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Will Delhi change its old habits?

Delhi Metro changed the way the city commutes. But have Delhiites changed their behaviour to deserve a world-class transport system? Not really. Atul Mathur reports.

delhi Updated: Dec 09, 2009 01:55 IST
Atul Mathur

Delhi Metro changed the way the city commutes. But have Delhiites changed their behaviour to deserve a world-class transport system? Not really.

Along with problems of overcrowding and technical faults, Delhi Metro Rail Corporation battles another trouble everyday — commuters misbehaving and creating nuisance at stations and on trains.

Rules go for a toss

People push passengers out of their way while boarding a train, young men refuse to give up seats reserved for women or the elderly and commuters sit on the floor of the train or play music loudly.

Delhi Metro has employed commuter-facilitating agents on platforms to rein in the unruly crowd.

“We want to eventually remove commuter facilitating agents from platforms,” said a senior DMRC official. “Though people’s behaviour is improving, right now we are not confident enough to do so.”

Squatting on the floor, playing music, eating and drinking inside station buildings and on trains is prohibited, but commuters are often seen breaking rules. Littering is another common problem at all metro stations.

Metro officials said there have been several incidents of commuters misusing the public emergency alarm system on trains.

The device allows commuters to speak to the train operator in case of an emergency.

Such incidents have delayed trains and caused cancellations.

“Once the alarm is pressed, the train operator has to go to that particular button and reset it,” said a DMRC spokesperson. “It takes at least three minutes to complete the exercise and causes delays.”

Between November 13 and 24 this year, 80 such incidents have been reported.

There have also been several incidents in which commuters have been found to stick coins and gutkha pouches between doors to stop them from closing.

Lame excuses

Often the arguments violators give to excuse themselves are boredom while traveling and being new to the city.

While Delhi Metro’s citizens’ forum has gone a long way in instilling etiquette and good behaviour among commuters, it still has to go a long way in turning around old habits.

“Sometimes, we come across good people who listen to us and accept their mistake. But sometimes we have found really rude and abusive people. They even make fun of us for being volunteers,” said Manisha Gaur, a second-year Delhi University student and a volunteer of the Metro's citizen forum.

Trouble for women

Women passengers have complained of misbehaviour by fellow commuters. “I often come across drunk people travelling on the Metro and misbehaving with women,” said Anurita Singhal, a media professional who often travels during late evening hours. “They should be intercepted at the station gate itself.”

“The Metro should also allow one or two officials inside the train to keep an eye on trouble-makers who can come to the rescue immediately.”

DMRC officials said they regularly distribute leaflets and hold awareness drives.

“We have a small Metro guide of dos and don'ts for passengers. We often run small films on television sets at metro stations and tell them how they should behave on the Metro,” said a DMRC spokesperson. “All these measures do have some impact.”

‘Commuters need to mature now’

Rajkumar, Director (operations), Delhi Metro Rail Corporation

Shoving and pushing while boarding or alighting from the Metro is common. What is Metro doing to improve it?

This problem is more serious at stations with highest footfall such as Kashmere Gate and Rajiv Chowk. Initially, we requested people to form queues, but did not listen to us. We have adopted a dual approach. We have commuter facilitation agents at these stations and have installed iron railings on the platforms.

Commuters are often found creating nuisance inside trains. They squat on the floor, don't allow elderly, physically challenged people and women to sit on reserved seats.

We have a volunteers’ group called Metro Citizen Forum, which involves commuters. We thought passengers would listen if fellow passengers pointed out mistakes. It has really helped. We have observed people’s behaviour changing.

Due to people misbehaving in crowded trains, women are asking for an exclusive coach for them.

Once the entire network is functional and all new trains are inducted, trains will be less crowded. Also, there are peak and off-peak months. So, in the next couple of months you will find the Metro less crowded. We will think about reserved coaches for women once the entire system is running.

What kind of action is taken against people creating nuisance in trains?

Our flying squads prosecute violators. Special drives are launched in which Metro officials accompany volunteers. Things are improving, but I think commuters need to mature now. Instead of creating problems for us, they should cooperate with us. Just to give you an example, when the pantographs (which draw power from overhead electrical line) of a train had a problem, the commuters did not let us reverse a train at Subhash Nagar station. About 15-20 passengers held more than one-lakh passengers to ransom on the section.

Case studies

SK Bhasin
Resident of Rohini

“It was a bizarre experience,” said S.K Bhasin (76). A resident of Sector 9, Rohini, Bhasin said not many could have been remotely as disappointing as what happened two weeks ago at Kashmere Gate station.

“I was taking the elevator to the underground passage when four women entered. As soon as the last lady stepped in, the buzzer went off, indicating that the car was overloaded.”

“To my surprise, one of the women suddenly fixed me with her gaze, and asked me to get off as a matter of courtesy to the women in their 20s.”

The arthiritis patient, on his way to visit a homeopathy doctor at Chandini Chowk, had no option but to yield.

“I was the oldest of the other two men in the elevator; they looked like students,” he said.

And it was not as if apathy for senior citizens is a matter of concern only at Metro stations. The train is where hundreds of elderly experience misbehaviour regularly.

Pranav Sachdeva
Resident of Kashmere Gate

He always thinks twice before taking the Metro. Pranav Sachdeva (20) believes that all one needs to lower one's spirits or spoil one’s mood is take a ride on the Delhi Metro.

“The rush, the pushing and the utter lack of regard that commuters exhibit towards fellow Delhiites on the Metro is very annoying,” he said. He is a resident of Kashmere Gate, which was one of the first ares in Delhi to get a Metro station.

Like many residents of Old Delhi, Sachdeva too has lost faith in the world-class transportation facility.

“One can find everyone except senior citizens using the elevators,” he said.

“Boys occupy seats reserved for women and turn a blind eye to mothers holding infants and struggling to stand,” he said.

He said he has often been told to mind his business when he interfered on behalf of somebody who needed help.

Fatima Chaudhary
Resident of Seelampur

Fatima Chaudhary (46), a resident of Seelampur, found it very amusing when she was asked if increasing the number of ladies’ seats in Metro coaches would help.

“What ladies’ seats are you talking about? The ones with a green board above them saying that they are ladies’ seats, but are occupied by college boys most of the time?”

Since the trade fair last year, Chaudhary has made it a point not to take the Metro when returning home after shopping.

“I had bought a very expensive German vase from the trade fair and figured that the Metro would be the most hassle-free means to take it home.”

She soon discovered that she couldn’t have been more wrong.

“From the moment I stepped on to the platform, it was a nightmare.”

The mother of two had to stand all the way from Pragati Maidan in New Delhi, to her residence in East Delhi.