The recent commissioning of the Mumbai Monorail is a noticeable step in the pursuit to reduce the time it takes to reach your destination in India’s financial capital. With public transport buses travelling at an average speed of 12 kmph in the city, commuters on the 9 km stretch spanning Jacob Circle-Wadala-Chembur have much to cheer about beyond the obvious joys of riding at an altitude.

However, this technological feat of a comfortable passenger cabin safely propelling on an elevated rail slab does not guarantee its usage and in turn, its success. If anything, the choice of route makes the task only uphill. The monorail traverses locales that are in the throes of changing demography, a transformation in the direction of the upper middle class segment of society. Jacob Circle, where the line originates, is close to the race course and some old famous film studios; further down, Wadala is in the throngs of heated construction activity, with the old mills making way for expensive malls and residential apartments; and finally Chembur, the terminal point, is slowly, yet noticeably losing its middle-class trappings for higher ground.

Getting people in this section of Mumbai, that too, over the coming years, to get off the road and on to the elevated rail will not be easy. The relative discomfort of the public transport system only reinforces their default choice of a car, even if the commute takes longer.

To ensure that more people board the train, the state government needs to do a few things.

It needs to devise disincentives that help moderate car traffic flow during peak hours. A stiff congestion charge levy, of the kind seen in London, will help. This, should be done after the state government provides quality public transport service that vastly reduces the waiting time for buses as much as improves comfort and safety during transit, be it to the final destination or to the monorail/suburban rail stations.

No doubt, such a levy will prove to be a political hot potato. However, selling this proposition to the public can be softened by spending the congestion charge on improving the roads and the fleet of public transport buses. The demonstration effect of this action will inspire confidence in commuters to shift their mode of transport to the monorail.

This will improve the viability of the monorail system and help integrate with the other two public transport systems in the city–the suburban rail and the buses.

It is hard to deal with the legacy of unplanned growth in a city that bristles with activity. Merely creating infrastructure will not solve the problem. The government has to go further and signal the choice.