The decision to resume the Metro service in Kolkata ~ from north to south ~ from 14 September is reassuring on the face of it. The
manner of resumption does not inspire optimism, however.
As the lifeline of urban transportation, commuters had been inconvenienced since the last week of March, when Phase One of the nationwide lockdown was announced. Having said that, it must be acknowledged that the Metro is poised to follow a very complex praxis, if the upshot of last Friday’s meeting between the Metro authorities and the West Bengal government is any indication. Not to put too fine a point on it, this mode of travel ~ Kolkata’s proud boast since 1984 ~ could be rendered inconvenient in the extreme.
To begin with, the move to scrap the tokens for travel is seemingly rational considering the spread of the coronavirus contagion. Less easily comprehended, however, is the decision to make the smart card and the e-pass mandatory to enter the platform. In other words, ingress and egress will be driven by technology in a city where a limited percentage of commuters are conversant with the Smartphone and computer ~ essential prerequisites both for the e-pass and the smart card. Small wonder that commuters have by and large resented the fresh modalities.
The e-pass is a new embroidery and the majority of commuters are strangers to this. Just as every student doesn’t boast a computer for online learning ~ the flavour of the season ~ neither does every commuter claim access to one. The e-pass will be available only through an App or by accessing the Metro website.
But both Nabanna and Metro Bhavan are being presumptuous when they insist that the exact time of the train one wishes to avail must be specified to make the e-pass available. The short point must be that office-goers, in the main, cannot be definite about time of departure from their workplaces, let alone the precise time they will board.
The pass will be issued to the commuter depending upon how many people are at that time-slot in the station, on the platform, and inside the rakes. A mode of public transport can scarcely be operated on the premise of conclusion to premise. Introduction of the e-pass calls for more serious reflection than has been manifest thus far.
While the fear that the virus might spread in crowded coaches is dangerously real, yet little or no effort has been initiated to make the coaches safe and secure for travel. It is one thing to delay and advance the timings of the first and last service, even to reduce the frequency of trains, quite another to restrict the number of passengers at the turnstile gate. This is easier contemplated than accomplished.
The trains were suffocatingly overcrowded during peak hours. The “new normal” in the season of the pandemic is as unprecedented as it is daunting. Till the end of March, Kolkata’s Metro had attracted passengers. Let us wait and see if that is so in September.