiative for one of its cities states that they would like to increase train fares and rates to fund modernising the ticket machines. Obviously they don't state it quite so baldly.  

Microsoft free clipart
Right now, till 16 May 2012, they are running a questionnaire for citizens and residents for their input on allocating funds for long term projects. The objective is to let the public decide which project (out of five) should take priority over the other four. One of the projects is as above - to modernise the ticket machines. The government has outlined two or three relevant facts – the estimated cost, the number of years the project would take to complete and where the money would come from. There is a little description of each project.

I agree in principle with their long term plan to modernise trains and have electronic integrated tickets for buses and trains. I don't agree that the funding for the project should be generated through increasing rates and ticket prices.

Before I go into why, let me mention two very interesting posts on train travel. One is on trains in Mumbai and the other, titled "Boss on Land" on different types of trains the world over - both informative posts with interesting pictures and worth a visit. Each post has one fact relevant to this discussion.

The Mumbai post describes five different types of regulars the author meets on the train on her daily commute to work. I used to love Bombay trains - the sound of the train in motion, the shopping on the train, the friendliness of the commuters, the cheap fares and frequency. Getting in and out of the trains during the morning and evening rush hours was definitely not for the faint hearted but it was reasonably okay off peak travel hours. It is all there in the above post. At the end of the post the author gives us an astounding figure - the service is used by over 7 million commuters daily.

The other post is interesting in itself but what's relevant is the comments section. One commenter compares the cost of travelling by train and car in a western country.

And now, switching back to New Zealand. Having had experience of the Mumbai buses (B.E.S.T.) and trains, I decided I'd take the government up on their offer of inviting comment and wrote to explain there might be a third option. Would they consider doing exactly the opposite of what they were proposing and reduce ticket prices? To improve connectivity I proposed they not only increase the frequency of the service but have mini buses plying between bus stops, the train stations, office blocks and houses.
This was my reasoning.
  • In some cases we waited half an hour for the next bus or train. If someone missed a bus, the next best option wasn't to wait for the next bus but to take the car or miss their appointment.
  • As for ticket prices - bus and train tickets are already too expensive in NZ and to increase those even further to fund this project might defeat the aim of the project to generate revenue. Why? With increased prices fewer people might find the services a cheaper option than their cars; it would become prohibitive for the poor. Reduced fares would be the best incentive for people to leave their cars at home. The savings on huge car-parking fees would be an added bonus. Plus, it would be more affordable to the poorer sections of society.
  • And most important, the revenue for the project would be generated through higher volumes of commuters. 
  • As for mini buses (also with cheap fares) they would consume less fuel and yet ply at optimum capacity for lesser routes and shorter distances, thereby improving connectivity. 
 To my mind, a win-win-win for the public, the public transport agencies and the government! 

These, to my mind, are the obvious pros for my suggestion and I have no doubts there will be quite a few cons. Unless a discussion is initiated I'll never know. 

In conclusion, commuters won't travel by public trasport unless it is cheaper and faster than cars. My wish is that NZ takes a page out of the Mumbai railways and buses that rake in tens of millions daily, by reducing fares and increasing frequencies and connectivity. The increased volume of commuters is what will generate the revenue for modernising. 


  1. Thats a nice proposal, Very good! Glad Mumbai could be of help!

  2. Thanks Rupertt. Glad you thought so.

  3. Well written post, I totally agree with the proposal.

    And thanks again for mentioning my post! :-)

  4. Am wondering with an open mind what the negatives of the proposal will be. Thanks for your vote of confidence and thoroughly enjoyed your post. Have travelled by monorail and the underground but prefer the former - lots more to see.

  5. Hi KayEm! Delete this comment after reading..not responsive to post. Found no other way of sending this msg to you.

    Please Visit!

    for what, I hope will be both pleasant and a surprise to you.


    C. Suresh

    1. Such a lovely compliment CS - I didn't have the heart to delete it. Have responded on your blog.

  6. But I like how the public is included and their opinion sought over policy decisions.
    It's a nice feeling to know that your opinions are valued.

  7. I do too. Perhaps that's something India can take away from NZ.