Bifurcation of Mumbai Suburban Rail into 4 Fare Zones could make long Rail commutes cheaper

MUMBAI: A zone-based fare structure, similar to the one used in and around London, has been proposed for the city’s suburban railway system. The Mumbai Railway Vikas Corporation (MRVC) has suggested that the entire suburban system be divided into four fare zones each on Western Railway and Central Railway’s Main and Harbour corridors. It claims it will be able to earn Rs 2,468 crore a year with the new fare model against Rs 1,556 crore at present.

The proposal, now with the Railway Board that takes the final call on fare revision, claims that of the 30 lakh season ticket holders using the suburban network, nearly 10.9 lakh (37.5%) will pay less.

Under the zone system, the fare will remain unchanged irrespective of the distance travelled within a zone. For example, the Churchgate-Dadar (10.17 km) stretch will be a zone. Currently, there are two first class fare slabs: Rs 50 (Churchgate-Mumbai Central) and Rs 70 (Churchgate-Dadar). Under the proposed system, the fare will be Rs 25 irrespective of the station a person travels to between Churchgate and Dadar.

The proposal was made at the Rail Vikas Shibir in November where the PM sought ideas to improve the functioning of Indian Railways.

The city’s suburban system had incurred a loss of Rs 1,400 crore last year. Niti Aayog, the central planning body, had flagged concern about the system’s poor financial health and had initially refused to approve funds for MUTP III unless there was a road map for improving revenue. The MUTP projects are critical to bolster Mumbai’s rail infrastructure to keep up with the growing population.

“We need to shift from the telescopic fare structure to zonal system as the former does not do justice to those staying in the extended suburbs. The fare is low for those in south Mumbai for whom affordability is not an issue,” said MRVC Chairman and Managing Director Prabhat Sahai, adding, “There were thousands of ideas presented at the Rail Vikas Shivir. The board will examine each and assess whether to accept or work on the basic idea.”

The MRVC has also proposed an additional charge of Rs 5 (second class) and Rs 25 (first class) if a commuter changes corridors (for instance from CR to WR or vice versa).

“Short distance travellers, whose fares are anyway very little, will have to pay more as compared to longer distance travellers under the new system,” said Sahai. Almost 9.2 lakh (31.5%) of Mumbai’s 30 lakh season ticket holders will have a nominal impact, meaning a hike within 20% of the existing fare, and the balance 9 lakh (31%) will pay more than 20%.

A monthly pass under the proposed plan will be Rs 450 as against Rs 485 between CST-Dadar and Churchgate-Dadar (both one zone). For second class commuters, the monthly proposed fare for travel within one zone will be Rs 150. As of now, Churchgate-Dadar is Rs 130. With rationalization, the hike will be between Rs 20 and 50.

“MRVC proposal is a good one as it aims to delink the rail fare with the rest of India. If the Mumbai suburban is able to generate profit, it would be easier to get substantial amounts sanctioned from the board for the modernization works,” said a senior railway official. Railway bosses have time and again raised concerns about the low fare as lack of investment due to losses is affecting the efficiency of the system.

Sahai said they also propose to allow long-distance passengers to buy suburban tickets at the time of booking tickets on the Passenger Reservation System (PRS). This ticket will be charged at Rs 10 and the long-distance passenger will be able to travel anywhere in Mumbai for single journey. This is expected to fetch Rs 140 crore every year.

The proposal can significantly reduce fares for many commuters in the city and its satellites, especially those who travel longer distances. However, those who change lines, say from CR to WR, may end up paying more.