- Public transport to open soon with guidelines: Union Minister Nitin Gadkari
- We must get used to co-existing with COVID-19: Expert
- Safe, sanitised commutes by adopting hygienic practices important: Expert
New Delhi: With the possible easing of restrictions in the lockdown, there is a thought process emerging that people will need to get used to the ‘new normal’ of resuming life and learning to coexist with the virus. All India Institute of Medical Sciences Chief DR Randeep Guleria has said that the COVID-19 is not going to disappear for quite some time and so we must accept that regular hand wash, use of mask and following social distancing is the only way forward. Reaffirming this “new normal”, Union Minister for Road Transport and Highways, Nitin Gadkari has issued guidelines for public transport to open soon.
The guidelines issued by the Ministry aims to control the spread of the virus after the lockdown, with a combination of two different approaches, suggested by Centre for Road Research Institute (CRRI).
First approach is to redesign facilities to enable social distancing. As per the guidelines, this includes the following measures,
- Painted Markings for social distancing, so that people maintain required distance around bus stop areas, footpaths, among others.
- Increased stopping time for commuter boarding, alighting for bus and metro.
- Separate gates for boarding and alighting while travelling by bus and metro.
- Limit number of commuters inside bus, metro coach.
- Separate lane for buses to improve the capacity of bus service.
Second approach suggested by the CRRI to the Ministry is to reduce demand and capacity enhancement. This approach will include the following measures,
- Reducing demand for public transport by encouraging short trips by non-motorised modes like bicycle and intermediate public transport modes like cycle rickshaws and autos.
- Shops, markets and offices that deal with public to be opened for a longer duration to avoid larger gathering and crowds.
- Encourage advanced booking for bus, metro.
- Staggered timings for office-goers
Additionally, the CRRI has also suggested different measures to be taken to ensure social distancing for various modes of transport.
The CRRI suggests splitting Zebra Crossing into two parts for each direction or by marking two separate zebra crossings.
Displaying information about vacant seats in a particular coach. The number of seats vacant within each coach should be dynamically displayed at the respective stations/ coaches on the display boards. CRRI also suggests that commuters should avoid touching the scanning machine using tokens/cards, instead they should keep it at least 10 mm above the scanning point.
While travelling by bus, only one person per seat should be allowed and the commuters should sit diagonally opposite their co-commuters. CRRI also suggests the bus operators to limiting seating capacity in the bus by 50 per cent of actual capacity and prohibiting access to the driver cockpit area.
- E-Rickshaws, Autos, Taxis
CRRI suggests auto, e-rickshaw and taxi drivers to use a plastic sheet for physical separation between driver and commuter as well as within commuters. The institute further suggests short-length trips by intermediate public transport modes like rickshaws, autos to be encouraged and a dedicated path lane should be allotted for faster movement of such vehicles.
In a video conference with Bus and Car Operators Confederation of India, Mr Gadkari assured the bus and car operators of the country that the government is fully aware of their problems, and will support them to mitigate their issues.
— Nitin Gadkari (@nitin_gadkari) May 6, 2020
During the video conferencing, Mr Gadkari also said the opening of transport and highways will go a long way in instilling confidence among the public.
On one hand, he expressed concern and cautioned towards maintaining social distance and adopting all safety measures like hand washing, sanitising, face masks, while operating buses and cars.
A Transportation System expert with a well known non-profit organisation, calls the decision bold ‘just like the lockdown’. She said,
It is important to get life back on track, not just for the citizens but also for the government. Public Transport System is the lifeline of cities and greatly contributes to economy. The revenues of public transport systems such as Buses and Metro Rails across Indian cities have been adversely affected due to the pandemic. However, other than being essential, the lockdown was also a bold and timely decision and similarly, the courage and decision making in terms of restarting the public transport must be lauded.
She further says that the lockdown helped India in controlling the virus immensely, she adds,
If we look at a superpower country like USA, where people are considered educated and have a much better functioning healthcare system than India, you will understand how crucial and beneficial it was for us to remain under a government enforced lockdown. But as experts say, the indefinite lockdown is not sustainable and we must get used to co-existing with COVID-19.
She also reacted to the government guidelines that include modifications and raised concerns,
I hope the government is not planning to increase fare in order to make up for the lost revenue and the redesigning as mentioned in the guidelines. It is not a practical solution, since ridership on public transport systems is known to be extremely fare sensitive. As we can all recall, a hike in the fares of the Delhi Metro in 2017 led to an estimated loss of 26 Million riders as compared to 2016. And when it comes to boosting the trust among the travellers, we need to keep in mind that there has been a behavioural change as a result of fear in people when it comes to going back to normal while they’re still amidst a pandemic.
She asserts on the importance of safe, sanitised commutes by adopting clean and hygienic practices. She says,
This can be done from both stakeholders. From the side of the transit agency, focusing on periodic and thorough surface cleansing practices is expected. They also need to ensure stringent measures like no food and litter with fines for offenders. They also need to come up with regulations for social distance and using masks, sanitisers and gloves. When it comes to the passengers, they have to be more vary of virus and follow these norms as a responsibility. They need to be communicated with, about the measures before the public transport opens.
She finally says that apart from all the negatives, the lockdown may end up providing a relief to the public transport sector to revive and reinvent best practices.
Dr Praveen Danee, a physician with an experience of 27 years, says that it is very risky without a doubt, even after the several measures taken by the government. He says,
Life after COVID-19 has changed completely. Despite the measures taken by the government to avoid crowding, we have to remember how many people rely upon the public transport to commute. It will still be a challenge to maintain the physical distance in public transports, and in case of metro, people will still be in a packed, air conditioned coach. So the government has done their job with the guidelines. Now it’s in the hands of Indians and how they want to live with the virus. My advice is that people should not travel, unless it is absolutely necessary and inevitable, like for the essential workers. But even in that case, PPE, hand hygiene and distancing is something that needs to be taken care of.
Dr Danee further said that at one point or the other, we will have to get back to living our lives and can’t remain under a lockdown until the virus is completely gone. He said,
Several scientists and researchers are saying that the virus can go on to be around us until 2021 and there’s no vaccine candidate expected to be approved anytime soon. So we cannot live the way we are living right now and wait for it all, to get over. It’s just to a sustainable solution, what we can do is take precautions.
Dr Preeti Khandelwal says that despite all the guidelines and regulations in place, and the necessary information people know about the COVID it’s a major health risk to reopen public transport. She explains,
After close to 2 months of remaining under a lockdown people are aware of how intense this situation is and what should be done to prevent the disease. However, we as Indians have a really bad legacy of not following rules and regulations. People lining up outside liquor shops on May 4 is an important and the most recent example of this. That is why we need more education and more awareness of the subject and I’m really disappointed to tell you that people are still not fully aware despite being confined to their home for two long. They need to understand that governments around the world are forced to shutdown their countries, that’s how serious the situation is. They need to understand it not just about them putting their lives at risk, it’s about putting other vulnerable people’s lives at risk as well, as they can be a carrier of the virus.
She further said, that in order to restart the public transport there needs to be a “class monitor” as she explains,
We need class monitors. We are a country who needs traffic policeman standing under the traffic signals to ensure we follow traffic rules and I think similarly we would need someone to ensure social snatching and hand hygiene is being followed. We have Ticket keeps and security personals at metros and bus, they should be told to not let anyone braking the ‘corona rules’ board the transport. We need to train the monitors as much as we need to train our class, Dr. Preeti signed off.