Mumbai: Covid crisis reshapes the way Mumbaikars travel

One year since the pandemic induced lockdown began, it has changed the way Mumbaikars travel in the city via public mode of transportation. From March 24, last year, the local trains had stopped plying which began for all only in February 2021. Over this one year the train travel for people has been made selective, the share auto and taxi has been discontinued, the BEST is running its services since the lockdown. Even aggregator based cabs were running with restrictions.

BEST buses

To begin with, the Brihanmumbai Electricity Supply and Transport (BEST) were the only mode of public transport that has been running since day one of the lockdown. They started with a handful of buses running through the day ferrying barely few thousands of passengers who were working on essential duties.

Even as public services didn’t stall, their own employees of drivers and conductors suffered from Covid-19 virus. Until March 21, the BEST had 3006 employees getting infected while they were on duty and likewise 117 of them who were off-duty were also infected. “Of the total, 2966 employees have been cured though 38 are still under treatment,” said a BEST official. Currently 119 of their staffs sadly passed away from Covid-19.

In the initial days there were barely 5 percent of buses which is around 100-150 BEST buses were plying on the road carrying less than 15000 people. It took several months to slowly revive the total number of daily passengers to now 25 lakh from their fleet of 3800 buses including those on wet lease. At present, these buses are running over crowded especially during peak hours as local trains are not available for general public at all time of the day.

Local trains

The local trains, for the first time was inaccessible for general public for 10 whole months, which has happened for the first time since suburban system began. In the initial days of the lockdown, they weren’t running at all until mid-June. From June 14, the suburban trains were opened for 1.25 lakh people across MMR on essential duties, which on a normal day were ferrying over 80 lakh daily commuters. In this one year a lot has changed.

We see people trying to maintain distance although during peak hours it goes for a toss. Use of escalators, according to railway officials, has come down as people are seen taking the stairs of FOBs. The railways shone in everyway possible as they created almost 900 Covid-Care Centres as a back-up plan to address the increasing Corona virus cases, hand sanitizers and PPE kits were also made in-house by both Central and Western Railways.

The railway authorities here created more than 32000 PPE kits and close to 45000 litres of sanitizers. “In the past there have been strikes, bandhs, protests, terror attacks or monsoon flooding; all of which were local issues and train delays would only make things worse. This time, people didn’t complain as the pandemic was global phenomenon. This pandemic is nothing less than a war against humanity,” said a senior railway official.

At present, the Central and Western Railways together are plying 95 percent of their total 3100 services that they operate daily. In the initial days of the lockdown, there were very little people travelling but now it has touched 37-38 lakh daily. Majority of people have renewed their train season passes and have started travelling though for common men; the train timings are before 7am, between 12-4pm and after 9pm.

Autos and cabs

The black and yellow auto rickshaws, taxis and the aggregator cabs have more or less survived this pandemic. Many of the drivers fled to their native places in migrant special trains, and many even driving their own autos and taxis for 2-3 days to reach their villages. Of the 2.20 lakh autos, there are still around 15-20 percent of them who haven’t returned home and resumed lives in villages and towns. Likewise of the 36,000 taxis, around 4-5 percent of them are fewer on road.

“The lives of drivers hasn’t improved much even as fares have gone up from this month. Due to this pandemic, the permit owners and drivers are earning less than what they were doing in pre-Covid times,” said A Quadros, senior union leader. The share-autos and taxis are illegally operating and people are still hesitant about using this system.

Likewise for the aggregator cabbies, many are struggling to pay off their vehicle loans and EMIs. The drivers are apparently earning 40 percent less than what they were doing in pre-Covid times. Even the aggregator cabbies have stopped operating on share basis while availability of these aggregator cabs are lesser on roads with more wait period.

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