Spending life commuting and the changing face of Mumbai

August 22, 2011 / By  

If the daily commute for work is considered traveling, half of Mumbai’s population would have covered the distance taking them every year easily to London and back or to Sydney and back. Traveling 25,000 km a year [Travelling 50 km one way for 250 working days in a year], year after year, often standing sharing one sq metre of space with fourteen fellow travelers in a train that is aired only naturally and still contributing to Mumbai’s economy constructively calls for a free holiday for six million Mumbaikars to London or Sydney.

Traffic in Mumbai is so bad that one has to compromise comfort or punctuality. One has a choice of spending hours in an air conditioned car or be subjected to “crushing load density” [According to Indian Railways a crushing load density is when the train is subjected to 2.5 times the designed load conditions (number of passengers) during its journey] of local trains. You cannot have both! And this is precisely why everyone aspires to buy a home close to their work place, or to choose a job near your home!

You are one of the lucky ones to own your house in Mumbai! Exceedingly high realty prices in Mumbai are putting newer and higher entry barriers [An average 2-bedroom compact house in a far suburb of Mumbai costs at least INR 11 million whereas a house twice as big can be bought for half the price in cities like Bangalore, Chennai, and Hyderabad] for home buyers and the city could be on the verge of losing its edge of talent, and business competitiveness to other cities. Transportation infrastructure can collapse any time, and the city is responding in its own way by moving its business districts away from downtown, and creating newer business districts closer to people’s homes.

Areas that were entirely residential are fast becoming multi-use with office neighbourhoods, erstwhile industrial areas are becoming office-residential districts and business districts are assuming a distinct occupier base and their own unique character. Bandra Kurla Complex – Mumbai’s swankiest CBD is already home to BFSI, SBD-Central is made up of creativity based businesses, SBD- North is an all inclusive office world in itself, while the suburbs are bustling with IT-ITeS offices. I would not be surprised if Nariman Point – Mumbai’s parallel to Manhattan – becomes the priciest residential district in the country [A house in Nariman Point costs INR 80,000- 100,000 psft or about INR 180 million for a 4- bedroom apartment while average cost for a similar house in Manhattan is USD 2 million (INR 90 million)] not too many years from now!

I wonder if this will continue forever or there is any hope of breaking free from this need to stay closer to one’s workplace. On the cards is the bullet train linking Mumbai with the cities of Pune and Ahmedabad. This project will by year 2021 reduce the traveling time to forty minutes from the present four hours for Pune and to less than two hours from the present seven hours for Ahmedabad. The real estate market of Mumbai should be a lot more affordable then and once the pressure on the city is released, those who choose to stay back should have a lot better living environment. So, I have hopes that my children’s generation will have a healthy environment to live in and I am willing to bear the pain to make them happy!

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