The Delhi Metro Rail Corporation (DMRC) on Sunday said it is all geared up to resume services, and meet all challenges including crowd management, after a five-and-a-half-month-long hiatus from Monday.
With transport experts expressing concerns over the issue of crowding inside the network and outside the transit stations, DMRC officials said it has put necessary arrangements in place to maintain social distancing and hygiene, which is crucial to control the spread of Covid-19 infection.
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In an interview to HT last week, DMRC chief Mangu Singh had said that crowding is indeed a concern and they will make efforts to “break the peak”.
Singh had told HT, “We want to ensure that there is no peak in crowding; that there is an even flow. We want people to support us and plan journeys accordingly because this is the best way to utilise the system. And we will also be able to provide the best service.”
The DMRC has issued a detailed advisory for commuters about the dos and don’ts while travelling in Metro in the new normal post-coronavirus pandemic. Anuj Dayal, executive director, corporate communication, DMRC, on Sunday said, “Besides ‘break the peak’, DMRC appeals to commuters to talk less during travel in the Metro to prevent the possibility of short-range aerosol transmission.”
The other concern, raised especially by medical experts, is of strict enforcement of social distancing norms.
Also read: DMRC conducts dry run on Yellow Line, Rapid Metro
With the Metro, which is the transport lifeline of Delhi and NCR, starting its services with reduced capacity –from 360-400 passengers to 50 passengers per coach—experts say crowding at stations and outside is bound to happen. The DMRC has decided that if the train is full or there is a crowd at the station, the train will skip the station.
Experts say crowding is likely on stations which are immediately on the line after the point of origin. “Not many people take the Metro for short distances. The train is bound to be full at the starting point. So, what happens to passengers who will be waiting at the third or the fourth station?” said Mukti Advani, principal scientist, transportation planning division, CSIR-Central Road Research Institute.
She added, “For this, the DMRC can spread out the starting point, that is the trains can start from multiple stations so that those on station falling in the middle of the corridor are also able to travel without waiting for too long.”
DMRC officials say that a plan has been worked out to avoid such a situation. Dayal said, “To prevent crowding in trains/stations, we may have to opt for starting certain empty trains from terminal stations or short loop some trains to manage the crowded zones on a particular route/section.”
He added, “This dynamic regulation of train movement will be based on the ground situation at given hours and one may have to skip a train or two, leading to extra time in completing the travel.”
The measures planned by DMRC for crowd management inside the network, experts say, might result in congestion outside the station. While the situation inside might be good, transport expert Sewa Ram said, there could be chaos on the streets outside the station. “They should set up queuing areas outside the station so that people can wait in case the station gates have to be closed due to rush inside,” said Sewa Ram, professor at School of Planning and Architecture.
To begin with, the DMRC is starting its service on the Yellow line (HUDA City Centre to Samayapur Badli) and subsequently open another line. By September 12, the entire network spread over 389 kms will be operational.
This is when the DMRC’s crowd management plan will be put to test, especially at interchange stations. Transport experts say that it is impossible to know how many people at any given point of time will exit the trains at interchange stations.
“To manage crowds at interchange stations will be a real challenge. For this, the DMRC can work out a service plan in which it can ensure that all trains might not stop at a particular interchange station. Also, the DMRC should open all the Automated Fare Collection gates,” said Amit Bhatt, director transport, WRI India.
With DMRC increasing the dwelling time at each station by 10-20 seconds for boarding-deboarding and extra time to sanitise the trains at the terminal stations, the frequency of trains is likely to drop. Bhatt said, “The 5-7minute gap between trains can be counter-productive as it will result in crowding at stations. Efforts should be to increase the frequency of trains.”
The DMRC has decided to push all the trains into service to minimise the frequency gap.
Starting its services after a long hiatus, DMRC has advised passengers to keep 15-30 minutes of extra time while planning their journey.
While the medical fraternity is divided over the decision to resume metro services, those in favour say that the DMRC should ensure strict enforcement of the safety norms needed to contain the spread of the infection.
Dr Jugal Kishore, head of community medicine at Safdarjung Hospital, said, “The most important thing is that people don’t take off their masks inside the trains. They should have one person deployed on trains to check that people wear masks properly. I personally feel that there is no need to leave a gap of one seat as long as people wear a mask. Those standing inside the trains will be touching multiple points and should be very careful.”
Smita Nair, a resident of Janakpuri, said that the opening of Metro services will come as a huge relief to her, especially because of the nature of her work that requires her to regularly go to office.
“I am an IT professional and I work in Noida. Our team was called back from June and ever since, I either have to pay a hefty amount for cab rides or depend on my husband to drop me. Metro station is barely two kilometres from my place and commuting now will be extremely convenient. It was inconsiderate for the government to have allowed offices to call its employees but not allow the most used transport mode in the city,” she said.
Vighnesh Jha, secretary general, Federation of Richshaw Pullers’ Association of India, said the resumption of Metro services will boost the earnings of cycle rickshaw pullers by 40-50%. “With several commercial activities being allowed in June, cycle rickshaw pullers’ income had revived. But it wasn’t sufficient. Now, with opening of Metro, things will change for better. It will result in an additional 40-50% increase in their earnings, as a large number of Metro commuters prefer to take rickshaw for short distance travel.”