New Mumbai metro will beat traffic, but at what cost?

This picture taken on December 11, 2017 shows workers preparing to lift up a load of rocks at a metro railway working site in Mumbai. (AFP)
Updated 21 January 2018
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New Mumbai metro will beat traffic, but at what cost?

MUMBAI: A new underground metro is expected to ease the burden on Mumbai’s notoriously congested roads and railways, but not everybody in India’s sprawling financial capital is happy about the multi-billion-dollar project.
Announced in 2014 with much fanfare, the Metro 3 line has been hailed by backers as essential to help solve the city’s traffic woes and finally provide a link to its airports.
But campaigners are angry at the felling of thousands of trees, and say it could desecrate temples and lead to the destruction of an urban forest tribal groups call home.
The scheme has faced considerable opposition in court, delaying completion and highlighting the complexities of undertaking major infrastructure work in the world’s largest democracy where people have the right of redress.
“This is one of India’s biggest projects. It has faced immense difficulties and challenges of different types,” says Ashwini Bhide, managing director of the Mumbai Metro Rail Corporation.
The 231-billion-rupee ($3.6 billion) line will link Mumbai’s popular tourist destination of Colaba in the historic south to SEEPZ, a special economic zone situated 33.5 kilometers (21 miles) north.
It will boast 27 stops servicing the coastal city’s busiest business districts, including Bandra Kurla Complex and Lower Parel, where 23 people died during a stampede at a railway station last year.
The line is scheduled to be finished by December 2021.
“Congestion on the road will be substantially reduced because of this corridor,” Bhide told AFP, estimating that 650,000 vehicle trips could disappear from the roads daily.
Metro 3 also aims to ease the load on Mumbai’s creaking railway lines where an average of more than nine people lose their lives every day, often falling off overcrowded carriages.
Seven million people use Mumbai’s railway daily. Bhide says the new metro will carry 1.7 million passengers per day, freeing up space on overground trains.
“The quality of commute, ease of traveling and speed of traveling will increase,” she says.
Mumbai effectively shuts down when trains cannot run, as is often the case when tracks flood during the four-month summer monsoon. The underground will ensure the city keeps running, advocates say.
Work began in October 2016 and large areas of the city have been dug up to bore tunnels, which will be up to 22 meters (72 feet) deep.
Barriers shielding construction work boast the tagline “Mumbai is upgrading” but while most people support the project, several groups are angry.
Thousands of Parsis signed a petition calling for the route to be changed so trains do not pass under fire temples where Zoroastrians worship, claiming it would pollute the “holy fire” and force nature to exact its revenge.
Environmentalists unsuccessfully went to court to stop the destruction of thousands of trees, and also object to plans for a depot and station on a 33-hectare (82-acre) site in Aarey Colony, a biodiversity hotspot.
The area borders Sanjay Gandhi National Park, home to leopards, birds and other animals.
“It’s a beautiful forest in the heart of Mumbai, an oxygen cylinder for the city that needs to be protected,” Stalin Dayanand, director of the environmental non-profit organization Vanashakti, told AFP.
“Once the shed and station come up, it opens the door for real estate developers to construct properties there,” he added.
Some 7,000 indigenous Indians — the Warlis — also live across Aarey, which at more than 1,200 hectares is a green oasis in the teeming city.
The animizts worship wildlife and are famous for their simple paintings depicting nature.
Prakash Bhoir, a tribal leader, says the area, where Warlis have lived for centuries, has witnessed severe encroachment in recent years.
“The destruction of the forest is happening at an alarming rate. We don’t want change or development here. Let it stay the way it is,” he told AFP.
The Bombay High Court is hearing a petition against the depot but Bhide claims Aarey is the only suitable place for it in space-starved Mumbai.
She says legal challenges have put the underground line’s completion date back by around ten months.
“Probably these kinds of problems may not be faced in a country like China. Although there are a lot of challenges, we have to complete the metro project as early as possible.”


Indonesia’s Go-Jek close to profits in all segments

Updated 3 min 40 sec ago
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Indonesia’s Go-Jek close to profits in all segments

  • Go-Jek is Indonesia's first billio-dollar startup
  • Ride haling app evolves into online payment platform

JAKARTA: Go-Jek, Indonesia’s first billion-dollar startup, is “extremely close” to achieving profitability in all its segments, except transportation, its founder and CEO Nadiem Makarim told Reuters.

Launched in 2011 in Jakarta, Go-Jek — a play on the local word for motorbike taxis — has evolved from a ride-hailing service to a one-stop app allowing clients in Southeast Asia’s largest economy to make online payments and order everything from food, groceries to massages.

“We’re seeing enormous online to offline traction for all of our businesses and are close to being profitable, outside of transportation,” said the 34-year old CEO.
The startup is expected to be fully profitable “probably” within the next few years, Makarim added.

Already a market leader in Indonesia, where it processes more than 100 million transactions for its 20-25 million monthly users, Go-Jek is now looking to expand in Southeast Asia.

Ride hailing services in Southeast Asia are expected to surge to $20.1 billion in gross merchandise value by 2025 from $5.1 billion in 2017, according to a Google-Temasek report.

Go-Jek said in May it would invest $500 million to enter Vietnam, Singapore, Thailand and the Philippines, after Uber struck a deal to sell its Southeast Asian operations to Grab — the bigger player in the region.

Go-Jek is seeing strong funding interest from its backers as it targets an aggressive expansion, Makarim said.

“Since its Aug. 1 launch, the app has already grabbed 15 percent of market share in Ho Chi Minh,” Makarim said. The firm this week opened recruitment for motorcycle drivers in Thailand.

The startup expects anti-monopoly concerns swirling around the Grab-Uber deal, which Singapore said had substantially hurt competition, to help clear a path for its expansion.

“We’re bringing back choice. The Singapore government is particularly eager to bring back competition,” Makarim said, adding that the order of overseas rollouts had not been set.

Go-Jek’s offshore push comes at a time when Singapore-based Grab is stepping up funding to expand in Indonesia and transform itself into a consumer technology company, starting with a partnership with online grocer HappyFresh.

“Mimicking Go-Jek’s strategy is the highest form of flattery,” laughed Makarim.

Grab told Reuters in a statement, “The super app strategy has been around for a while now and no Southeast Asian player can claim to have pioneered it.” The company also said Grab has not lost market share in Ho Chi Minh since August, but declined to provide market share data.

Makarim believes Go-Jek’s understanding of food merchants will give it an edge over Grab, which counts investors such as Chinese ride-hailing firm Didi Chuxing and Japan’s SoftBank Group Corp. among its backers.

Makarim, who sees food delivery as Go-Jek’s core business, said he was not concerned about funding, without giving details.

Go-Jek was reported in June as being in talks to raise $1.5 billion in a new funding round and was valued at about $5 billion in a prior fundraising, sources have told Reuters. The firm had said in March it was considering a domestic IPO.

Makarim noted Go-Jek’s backers were sharing both capital and expertise. The company is collaborating with Alphabet Inc’s Google on platform mobility, Tencent on payments strategy, JD.com on logistics operations, and Meituan Dianping on merchant transactions and deliveries.

Go-Jek has set up a venture capital arm, Go-Ventures, to invest in startups in Southeast Asia “with strategic importance to our business,” the CEO said.