Coronavirus scare: How will transport stop in Mumbai- the city that never sleeps?

Updated: Mar 19, 2020, 07:40 IST | Rajendra B Aklekar | Mumbai

As transport officials wring their hands in despair, several passenger bodies say it is impractical to try and limit crowds on trains

Authorities check the temperature of a passenger at CSMT's outstation waiting area. Pic/Ashish Raje
Authorities check the temperature of a passenger at CSMT's outstation waiting area. Pic/Ashish Raje

Transport bodies are struggling to find how to implement the CM's directives on curbing crowds on trains, considering the sheer volume of passengers. Some will start studying crowds from today to work out a solution. Sources at transport organisations said no one can forcibly limit travellers with valid tickets from riding on public transport vehicles. Passengers' bodies are also upset with the CM's directives and say they are not practical.

Sources at the transport organisations said the changes had to happen at the offices, which need to limit attendance or be shut down to maintain social distancing.

They said following the CM's directives mean there could be restrictions on getting into a train if a compartment is 50 p c full, which also means one might miss the train and will have to wait for the next, delaying one's journey.

Shutting the locals was not decided on as if they remain shut, private operators, taxis and auto drivers may take advantage of the situation, a bureaucrat said. Pic/Ashish Raje
Shutting the locals was not decided on as if they remain shut, private operators, taxis and auto drivers may take advantage of the situation, a bureaucrat said. Pic/Ashish Raje

However, Central Railway Chief Public Relations Officer Shivaji Sutar said that the CR will take all measures to reduce the crowds in coaches. Western Railway Chief Public Relations Officer Ravinder Bhakar said, "The Maharashtra government's decision of shutting down some offices has already led to a significant drop in the crowds and with further shut downs announced, the numbers will drop further. We appeal to commuters to follow social distancing voluntarily."

A Mumbai Metro spokesperson said, "We will fully cooperate with government directives and work accordingly."

Appeal and requests
BEST spokesperson Manoj Varade said that as a preventive measure, the BEST will appeal to commuters against standee travel in its buses from today, and request them to take social distancing seriously. He said they will study crowd patterns at bus depots from today and accordingly arrange additional buses if required, and that bus depot managers had been given such powers.

Stopping trains completely has been ruled out, since it will bring Mumbai city to a standstill, as many who work on the essential services of the city, come from far off places in the Mumbai Metropolitan region. The Mumbai Municipal Commissioner has already classified the railways as an essential service.

Mumbai locals never stopped
As per official data, Mumbai local trains have never been forcibly stopped during a disaster, not even during the Mumbai terror attacks and blasts. "The only time they paused for a while was in some sections during the monsoon and after the July 2006 train blasts, but there has never been a complete shut down," a senior official said.

At about 14 paise per km, local trains remain the cheapest and fastest mode of transit in Mumbai and are truly called the lifeline of the city. If they remain shut, private operators, taxis and auto drivers may take advantage of the situation, raising fares to unaffordable levels and blowing things out of proportion, a bureaucrat said.

Passengers upset
"Limiting crowds is not a good idea. I may be in a hurry to reach somewhere and have a valid ticket. I cannot be stopped from getting onboard a train. How will one know who is in a hurry to reach somewhere? It is not a practical idea," said Shailesh Goyal, member of Western Railway's Zonal Consultative Committee, the official passenger representative body on WR. "One cannot force such ideas on anyone. It should now be self-discipline which will lead by example," Goyal added.

"Why step out in the first place? The government should nip the problem of travel in the bud. Shut down offices and working places. If the reason for travel is killed, travel patterns will die on their own," Subhash Gupta, member of National Railway Consultative Committee, the official passenger representative body on Indian Railways,
said.

Ajit Shenoy of Mumbai Mobility Forum said, "This is an impractical idea. Easier said than done. How will it be practically implemented? The government should shut down offices, keeping only emergency services working and can adjust leaves later. This will be a practical solution."

Passengers drop

Railway local train statistics have dropped by 10 lakh in a day on Central Railway and about 8 lakh in a day on Western Railway between Monday and Tuesday.

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