Congrats Mumbai, Your Malls are Now Open 24/7. It’s Time Public Spaces and Transport Followed Suit

Social Commentary

Congrats Mumbai, Your Malls are Now Open 24/7. It’s Time Public Spaces and Transport Followed Suit

Illustration: Robin Chakraborty

This Monday, the pet project of Shiv Sena’s boy wonder Aaditya Thackeray came to fruition, as Mumbai’s malls and eateries kicked off a brave new era of Mumbai’s nightlife: The 24/7 era. Perhaps it wasn’t the grand beginning that supporters of the move might have envisioned, as the first few days have seen low footfalls, but there is still faith that this could turn out to be a good idea in the long run. Whatever issues are currently there, will sort themselves out in a few years and the ever-enterprising Indian mind will find a way to monetise these hours (legalise herbs and you might have a full food court!)

There is however, one critical ingredient missing from the 24/7 recipe at the moment. It’s something that would be a big step toward realising Mumbai’s moniker of Maximum City: 24/7 public transport and access to public spaces like parks.

Currently, local trains run until around 1 am, and restart by 4 am. There are scanty bus services post-midnight. The last Mumbai Metro leaves its origin station at 11.24 pm, resuming only at 5.25 am. For those who can pony up the cash, you’ll never be stranded, of course. For all the city’s many faults, Mumbai’s excellent network of autos and kaali-peelis will ensure you get to your destination even in the dead of night. And with Ola and Uber entering the fray, there’s even less reason to worry or remember train timings.

Mumbai is a unique metropolis in that 42 per cent of its people live in slums.

But I believe a city truly becomes a great one when it has two things: First, a robust public transport system that covers the whole city, prioritised over other means of transport and infrastructure. You will see this in all the “great cities” of the world: New York City, Amsterdam, London, Bangkok, Melbourne. Secondly, a city can claim to be a truly great city when it has accounted for everyone – not just the well-off who can buy their way to comfort. 

Mumbai is a unique metropolis in that 42 per cent of its people live in slums. While housing for everyone is a great goal, it has several challenges and the least the city can do is provide some public space for at least some recreation and relief. Barring a couple of open ones like Shivaji Park, most spaces in the city shut at night: the Pramod Mahajan Kala Park in Dadar shuts at 9 pm, as does the August Kranti Maidan. It’s sad that the city houses one of the biggest green spaces in the country — Sanjay Gandhi National Park — but closes its gates at an absurd 5.30 pm, rendering it out of bounds to pretty much everyone who travels to work, and leaving it crowded on weekends. Of course, these timings are dependent on a lot of understandable constraints, but we seem to have diagnosed the wrong problems. Keeping parks open round-the-clock would mean a larger swathe of the population can enjoy them, as well as create some new jobs.

But back to transit. Mumbai’s geography (which is either “unique” or “fuck-all”, depending on your point of view and daily commute) makes good last-mile transit all the more important. Two major lower- to middle-income residential areas, Aarey Colony and Marol, are five kilometres from Goregaon and Andheri stations respectively. Given that buses don’t run at night, this makes life inconvenient — and expensive — for those who travel late.

People have built their lives around these public transport options, so keeping them running longer means more flexibility for the people. It bears repeating that the industrious Indian mind will find a way to utilise these hours (it’ll be a shame if productivity and recreation are stymied because of a lack of public transport).

Round-the-clock transport makes it easier for night-time infrastructure workers to travel.

Round-the-clock transport brings several other potential benefits. It makes it easier for night-time infrastructure workers to travel. It provides an opportunity for those who choose to, to do additional work and make money for their families without worrying about transport — especially those who work as watchmen and caretakers. It gives companies the option of including more shifts and thus improves the output of their office space. And, well, it also gives a fillip to the malls and restaurants that are open; it will be easier to find willing waiters, security personnel, and attendants. Heck, it might even draw a new patronage to malls, and develop “night hours” to distribute traffic round-the-clock.

While it’s not like keeping a park open until late and someone catching a 3 am bus to go home will solve Mumbai’s problems. But these are easily implementable addenda to the 24/7 law, and will accrue a lot of ancillary benefits. Especially since they come in at negligible additional infrastructural costs and disruption, something that can’t be said about needless projects like the Coastal Road.

Here’s to a new Mumbai, then, where I can take a stroll around Sanjay Gandhi National Park starting 9 pm, and take a bus back to Goregaon at midnight. And sure, maybe stop at a pub on the way and raise a drink to Aaditya Thackeray (but only till 1.30 am, alas).