Long queues at ticket counters, defunct automated ticket vending machines (ATVMs) and crowded trains were what many had to face as the Mumbai suburban railway system opened for general public on Monday after a never-before 10-month closure.
The local trains in Mumbai saw a footfall of 26 lakh passengers until 6 pm on Monday – up from 17 lakh on January 29.
The Western Railway (WR) recorded the sale of tickets worth Rs 147.66 lakh from 2.32 lakh passengers — double of the 1.1 lakh people who purchased tickets on Sunday. Officials said that as per estimates, 11.5 lakh people travelled on WR on Monday. Central Railway (CR) officials said that 14.5 lakh people boarded its trains till 6 pm.
Till the end of day, officials estimate that 37 lakh passengers would travel in both WR and CR.
Stations like Andheri, Nalasopara, Dadar saw long queues at ticket counters. The trains have been made available to all commuters in three time slots — from 4.15 am to 7 am, noon to 4 pm and from 9 pm till the end of services. During peak office hours — from 8 am to 11 am and 5 pm to 8 pm — only those involved in essential services and government employees are allowed to board a local train.
“This is my first train trip since the lockdown. I am happy that finally, the general public is allowed to travel by train. The only problem is the restricted timings. We waste a lot of time,” said Rajesh Gaikwad, a Kalyan resident.
While Gaikwad has to reach office at 9.30 am, he had to board the train at 5.30 am from Kalyan to reach CST. “What will I do after reaching my office so early?” he asked. His working hours is till 5 pm but he will have to wait until 9 pm for the journey back home.
It became apparent immediately as the services resumed on Monday that trying to enforce physical distancing in trains is an impossible task. Most compartments were jam-packed with up to four commuters crammed on one seat, and others standing shoulder to shoulder.
For many though, the start of the train services was a much needed break from road transport.
For the last six months, manager Prateek Patil (29) travelled from Andheri to his two restaurants in Parel and Churchgate by bus. He had to travel one to two hours for a one-way trip. “I was spending Rs 1,500 on bus travel each month. Now, it will reduce to Rs 300 with the train pass,” he said. Patil added that he does not mind the crowd because trains provide fastest possible transport in the city.
Malik Kanani, a wholesale supplier of raw material for manufacture of purses and wallets, would take three to four hours to ride his bike from his Vasai residence to his shop in Dharavi. “Trains will not only bring down time and cost of travel, it will also boost our business. Many of my customers travel by train to purchase raw material. They have not been able to do so often when the trains were shut,” he said.
On Monday, several stations continued to barricade various entry points to allow security guards to ensure that only essential services’ workers travelled in the designated time slots.
Not all booking counters were open, forcing long queues at the existing ones. In Andheri station, the ATVM broke down. WR employee Mahesh Patil said, “There is some issue with paper roll in the machine. It was shut for so many months.”
A commuters’ association too flagged non-functional ATVMs and fewer functioning ticket counters at several stations. “There were long queues at several stations and commuters had to wait longer to get a ticket. In the last eight months, no maintenance was carried out and thus the machines are not working. Also, ATVM operators were not present at some places. Things will get better once more numbers of counters start operating,” said Rajeev Singhal, a member of Divisional Railway Users Consultative Committee.
Sumit Thakur, WR Chief Public Relations Officer, said that minor technical issues that arose during the day were resolved. “The flow at ticketing counters was smooth. Most passengers visited counters to re-validate their seasonal passes. We have extended their passes for the months they could not be used during the lockdown,” he added.
Anil Kumar Jain, CR spokesperson, maintained that they had opened all ticket counters and ATVMs. “We did not face any major problem on any station,” he said.
Many commuters took monthly passes for smooth travel. Diva resident Gunaji Loke, who daily travels to Ghatkopar, said that there was a rush at ticket counters in the afternoon. However, he had taken a monthly pass to avoid the queue.
“I went to Diva station around 3.45 am to avoid the queue. I took a monthly pass and came back home. Since I have flexible working hours, I boarded the train at 12.30 pm. There was no rush in the train. However, I saw a huge rush at the ticket counters at Diva station. The monthly pass is helpful to beat the rush,” he added.
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