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Mumbai Metro is not very disabled-friendly

Our reporters posed as a wheelchair-bound commuter and her helper, and tried to enter Metro stations. While some stations didn’t have a lift, others had barriers that a wheelchair could not pass through

The all-new Mumbai Metro might be extremely convenient for people travelling from Versova and Ghatkopar, but the city’s newest suburban travel option is not friendly for persons with disabilities (PWDs). mid-day correspondents set out to travel on the Metro, with one of them posing as wheelchair-bound. And the ride was a tough one.

Also read: Cancer patients, disabled may not get Metro discount

Our correspondents try to climb the ramp at Asalpha station, which they managed with some effort. The  ramp does not begin at ground level and is raised, which causes problems. Pics/Nimesh Dave
Our correspondents try to climb the ramp at Asalpha station, which they managed with some effort. The  ramp does not begin at ground level and is raised, which causes problems. Pics/Nimesh Dave

Asalpha
Our journey began at Asalpha, where we found that the ramp for PWDs is difficult to navigate, since it is slightly elevated. We found that if a PWD does not have someone to help, it will be nearly impossible to get on the ramp

Jagruti Nagar
The next hurdle was at Jagruti Nagar, where there is no lift connecting the ground and the first floors. All Metro stations are on the second floor, and when we reached the first floor, we were told that the lift going to the ground floor was not functional.

Neither the lift at Jagruti Nagar, nor its approach road, is ready
Neither the lift at Jagruti Nagar, nor its approach road, is ready

The guards, while being empathetic to our situation, discussed and told us they couldn’t do anything about it. We were asked to go back to Asalpha, and reach our destination by road; we did so, as there was no other way out. However, one of the officials escorted us to the train’s door.

An official, after much deliberation with his colleagues, told us there was nothing they could do to help us reach the ground floor. He requested us to go back to Asalpha, but accompanied us till the train door
An official, after much deliberation with his colleagues, told us there was nothing they could do to help us reach the ground floor. He requested us to go back to Asalpha, but accompanied us till the train door

Saki Naka
We then alighted at Saki Naka and found that barricades erected near the ramps were too close to each other. It was impossible for the wheelchair to pass through the gap, but one could go around the barricades and climb up (or go down) the ramp.

Since barricades didn’t allow the wheelchair to go through on one end of Saki Naka station, we had to find a gap in the footpath to exit the station
Since barricades didn’t allow the wheelchair to go through on one end of Saki Naka station, we had to find a gap in the footpath to exit the station

Even though there were hardly 10-12 people on the platform, we had to wave out to the guards to ask for help in boarding the train. When we approached the ramp from the other end, two-wheelers had been parked right at its entry point, blocking it for wheelchairs. We had to tell the shopkeepers to remove their vehicles to let us through.

When we tried entering the station from the other end to check its accessibility, bikes were blocking the entry. We had to ask shopkeepers to remove the vehicles to let us through
When we tried entering the station from the other end to check its accessibility, bikes were blocking the entry. We had to ask shopkeepers to remove the vehicles to let us through

Azad Nagar
The gap between platform and train at Azad Nagar station is more than at other stations. We were quite apprehensive about boarding the train here, and had to skip a couple of trains before we felt comfortable enough.

The train tends to shake as it pulls into a station, causing the wheelchair to move about inside
The train tends to shake as it pulls into a station, causing the wheelchair to move about inside

Some people actually helped us get onto the train. Also, the train seems to shake a lot when it pulls into a station to halt. The wheelchair moves about inside due to this. Other than this, the footpath connecting to the lift is uneven, and it proves to be a rough ride for anyone on a wheelchair.

Versova
By the time we reached Versova, it was already past 6 pm and the crowds had swelled. Due to this, we couldn’t find any officials to tell us where the lift was.

Marol Naka
The situation is the worst here. Barricade posts placed on both sides of the footpath simply do not allow enough space for the wheelchair to pass through. We had to take the help of nearby shopkeepers to lift the chair off the footpath to make an exit.

