Movies are a great medium for feeling inspired and for giving viewers intimate access to other people’s lives. In addition to the movie on bicycles ‘With My Own Two Wheels,’ I recently spotted a World Bank movie on Mumbai: 'Moving Mumbai' – unfortunately not yet in any Oscar or Cannes film festival award race – that focuses on specific problems linked with the provision of transportation and lack thereof in India. As is often the case in reality, transportation is portrayed in the movie as a sector that is both limiting and creating opportunities for development.
The movie tells the story of the Mumbai Urban Transport project, Mumbai's biggest-ever comprehensive transport management plan that includes improvements in rail, roads and a resettlement process - a pioneering exercise in itself. The project, which costs US$945 million, of which US$542 million is financed by the World Bank, is the first step in improving rail and road transportation infrastructure in the traffic-choked mega-city. Mumbai is India's commercial and financial center and the fifth most populous city in the world, with a population of approximately 12.5 million and a density of 20,694 people/km2. Difficult to imagine unless you’ve been there!
Beyond its attractive qualities of being well shot in a style that is part-movie part-documentary, the feature captures very well the urgency for needing to focus on increasing the speed and capacity of Mumbai's suburban rail system, the lifeline of the city. Since the project has been implemented in 2002, additional railway track have been added to enable it to carry more trains. Newer, modern, better-ventilated and more comfortable twelve-car railway coaches are being introduced. With the project, as a result, the capacity of trains has increased by 7-10% during the rush hours, reducing the travel time of hundreds of thousands of passengers.
The movie showcases residents who have been affected by railway accidents, citing that 10 to 12 people die every day in local train accidents. These are shockingly high numbers that most rail commuters in other cities of the world would be hard pressed to imagine. Mumbai's suburban rail systems carried a total of 6.8 million passengers every day in 2007-08 (2.5 billion trips annually) which is more than half of the Indian Railways daily carrying capacity. Needless to say that trains are very overcrowded during peak hours, with about 5,000 passengers traveling in a nine-car train against a rated carrying capacity of 1,700 and a density of up to 16 people per square meters in the coaches.
Overcrowding leads to significant delays in train operations- trains that are capable of running at 100km/hour under light traffic conditions move at an actual average speed of a mere 35 km/hour on most lines. Due to overcrowding, doors of coaches cannot close and passengers dangle outside the open doors. Nearby squatter settlements and encroachers also can be in the railway right-of-way safety zones and as a result, deaths of squatters, trespassers and people falling off trains are a daily occurrence. It is estimated that between 2001 and 2008, the number of deaths and injuries have grown at an annual average growth of 4.4% a year.
The movie also touches on the extraordinary challenges that the World Bank faced in handling the resettlement of some 18,500 families and about 1,500 shops in an urban setting. This experience alone brought significant experience in terms of establishing baseline survey of project-affected people, the management of post-resettlement activities, grievance redressal processes and project supervision. The movie nicely weaves the narratives of various local residents whose life experiences have been improved through the resettlement of the project, ranging from the ability to buy household assets such TV, fans, mobile phones, cooking gas, etc after resettlement to engaging in new economic opportunities. (some pictures and testimonies of the resettled can be found here).
Providing a very nice background for a feature movie, the project is now used by the World Bank as an example for other large cities with similar resettlement challenges, particularly of squatters along road infrastructure and rail tracks. In terms of increasing the efficiency of suburban rail operations, even if the project reduced crowding by 30% less than the original density, further capacity will be needed to meet future growth in demand. In fact, coaches are still carrying twice their rated carrying capacity. Yet, with the next phase of the project just approved - I am now awaiting a sequel of the movie – and instead of seeing it on the Internet, who knows maybe it will be available in a theater near you!