COVID-19: Here's how daily commute is turning nightmare for non-essential workers in Mumbai
With local trains nowhere close to restarting, a Virar-based bank employee with a job in Colaba relives the daily road nightmare that non-essential workers are enduring
Regardless of how long he's up the previous night, Dinesh Safare, 52, has to be out of bed at the crack of dawn. The Virar resident is an ancillary worker at a private bank in Colaba and is expected to report to work by 9.30 am. Every morning, he boards a state transport bus from Pushpa Nagar that ferries him to Mantralaya. From there, he hops on to another BEST bus that drops him of at Colaba. "I have to be at the depot by 6 am if I have to avoid peak hour traffic. But, buses are unreliable, so, no matter how early you get to the stop, there's no guarantee that you will stick to schedule." If he's not among the first 40 passengers that the vehicle can accommodate, Safare walks into office around 11 am, way past his in-time.
Last month, as many as 250 non-essential workers staged a protest at Nalasopara railway station, demanding that they be allowed to travel in local trains to reach their workplace. Presently, the city's train services are restricted to accommodate essential workers, which according to the Maharahstra government's directives, include medical staff, municipal workers and policemen, among other limited categories. Safare says that although his bank has issued a letter to the railway authorities and applied for a QR code, they are yet to hear back. Under the new system, identity cards with QR codes will be provided to government employees to regulate the entry of passengers into stations.
Safare is no stranger to long hauls, but this one, he says, has been particularly taxing. The commute from Virar to Colaba would take 1.5 hours by train. He is now on the road for 3.5 hours. "I leave home after having a quick cup of tea. I can't carry a bite to grab on the bus due to hygiene measures that are in place." His first meal of the day is at noon, and the next, dinner when he gets home.
En route to office, the traffic extends from the highway right up till Bandra. Although he has a couple of games loaded on his smartphone to kill time, he spends those hours getting some shut eye. "I nod off because it's exhausting being on the road for seven hours, day after day," he says.
Expenses have also shot up. A one-way bus ticket costs him R125. Spending R250 per day on transport is burning a hole in his pocket, he admits. Safare is the only earning member in a family of four and has been working at the current organisation for 30 years. With people around him losing jobs due the pandemic, Safare says he grapples with uncertainty. "The other day, although it was pouring incessantly, I walked to the bus stop to see if I could make it to work. I was told that the services have been cancelled. Life is getting increasingly difficult. I hope the government realises what some of us are going through."
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