Delhi Metro resumes today: Expect cashless travel, empty alternate seats and longer stops
After a gap of more than five months and a week, metro stations and coaches of the National Capital Region will witness passengers willing to go through the restrictive, controlled and strictly enforced entry, travel and exit conditions
There is joy. And concern tinged with fear and uncertainty.
“Get ready for the next wave of infection transmission… reason… metro opened for all. When there were 200 per day cases, everything was closed. Now when it’s 77,000 cases per day, government plans to open Metro. Can somebody explain the rationale??” asked one tweet when Delhi Metro Rail Corporation (DMRC) on 29 August announced, using the hashtag MetroBackOnTrack, that its services would resume from 7 September, 2020.
After a gap of more than five months and a week, metro stations and coaches of the National Capital Region will witness passengers willing to go through the restrictive, controlled and strictly enforced entry, travel and exit conditions.
The DMRC on 3 September put out a new travel protocol for passengers and preventive measures to ensure COVID-free metro premises and advised passengers that their trips, on average, would take 15 minutes longer.
The gates of all the metro stations are shut but one can see staff sweeping steps, wiping clean railings and grills.
When the gates open for the public on 7 September, regular commuters like Noida resident Varsha Kumar will see a lot of new features, all intended to make the different steps as contactless as possible.
They will also see the post-lockdown avatar of the metro, which a CISF jawan on duty at the Kaushambi Metro Station assured will be “far easier” than boarding a train or a flight. “Logon ko iski bahut zaroorat hai” (people need this a lot) he said.
Varsha Kumar, who works at a branch of a nationalised bank just outside the Barakhamba Road Metro Station in central Delhi, had got used to travelling comfortably in the Delhi Metro. It took a little over 45 minutes to get to work, she'd proudly say.
But ever since the first unlock after the pandemic, when some offices, including hers, opened, she had to put in quite an effort to reach work. She'd have to ask her husband to drop her to work or take an auto because she wanted to avoid a Delhi Transport Corporation bus. She'd been hoping the metro would restart soon.
With 389 kilometres of track and 285 stations in the National Capital Region, the metro is Delhi's lifeline and the pride. With its frequency of a train every two or three minutes, the metro transported the public at a speed a car or a bus simply could not match.
For the public, it was also a journey in air-conditioned comfort.
In terms of network spread, speed, and state-of-the-art technology, the Delhi Metro compares favourably with the best in the world.
There was no particular peak hour on Delhi Metro, though officially, off-peak hours were before 8 am, from noon to 5 pm, and 9 pm onwards. On 29 July, 2019, DMRC spokesman proudly announced the highest ridership: a whopping 59,05,431 passengers!
It was a trend that continued through the year and into 2020, when the average ridership in February was 57.13 lakh passengers a day. In March. before the COVID-19 lockdown, the daily average was 46.53 lakh passengers.
Almost every “line” that makes for the web shaped Delhi Metro, is as crowded as any other, given the complete connectivity through 27 interchange stations. But the most used line is probably the Yellow Line going through Chandni Chowk, Rajiv Chowk, New Delhi, which has the longest underground section.
The average on this line is about 15 lakh passengers daily.
Varsha’s journey now will be very different. At a press conference on 2 September, Hardeep Puri, Union Minister for Housing and Urban Affairs, explained how.
For one, fewer gates of the metro stations will be open for entry and exit. Typically, most stations have at least four gates opening into different localities. Post 7 September, one or at most two entrances and two exits will be opened to passengers.
Entrances will no longer double up as exits. Minimum luggage and no metallic items will be allowed.
Second, the Aarogya Setu app will be a must. It is mandatory for passengers to wear masks, they will be provided hand sanitiser and be subjected to thermal scanning. Anyone not clearing the scan will not be allowed to enter the station and directed to the nearest medical centre and local health authorities and administration will be informed.
