It is almost 11 years since wheelchair-bound Samuel Mani last boarded a public bus. He remembers using the bus service when he was in school and the bus conductor was left with little choice but to wait for the little boy on a wheelchair.
Since it was a school bus, they didn’t really have a choice but wait,” said Mani. Even as he moved around with a helper, he felt far more confident and independent then.
Now a software professional, he laughs at the very thought of going by a public bus. “Who would have the patience to wait for me? If I could travel by public transport, it would not only be easy on my pocket but I would also break the monotony as I would meet new people everyday,” he said.
It is time for civic agencies and the Delhi Transport Corporation (DTC) to wake up to the fact that accessing bus bays still remain a distant dream for the physically challenged. The tall claims made by the DTC, that after remodelling the bays could be better accessed, falls flat on its face. Not one stop can be labelled as disabled-friendly.
Hindustan Times and NGO Swayam jointly audited 10 new bus shelters in South Delhi. Bus bays in Sarojini Nagar, Netaji Nagar, Chanakyapuri and adjoining areas were closely studied to understand the problems faced by the disabled.
Mani, who volunteered for the study, had a terrible time accessing the bus bays. “They are out of reach due to the absence of curbed ramps. They are also built so high that even the elderly will have difficulty climbing,” he complained. In most bus bays, billboards were a big problem, as they obstructed the pedestrian pathway connected to the bus stand.
Lack of training and sensitivity among bus drivers was another big issue. The drivers were neither willing to park near the pedestrian walkway nor did they have the patience. In fact, most buses preferred to ignore Mani, as they probably did not want to take him in. Each had a different excuse. While DTC driver Ramnath said, “We have strict time slabs and cannot wait too long for a passenger,” Kalu Kumar, a Blueline bus conductor said, “How will he enter? There is no space for the wheel chair?”
Swayam director Abha Negi said, “Wheelchair users are unable to access bus stops as a lot of times sidewalks are encroached by vendors. Even inconsistent placements of pillars, streetlights and dustbins are a big nuisance as they obstruct the smooth sailing of the wheelchair, if one were to assume that the pathways were evenly constructed.”
A couple of newly redesigned Netaji Nagar bus bays were falling apart. Just when Mani tried pulling his wheelchair towards the stop near the Delhi College of Arts and Commerce, a large chunk of tiles sunk into the ground.
Such is the condition of newly built “disabled-friendly” bus stops, some by NDMC and some by DTC. Officials from both organisations were unreachable for comments.