Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal has proposed that Metro services should be resumed in a “limited manner”.
Services of the Delhi Metro, the lifeline of the capital, were suspended on March 22, the day the Prime Minister asked the country to observe a “Janta Curfew”. The Metro was supposed to roll the following day onward in a staggered manner, but the Delhi government announced a complete lockdown and, subsequently, the nationwide lockdown came into effect on the midnight of March 24.
The lockdown is a day away from completing its third phase, and Saturday was the 55th day of no services on the country’s largest urban mass rapid transit network.
What has Kejriwal proposed?
On Friday (May 15) the Delhi government wrote to the Centre, recommending that Metro services be resumed for employees of the Union and state governments and for people involved in providing essential services.
The scope of the services may be widened after a week, the Delhi government suggested.
So, who decides when the Metro rolls again?
The final call on resumption of services lies with the Centre, which has the ultimate authority on deciding the type of activities that are permitted in Green, Orange and Red zones.
All 11 districts of the national capital are categorised as Red. A new classification could be in the works, and may be announced before the end of the current lockdown 3.0 on Sunday.
But is the Metro itself ready to roll?
Yes. According to official statements and documents, the Delhi Metro Rail Corporation (DMRC) is fully prepared to resume operations at short notice. The corporation has framed a detailed Standard Operating Procedure (SOP), in accordance with guidelines issued by the Union Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs (MoHUA).
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How will travel change once Metro services resume?
Once the curbs are lifted, commuters on the Metro can expect a paradigm shift in the way in which they travel. Some specifics that can be expected:
* Passengers will need to have the Aarogya Setu app downloaded in their cell phones. This, however, suggests that carrying a smartphone will become a condition for travelling by the Metro. How this will be implemented practically remains to be seen.
* Only two entry gates at the most will be opened at any given time at every station. This will be done to ensure that people line up for mandatory thermal screening by CISF personnel. Those showing flu-like symptoms will be barred from entering, and health authorities will be informed to ensure further screening of these individuals.
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* The Union government has also written to Metro operators across the country to try and roll out QR-code enabled ticketing linked with the Aarogya Setu app to ensure only those marked ‘safe’ by the app are issued tickets to travel. However, In the Delhi Metro, only the Airport Express line currently has entry gates equipped to scan QR-coded tickets.
* Commuters will be encouraged to use smart cards only. However, the tokens will not be completely done away with immediately.
Will something change in the trains and stations as well?
Yes, a lot. The 389-km-long network with 285 stations cannot obviously remain untouched by the ‘new normal’ that the global pandemic has brought.
Overall, expect the trains and stations to be a lot emptier than usual. You will also be expected to change your behaviour on the premises of the Metro.
For a regular Delhi metro commuter, used to constant jostling for that extra inch of space, the scenario being envisaged may sound rather unreal. Some likely examples of changes that will be seen:
* The floors of the stations will have brightly coloured markers to ensure there is a gap between commuters at all times. These markers will be everywhere — on the platforms, near the entry and exit gates, outside the ATMs and the stationery and snacks corners.
* CCTV surveillance will be carried out to check any violation of social distancing norms. If, at any point, the number of commuters inside a station rises to an extent that threatens social distancing, further entry will be restricted.
* Trains will stop for up to 30 seconds more than usual at stations to ensure social distancing among passengers boarding or alighting.
* Inside the trains, seating capacity will be limited, with ‘Do Not Occupy’ stickers pasted on every alternate seat.
* Standing commuters will be expected to maintain a distance of at least a metre among themselves.
How has the Metro been preparing for this situation?
The DMRC authorities have used the lockdown period to carry out long-pending tasks such as cleaning and overhauling the air-conditioning system of the train coaches.
After services resume, the cleaning and maintenance staff of the Metro will have to undertake cleaning and disinfecting exercise every four hours, wiping clean equipment such as ticket vending machines as well as hand rails, lift buttons and other devices prone to constant human touch.
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