Traffic on Mumbai’s Bandra-Worli sea link (BWSL) is picking up gradually but the business reported a 26% dip in profits in 2016-17. Although the average number of vehicles that use the sea link every day has inched up to 37,336 from 34,202 vehicles in 2015-16, this is just about a third of the original estimate of around one lakh. An upward revision in the toll rate by 15-18% next year, combined with an increase in traffic of 6-7% in the next couple of years, should boost revenues. While profits in 2015-16 stood at Rs 15.82 crore — post payments to MSRDC of Rs 76 crore — in FY17, they dipped to Rs 11.74 crore, as operations were disrupted by demonetisation, Jayant Mhaiskar, VC & MD, MEP Infrastructure, told FE.
Mhaiskar added the compensation from the government is expected soon. MEP Infra is the toll collecting entity for the sea link. Maharashtra State Road Development Corporation (MSRDC) which spent Rs 1,702 crore building the sea link has so far recovered Rs 511.16 crore as its share of the toll.
While several reasons have been put forward for the slow rise in traffic, the creation of alternate avenues across Mumbai — from central Mumbai towards the southern parts of the city —, is believed to be a key factor. These roads have diverted traffic away from the sea link.
Apart from the Santa Cruz-Chembur Link and the Eastern Freeway, two big flyovers have also been built. These are the Lalbaug flyover and the Kings Circle flyover. Moreover, with Bandra Kurla Complex now the central business district rather than Nariman Point, and several large office complexes having sprung up in Worli and Lower Parel in central Mumbai, fewer people are travelling beyond Bandra compared with a decade back.
However, transport expert Ashok Datar believes the rise in toll rates in April 2012 may have kept the traffic on the sea link subdued. For passenger vehicles, the toll was raised from Rs 55 for a single trip to Rs 60 while a monthly pass cost Rs 3,000 from Rs 2,750 earlier.
Abhaya Agarwal, partner, Infrastructure and PPP leader, EY India, pointed out the lack of complementary infrastructure and poorly planned approaches at both ends of the sea link could be another reason for traffic not having lived up to expectations. “Users possibly do not see enough benefits. If one is spending too much time at the interchange points, getting on and off the sea link that has to be the biggest reason for the traffic not being as heavy as it should,” Agarwal said.
MEP will collect the toll for three more years and will operate and maintain the sea link all at an upfront cost of Rs 325 crore. MEP Infrastructure has already been handling the operations and maintenance of the project since 2014, and collecting toll since its inception in July 2009.