Do we have a seamless travel system in Mumbai?

Just selling tickets that allow commuters to change multiple services does not make for seamless travel. We must have bus services that are near the point of origin, or a short walking distance away, and similarly at the destination, if travel is to become truly seamless

When someone said that we are going to have a seamless travel facility in Mumbai, I got the impression that it would be just boarding the public transport closest to your place of origin and going up to the closest point of your destination. Now that surely would not serve most people in Mumbai, who anyway are suburban train users, and outnumber all categories of users of other modes of transport, apart from those who only walk to work. But hasn't the Brihanmumbai Electric Supply and Transport (BEST) undertaking been providing this facility? Then why the talk about seamless travel?

Concepts change over a period of time, and we find that for most people, traveling by different modes is the rule. Seamless travel then becomes that where one is not spending time waiting to complete some task before changing the mode. That task could be standing in a queue to purchase a ticket, or waiting for a suitable bus or train to come, or walking more than 50 meters to the changeover, or climbing foot overbridges without escalators. It could also include climbing a first step to board a bus or train that is as low as 350mm. Sometimes one could add to this the last 'mile' by auto or taxi too, which are not always readily available!

In Mumbai, for regular suburban rail commuters, a monthly/quarterly pass-or season ticket system-has been in existence for a very long time. This is for travel between two stations and even on separate routes for two different classes. The subsidised charge for this is about 10 days fare for second class and 5 days fare for first class. There is no restriction on the number of trips one makes and it is non-transferable. This surely saves time which one would have otherwise spent standing in a queue to buy a ticket and missing several trains.

To practically eliminate this waiting time in queues, a coupon system was introduced, which had to be validated just prior to the journey by punching the date/time on a coupon validating machine (CVM), placed at several convenient places at railway stations and in good numbers too. This system is very popular for non-regular travelers as well as season ticket holders. The railways also introduced a smart card valid for both the Central Railway and Western Railway, where a prepaid smart card is used to pay the train fare through an automatic ticket vending machine (ATVM) that prints out a ticket. It takes about half a minute for one ticket and usually there is no queue. There is also one other scheme, which is known as the tourist ticket for one, three and five days. This facilitates a person to travel on the entire Mumbai suburban railway system. It is not only economical, but it also gives tremendous flexibility to the commuter.

Tourist ticket fares (in rupees)
Validity of
tourist ticket
First Class
Second Class
1 day
3 days
5 days
There was one more scheme called the GO Mumbai Smart Card, which was a common smart card for the railways and the bus system. The scheme was a disaster because one had to have enough balance for maximum fare possible from the place of origin, and when the card was swiped at the destination point it would put back the remainder balance amount into the Card. If the commuter forgot to swipe it while exiting, s/he stood to lose a big amount. Also there was no financial incentive to the user, due to which it was very unpopular and had to be withdrawn.

As regards the BEST, it had implemented a day pass scheme, at a charge of Rs40, in the late 1990s, when one could travel on non-air-conditioned buses on any of its services. At that time there were very limited routes plying to Navi Mumbai and AC buses were not in vogue. The pass charges did not match the ticket fare that the commuter paid as s/he traveled. At the time, a similar scheme operated in Bengaluru at Rs25, across the entire operations in Bengaluru Urban as well as Bengaluru Rural and it was very popular.

Subsequently, the BEST introduced a day fare of Rs15 on services in the Island city and Rs25 for suburban services, but one could not use one for the other. Then, the BEST introduced a Rs20 fare on Sundays and holidays for the entire non-AC operations. This was a great improvement over the earlier effort. However, it revised this to a uniform Rs25 for the entire non-AC, non-express, non-corridor routes and Rs40 for the non-express, non-corridor buses. There is no such day ticket scheme for AC buses, ordinary or express. Simultaneously, BEST introduced a smart card-based monthly pass for all the four services for its entire operations. The only drawback was that when you wanted to renew the smart card after its validity date had reached to a service lower than what it was meant for when it was first purchased or renewed, it could not be done; only upgrading a monthly pass was allowed. I hope the BEST will remove this restriction for renewal of monthly pass.

Fixed amount passes
Typical pass
Monthly (in rupees)
Quarterly (in rupees)
Magic Bus Pass (non-AC) – all over
Global Express (non-AC) – all over
Diamond (King Long) – all over
Diamond (Express) – all over

How does this day ticket or monthly pass system help in seamless travel? Firstly, you can travel as you like, changing bus routes as you keep moving, keeping to the permitted level of services or lower. Secondly, you have multiple choices of bus routes that take you to places from where you have more choices to get to your destination. This has enabled commuters get distributed over different buses and, thereby, the squeezed up conditions on certain routes have eased up, while those plying with several unoccupied seats get filled, and travel for most commuters becomes less uncomfortable.

These measures have certainly made travel by train or bus less arduous, but I do not think we should call this seamless travel. When the Bus Rapid Transit System (BRTS) is introduced, where feeder services come to the same platform as trunk BRT buses, and both have level boarding and alighting; where the point of origin access is close to a public transport or intermediate public transport stop, or a walking distance; and the same at the point of destination; can one say that we truly have a seamless travel facility. A seamless travel facility would then also become friendly towards persons with disability.

[Sudhir Badami is a civil engineer and transportation analyst. He is on the Government of Maharashtra's Steering Committee on Bus Rapid Transit System (BRTS) for Mumbai and the Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority's (MMRDA) technical advisory committee on BRTS for Mumbai. He is also member of the Research & MIS Committee of Unified Mumbai Metropolitan Transport Authority (UMMTA). He was a member of the Bombay High Court-appointed erstwhile Road Monitoring Committee (2006-07). He has been an active campaigner against noise pollution for over a decade and he is a strong believer in a functioning democracy. He can be contacted on email at [email protected].]  

Nagesh KiniFCA
1 decade ago
As a Third Generation Mumbaikar, having experienced the BEST services, I can say it is second to none.
After living in Delhi for a decade with its horrible conductors sitting with a pay for your ticket if you want to attitude at the entrance and passengers hanging all round including sitting on the roof top. Chennai, Hyderabad and Bengaluru are no better. There is scope for improvement. The day long ticket is great even the BEST conductors welcomed it - no haggling and no change dispensation.
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