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Delhi’s transport network sputters back to life after reopening hiccups

  • calendar 20-May-2020
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Delhi’s transport network sputters back to life after reopening hiccups

After nearly two months of being off the roads, Delhi’s public transport system sputtered back to life Tuesday. The empty roads got busier as the day progressed though many complained of long waits for buses and autos fleecing them. On Tuesday, the first day after the state government relaxed lockdown norms (following the Centre doing so on Sunday evening), fewer cabs were on the roads, most bus stops didn’t have the promised marshals , and not everyone who wanted to travel by bus was screened with an infrared thermometer. According to reports from the Delhi government, the state transport utilities pressed more than 2,000 Delhi Transport Corporation (DTC) buses and cluster buses into service on Tuesday from its fleet of 6,487 buses. Transport minister Kailash Gahlot said the number of buses was low because around 1,400 buses are at the disposal of revenue and police departments for movement of migrants to railway stations and for law and order duties.“We are also facing an issue with the availability of bus drivers due to the curbs in neighbouring states. We hope to have more buses on the road in the coming days,” he said. Even as transport officials said the number of passengers who travelled in the state-run buses on Tuesday was only about 10% of the usual daily bus ridership of 3.2 million, commuters demanded more buses and an increase in frequency of trips. Many even questioned the government’s move to open all offices, industries and allow construction and other economic activities to resume citing that the public transport system was “grossly inadequate” to handle the load, which is going to increase with each passing day. The Metro service is still not allowed in the national capital. Only 1,650 marshals were deployed at bus stops on Tuesday, with the result that people queueing up at bus stops were seen voluntarily following the social distancing protocol. On Monday, the Delhi government had said it would deploy 4,000 marshals at 740 busy bus queue shelters to ensure social distancing. After visiting several bus stops and terminals in Delhi, HT found that the fewer number of buses, coupled with the rule that allowing only 20 passengers per bus, resulted in longer waiting periods for people at bus stops. Subhash Chand (62) waited for more than two hours at the Shivaji Park bus stand to board a bus to his home in Dwarka. He had an eye treatment at the Guru Nanak Eye Centre at Maharaja Ranjeet Singh Marg, after which around 1pm, he walked for about 35 minutes to reach the terminal. “There was no auto or e-rickshaw available to drop me at the bus terminal. It is so hot, and even at the terminal there was no respite. I have been waiting for two hours for the bus. In the morning, I reached the bus stop in Dwarka at 8am and was able to hop on one after an hour,” Chand said. On buses, stickers saying ‘do not sit’ have been pasted on every alternate seat. Tinku Mondal, who had arrived by a special passenger train from Howrah, West Bengal, said he waited for two hours before he could board a bus from Kapashera bus depot to go to the Delhi-Gurugram border. “I travelled from Sultanpuri to Punjabi Bagh by bus, then took an auto to AIIMS. At AIIMS, I waited for 1.5 hours for bus number 433 to Okhla to join work at my factory,” he said. The bus queue shelters at Apollo Hospital, Okhla Tank, Ras Vihar, Sarita Vihar, Harkesh Nagar and Saraswati Kunj had marshals managing the people. Thermal screening of passengers was absent at a majority of the bus shelters across the city. “Today we have initiated the process to procure 1,000 contactless temperature checking devices. We did start thermal screening at a few select bus stops on Tuesday. But, the problem is that we have only a few devices at our disposal,” Gahlot said. Those who opted to travel by auto-rickshaws said they were overcharged by drivers or had to hire multiple autos to adhere to the Delhi government’s norm of one passenger per auto. Some autos, however, were seen carrying two passengers as well. Rajesh Gupta, a retired government employee, who had to go to Okhla from AIIMS, said the auto driver asked him for ₹350 for the ride. “It ride usually costs me about ₹150. I asked him to settle for ₹200-250, but he refused. So I had to wait for a bus for more than an hour to get home,” Gupta said. Cabs also resumed services on Tuesday, but very few were spotted on the roads. An official of cab aggregator service provider Ola, who did not want to be identified, said the number of bookings received from Delhi was lower when compared to the bookings they received before the outbreak of the pandemic. “I tried booking a cab and the app gave me a waiting time of around 15 minutes. But due to dynamic pricing mechanism, I had to pay about ₹40 more for my ride to Laxmi Nagar from South Extension,” Ruchira Tyagi, an employee at a designer apparel store in South Extension Part 2, said. 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