Barricades on the footpath outside Marol Naka station do not have enough space for a wheelchair to pass through
Barricades on the footpath outside Marol Naka station do not have enough space for a wheelchair to pass through

It must be noted that the footpath and the road below the Metro corridor is the responsibility of the MMRDA. The agency has to maintain the footpath and also construct a ramp near the elevator so that PWDs can commute easily.

'Travel at your own risk'
This paper’s correspondent also observed, from a distance, a physically challenged person travelling alone via the Metro and what her journey was like. We trailed insurance agent and social worker Nirmala Godavariya, as she took the Metro for the first time. Godavariya, who is afflicted by polio, regularly travels by local trains.

Nirmala Godavariya with the considerate Metro staffer Nayna Sable
Nirmala Godavariya with the considerate Metro staffer Nayna Sable

She reached the Western Express Highway station around 2 pm and the train pulled in within minutes. A female staffer, Nayna Sable, came up and offered to accompany Godavariya all the way to Ghatkopar, her destination. “I felt like a prime minister. While inside, the coach jerked but Sable was there to hold me.

The space inside the Metro for a wheelchair-bound person
The space inside the Metro for a wheelchair-bound person

Authorities should think about these jerks – what if a PWD is alone?” After Sable dropped her off at Ghatkopar, we waited for some time and saw her make her return journey as well. This time, however, there wasn’t anybody to assist Godavariya, except for a staffer who helped her board the train. She even alighted by herself.

After commuting for the first time on the Metro, Godavariya made her preference clear – local trains over the Metro any day. With her job involving selling insurance, the 37-year-old commutes on trains a lot. “I find the train convenient because there is a separate coach for us.

Also, we get to travel at discounted rates in local trains, but there is no concession for us in the Metro. Also, I don’t know how much help I’ll get each time.” She also felt that the path going towards the lift is not smooth enough for a wheelchair.

Metrospeak
When contacted about the issue, the official spokesperson of Mumbai Metro One Pvt Ltd said, “All the lifts in stations are installed and operational. At Jagruti Nagar, the approach road to the lift is not ready, which is the MMRDA’s job. So, the lift cannot be used. We will take some time to make it operational as and when the approach road to the lift is constructed.”

On the barricades, he clarified, “We are aware of the barricades put up on the footpath by civic authorities, creating hindrances in a few locations. We have taken up the matter with them and expect the same to be addressed in the next 15 days.”

MMRDA speak
MMRDA’s Joint Project Director Dilip Kawatkar said, “If the footpaths and ramps that connect the elevator to the road below the Metro corridor are not in good shape, we will initiate repair work on such patches on a priority basis, so that the physically challenged and those on wheelchairs are not inconvenienced.”

Expert speak
Associations for welfare of PWDs feel the huge crowd poses a safety risk for the physically challenged.

Anupam Newgi, joint secretary of Paraplegic Foundation, said, “Most of the times, elevators, if at all they connect to the ground floor, are non-functional for some reason or the other. Also, the Metros are too crowded for a handicapped person to travel safe; they cannot travel alone. However, besides these issues, the Metro is a good option to cut down on travel time.”

Amba Salelkar, a lawyer working for Inclusive Planet Centre For Disability Law and Policy, added, “A lot of people have, by and large, told me that the Delhi Metro is quite accessible. A lot needs to be done for PWD’s and at the least they should be included in the planning stage. Even when you have such accessibility, it benefits people at large - like pregnant women and older people.

When we are talking about such accessibility, we are also taking about universal standards that not only benefit the disabled people, but everyone at large. According to WHO, 15% of people of any population is disabled; therefore, the Metro is excluding 15% of people, a huge number.

The authority concerned should conduct an access audit with the help of disabled people and give feedback as to what is wrong presently, so that improvements can be done in the other phases. Guards on the stations and platforms should be trained to handle disabled people in terms of communication, guiding them, as infrastructure is just one part.”

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