Third, tokens are totally out. Smart cards, loaded with new contactless app-based features, will be used (Automatic Fare Gates have been modified accordingly).
The DMRC is introducing a new type of smart card which comes with an auto top-up feature, through the “AutoPe” app which DMRCL developed and included its smart card payment menu. AutoPe, launched in June, is a digital payment app linked to your bank account and can be downloaded from Google Play store.
According to DMRC, 70 percent of passengers use the smart card. The AutoPe feature will become operational the day Metro services resume.
The DMRC in an 19 August press release had said existing smart card holders can also get this feature activated. The smart card, which requires a minimum expenditure of Rs 200 and Rs 100 as deposit, makes for easy entry through the fare gates, besides giving commuters a 10 percent discount on fares.
New smart cards can be bought at stations by digital payments only. No cash will be accepted.
Fourth, the in-coach experience will be different. Where seven seats were often shared by 8 to 10 people, now alternate seats will have to be left vacant. Standing passengers were almost glued to each other, particularly during peak hours.
Now a one metre gap will have to be left between two standing passengers.While circles have been drawn inside for standing passengers, it is not mentioned whether there will be people deployed inside to monitor this. Much will perhaps depend on passengers voluntarily following the guidelines.
Fifth, the stop at any station will be for half a minute to a minute more than usual, in order to enable smooth boarding and deboarding and to ensure social distancing. This will mean a longer commute. The frequency of the metro will be five to seven minutes as against 2.5 minutes before the lockdown.
Sixth, trains will not stop at stations falling in containment zones. Seventh, passengers should not be surprised if the train does not stop at the station on which they intended to get off. The DMRC has decided to skip stations where the platforms are overcrowded and on which social distancing has not been maintained.
Eighth, “passenger behaviour” will be monitored continuously. Puri warned that those not behaving according to the needs of the time (social distancing, mask) will be named and shamed in the train using the public announcement system.
Ninth, the trains will stop for a “longer duration” (time was not specified) at terminal stations and all doors will be kept open in order to allow fresh air into the coaches.
Tenth, the air conditioning of the trains will also be reset to ensure 50 to 60 percent more fresh air and air filters cleaned using a five percent bleach solution, and more often than earlier.
“I downloaded and installed AutoPe. It asks for name as in PAN, email ID, mobile number and you have to agree to them checking my credit position with RBI. I agreed and went to the next page, but found it too invasive as far as my banking/ finances are co concerned. I went back , uninstalled the App. I have been using PayTm the last two plus years to recharge Delhi Metro smart card. And I have not had to do any e-KYC with PayTm. This AutoPe is one more like PayTm, but with a mandatory link to PAN”
— A metro commuter
Sources in Delhi Metro say cabin temperature may not be as cool as it was prior to the pandemic. Managing the air circulation inside the coaches, such that fresh air (read hot air) from outside is thrown in to disperse suspended viral particles, could see cabin temperature beyond the 24 to 30 degrees Celsius commuters are used to.
“When it is very crowded, it has gone up to more than 33 degrees. Passengers are used to that,” explained a metro driver in Vaishali, the last station on the east end of the Blue Line. He cheerfully added that in any case trains are going to be far less crowded than before.
Four trains have been running in all the lines all these days mornings and evenings to transport essential staff. The DMRC has rotated the coaches such that the entire fleet has remained in good running condition.
The DMRC and the Ministry for Housing and Urban Affairs will monitor and review the metro service on a weekly basis.
According to government figures, 53 new COVID-19 deaths were reported in the country in span of 24 hours. This has increased total fatalities due to the cirus to 5,26,530. The daily positivity rate stands at 5.14 per cent.
Parking facilities at Delhi Metro stations will not be available from Sunday morning till Monday afternoon in view of security measures adopted for Independence Day, said Delhi Metro in a statement.
Easy access to this kind of test could help people determine what kind of precautions they should take against COVID-19 infection, such as getting an additional booster shot, the researchers said