(Ed— This copy was was first published on 27 August and updated on 3 September after the government announced guidelines for restarting metro services)
Centre on Wednesday said metro train services will resume in a graded manner from 7 September across the country, except in Maharashtra. Union minister Hardeep Singh Puri said that face masks will be mandatory and commuters will have to follow social distancing norms.
Delhi Metro Rail Corporation (DMRC) chief Mangu Singh said the Yellow Line from Samaypur Badli to Huda City Centre will be operational from 7 September and services on Airport Express Line will resume from 12 September.
Delhi Metro services will operate in two shifts — 7-11 am and 4-8 pm. In the second stage, trains will be available from 7 am to 1 pm and from 4 pm to 10 pm, he was quoted as saying by PTI.
The Delhi Metro services have been shut since 22 March, when Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced the first phase of the national lockdown to stem the spread of Covid-19.
Delhi Metro is planning to use thermal scanners to test the temperature of commuters and put stickers on seats and platform floors to ensure social distancing.
Amit Bhatt, Director of Integrated Urban Transport at World Resources Institute India, told HuffPost India in an interview over the phone that DMRC should also increase the frequency of metro services and develop a protocol for disinfection of surfaces.
DMRC has also decided to switch to new smart cards with automatic top-up facility. These will be available via the Autope app. To recharge the card, Autope will auto-debit the topped up value from the customer’s linked card/bank account the next working day, according to a DMRC press release. The existing smart cards owned by commuters will continue to remain valid, it added.
Bhatt said that while most commuters use a smart card, the DMRC should discourage the use of tokens.
1. Delhi Metro is already planning some safety measures such as thermal screening and putting stickers for social distancing. What are the other measures that DMRC should take?
In the buses, only 20 passengers are allowed at a time to adhere to social distancing norms. But social distancing goes for a toss at bus stops. Offices are open now and not everyone can afford private transport. The need is to increase the frequency. It’s the same with the metro. DMRC should also increase the frequency. Otherwise, social distancing goes for a toss when commuters are buying tickets or while they are waiting for the metro.
Before the Covid outbreak, Delhi Metro had been using a yardstick of about seven passengers per square metre. This should be done away with. They should look at a slightly lower number of passengers.
The second measure is maintaining personal hygiene — ensuring that all passengers are wearing a face mask.
The third point is also very important. Metros are air-conditioned services and unlike buses, they cannot be operated in a non-air-conditioned manner. The temperature must be kept between 24 and 27 degrees and relative humidity should be between 40-70% with a regular infusion of fresh air.
The next point is making payments digital. For Delhi Metro, majority of the passengers anyway use cards, but the use of tokens must be discouraged and reduced.
A standard protocol must be developed on disinfection of surfaces and ensuring safety of people working for DMRC.
2. How frequently should the metro trains and the stations be sanitised? Should it be done after every trip?
Ideally, it should be done after every trip. It will take some time for services to stabilise after restarting and for people to strictly follow personal hygiene norms, so I think they should be sanitised after every trip in the initial phase.
The deep clean sanitisation is not needed after every trip, but high-contact surfaces should be sanitised after every trip.
3. DMRC has already announced a cut in perks and allowances for its staff. Can they bear the extra cost or fewer passengers after four months of no service?
Some sort of financial subsidy must be decided because it’s not just the Delhi metro, but metro services around the world have seen a decline in ridership. I think running the metro services even with limited operations will not just be beneficial for the metro but society at large, as compared to not running services at all. Government has to come up with some sort of mechanism to support public transport.
(Ed—Perks and allowances of metro employees will be slashed by 50% from August, the DMRC said in an order, according to Hindustan Times.)
4. When the government proposed resuming train services, one of the concerns raised was about the risk of the novel coronavirus being transmitted through air. How can the Delhi Metro reduce the risk of air transmission of virus?
Some studies have shown that if the right temperature and rate of humidity are maintained along with an infusion of fresh air, the chances of the virus spreading are minimal. What will be important is to ensure that the temperature and humidity are monitored.
5. How can Delhi Metro manage the crowd at interchange stations?
In the initial phase, I think a revised operations plan must be looked at where only direct trains are running or secondary interchange facilities are made. This will ensure that not everyone has to go to Rajiv Chowk to change the metro. That’s where service planning should come in. They must assess how this revised plan is working out in the initial phase and make changes accordingly.
6. How can DMRC prevent people from lining up outside the stations if entry is restricted to ensure social distancing?
If the frequency of services is increased (it will come at a cost), it will have a positive impact. This will tackle some of the issues of overcrowding and people standing in queues.
Another thing which perhaps the Centre or state governments should look at is segregating office hours. This will help the metro manage the morning rush.
7. What precautions should commuters take when travelling in the metro once it resumes operations?
Wearing masks and maintaining personal hygiene are the most important measures. It must be ensured that people wear masks and they wear them properly. They should wash their hands after travelling.