Mumbai’s famous Victorias back on the road minus the horses, to run on battery power

IN a well-thought-out blend of the old and the new, five years after the old Victorias, or horse-drawn carriages, were taken off the road, Mumbai has reintroduced them but with the vital difference of there being no horses. Mumbai has brought in e-Victorias. The move towards electric carriages came about because of the ban on the horse-drawn ones.

This happened in June 2015 when the Bombay High Court, hearing a public interest litigation petition that alleged cruelty to the horses, directed the authorities to stop horse-drawn carriages in the city. It gave the authorities a year to enforce the ban in a phased manner and also directed the State to frame a policy to rehabilitate the carriage drivers and owners. The State formed a committee headed by then Finance Minister Sudhir Mungantiwar of the Bharatiya Janata Party, and it was proposed that the 91 owners and 130 Victoria drivers would be compensated with Rs.3 lakh and Rs.1 lakh respectively along with a hawking licence in south Mumbai.

Apart from this one-time lump sum and the much-prized gift of a hawker’s licence, they were to be given licences to drive the electric Victorias when they came out. The Victorias started to be called e-carriages in officialese, and the Transport Department soon cleared the proposal to permit them. Drivers were to be given training before they got a licence.

In March this year, Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray launched the e-buggies by handing over keys to the vehicles to the drivers invited for the inauguration. UBO Ridez, the company that will operate the e-Victorias with the Maharashtra Tourism Development Corporation, said the battery-operated carriages run at a maximum speed of less than 20 km per hour. The lithium-ion batteries allow the carriages to travel for 60 to 70 km on a full charge.

The red and black e-buggies are a hipper version of the original Victoria carriages, which used to be decorated in a more individualistic style. Initial runs will be done by 12 carriages that are licensed to seat a maximum of six people. The first routes will be the typical Mumbai tourist haunts of Gateway of India, Marine Drive, Kala Ghoda and Girgaum Chowpatty.

The e-Victorias are enabled with a GPS Intelligent Proximity Triggering system for multilingual commentary that automatically relates the history of the area that the buggy is driving through.

As of now there are fixed routes and one can choose a rate of Rs.500 or Rs.750 depending on whether one opts for the shorter or longer tour.

For those who miss the Victoria, the new buggies will definitely trigger memories, though, as every Mumbaikar loves to quip, these will be minus the bedbugs that the old ones were plagued with.