The wait of Mumbaikars for metro services in the city came to an end when Maharashtra Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan flagged off the first service from Versova station in the western suburb today.
The service was launched by Chavan along with ADAG Chairman Anil Ambani and his wife Tina Ambani at 10.10 AM. State Deputy Chief Minister Ajit Pawar and local MPs Kirit Somaiya, Poonam Mahajan and Gajanan Kirtikar were also present at the launch.
With the launch, Mumbai becomes the fourth city in the country to have metro rail operations, besides Kolkata, Delhi and Bangalore.
The new mode of transport is expected to provide the much-needed relief to the commuters in the bustling metropolis where the overburdened suburban railways ferries 70 lakh people every day.
The introduction of metro services will revolutionise the commuting of Mumbaikars, Chavan said after the launch, which came after a delay of three-and-a-half years from the scheduled time.
"This project was conceptualised in 2006. It had faced several challenges during execution mainly because it is an elevated corridor. It definitely has taken time, but finally we have launched the services. This project is important for a populated city like Mumbai," he said.
The government has been insisting that all safety measures should be met and that there is no compromise on safety of passengers, Chavan said.
"The launch of monorail (in February this year) and now metro shows we have really entered the 21st century," the chief minister said adding this is the country's first metro BOOT project.
Earlier, when the bids were invited, Mumbai Metro was under the Indian Tramways Act. But, later the Central government introduced the Metro Act, bringing the metro under the new Act, which allows the operator to fix fares.
With this service, the journey on the 11.4 km Versova- Andheri-Ghatkopar stretch will reduce to 20 minutes which otherwise takes around 90 minutes at present by road transport.
The launch of the metro services was, however, not without controversy as Chavan had yesterday said that he will inaugurate the services only if MMOPL (Mumbai Metro One Pvt Ltd) adheres to the state government-notified fares. But, later on he agreed to flag-off the service.
Admitting that there was a dispute over the Metro fares, Chavan expressed the hope that the issue will be resolved through court.
MMOPL Director Debashish Mohanty had yesterday said they would go ahead with its launch today even if the Chief Minister does not come for the inauguration.
MMOPL and the state government have been locked in a dispute over the fares for quite some time. The operator fixed a minimum fare of Rs 10 and a maximum of Rs 40 for a one way journey, going against the Maharashtra government's notified fare band of Rs 9-13, citing cost escalation in the three- phase project, work on which began eight years ago.
MMOPL is a joint venture company comprising Anil Ambani's Reliance Infrastructure, Veolia Transport and the Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority (MMRDA).
MMRDA has already moved the Bombay High Court against the hike and the matter would come up for hearing tomorrow.
The metro train services on the 11.4 km Versova-Andheri-Ghatkopar stretch, Phase 1 of the project, will be available every four minutes.
MMOPL will operate 200-250 services a day, ferrying around 11 lakh passengers. Every coach can carry 375 passengers, while the entire train can transport 1,500 commuters.
The metro service comes four months after the city got the country's first monorail between suburban Chembur and Wadala on February 1 this year.