Covid-19 cases are on the rise and the possibility of a second wave is being discussed. In the current circumstances, public transit is a major factor, given that commuters are in rampant violation of Covid norms. For instance, the share autorickshaws and taxis are back in business in the city and the metropolitan region. These services are running without permission.
"We have not given permission. It's for the Disaster Management to decide," said Avinash Dhakne, Maharashtra Transport Commissioner.
The RTOs that are the primary agency under which these autos and taxis come haven't authorised them to ply on a shared basis. Yet, passengers intrepidly board shared rickshaws as though all is well. In public perception, social distancing, clearly, is only for the birds. Unflinchingly, two persons sit on either side of the driver, with three or more in the back during peak hours. This is the scene outside several suburban railway stations like Borivali, Kandivali, Bandra, Kurla, Ghatkopar, Govandi and other suburbs.
Likewise, in the island city, share taxis too are running at ease, especially in business areas like Nariman Point, Churchgate, Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Terminus etc. Though there is no over-seating like in the share-autos, all four seats in these vehicles are occupied.
Meanwhile, the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation has warned citizens to follow Covid norms strictly or be ready to face action. It has decided to deploy more than 300 clean-up marshals on the Western, Central and Harbour train lines, to closely monitor all those passengers who set off on their journeys without a mask. “Earlier, we had deployed clean-up marshals outside railway stations but now we will deploy them at every railway station, to keep a tab on passengers. Our staff has been directed to take strict action against violators of Covid norms.
"According to auto unions, the local share-auto stands have even cut down the share fare to Rs 5, to attract more passengers. Due to Covid-19, people prefer taking BEST buses and for long distances, use local trains that have now been open to all from February 1, at select timings. The unions, on the other hand, have been demanding a fare hike which hasn't happened for the past five years or so.
"It is dangerous if share-autos are over-seated. These shared autos are like super spreaders. Action should be taken not just against drivers but also passengers," said Thampy Kurien, autorickshaw union leader.
Coming to the local trains, the number of daily commuters have touched a combined 37 lakh on Central and Western Railways. Of these, around 20-22 lakh are on Central Railway and 15-17 lakh on Western Railway. These are the numbers in the last 15 days since February 1, when local trains resumed for all but at select times. The AC local too is seeing a steady rise in riders hip, with the sale of 944 daily tickets and season tickets, catering to nearly 15,000 passengers on CR. Likewise, on the WR, the AC local has catered to over 48,000 passengers, with 5, 200-plus tickets and season tickets being sold.
"We will go by state government directives," said a railway official.
The BEST undertaking also isn't doing much, as its buses are running full. There are serpentine queues seen at bus stops while buses are running packed, with little scope for social distancing. There are 3,300 buses ferrying around 22 lakh passengers daily.
On February 16, the financially struggling BEST sought Rs 406 crore from BMC.
"The civic body is giving it as a loan @ 4%. We are demanding for the amount to be provided as a grant. All through the lockdown, our buses were plying for people but when it comes to helping us, we are provided a loan," said Sunil Ganacharya, BEST Committee member.