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Wednesday, Oct 23, 2019

Delhi to get 4,000 buses, bus stops overlook the differently abled

Even as the stakeholders welcomed the news of Delhi getting 4,000 new buses, they questioned the extent to which the “accessibility quotient” in public transport would be increased by simply inducting more disabled friendly buses.

delhi Updated: Mar 15, 2019 10:39 IST
Sweta Goswami
Sweta Goswami
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
As per guidelines, the level of bus queue shelters should be the same as the floor of a low-floor bus.
As per guidelines, the level of bus queue shelters should be the same as the floor of a low-floor bus.(Sanchit Khanna/HT Photo )

Delhi will finally get 4,000 new buses, nearly a decade after being serviced by the same fleet of around 5,000, in phases, all of which will be accessible to senior citizens and the differently abled. While the move is aimed at being a leap in terms of introducing an inclusive public transport system in the national Capital, experts said it will solve only half the problem as the supporting infrastructure, such as bus stops and pathways, are far from being accessible to all types of commuters.

At present, Delhi has a fleet of 5,443 buses against a requirement of 11,000 buses. Of these, only 3,750 are disabled friendly, i.e., low-floor CNG buses, run by the Delhi Transport Corporation (DTC). In two years, the government is adding 3,000 low-floor buses and is also fitting hydraulic lifts in 1,000 new standard-floor buses (SFBs).

Even as they welcomed the move, stakeholders questioned the extent to which the “accessibility quotient” in public transport would be increased by simply inducting more disabled friendly buses. “We will get disabled friendly buses, but a commuter has to board and deboard a bus at a bus stop. The height at which bus stops are built in Delhi is not uniform. Some bus stops are at grade (at the same level as the main carriageway), while others are built on pathways that are higher than 1000 millimetres from the ground,” said Nipun Malhotra, who had challenged the Delhi government and the DTC’s decision to purchase 2,000 SFBs instead of low-floor buses (LFBs). It was after a public interest litigation (PIL) petition filed by Malhotra, a differently abled person, that the government had to retract its decision and draft fresh proposals for procuring buses.

According to Delhi Transport Infrastructure Development Corporation Limited (DTIDC), a Delhi government-run company that is responsible to design and build bus stops in the city, all bus queue shelters need to be constructed at a height of 400mm from the ground. This makes the level of the bus stop and the floor of an LFB at the same height, thereby, making it easy for a wheelchair-bound passenger or an elderly to enter or exit the bus without having to step up or down. The floor height of a low-floor bus is 400mm, whereas that of the standard floor bus is 900mm.

“But often, this height rule for a bus queue shelter (BQS) has to be forgone because of site-specific issues. Sometimes, the pathway where we have to install the BQS is already high while on other occasions, we have to build it on kerbs that are 150mm high, which is the usual norm for pavements. These footpaths are built by different road agencies such as the Public Works Department (PWD), municipal corporations (MCDs), National Highways Authority of India (NHAI), Delhi Development Authority (DDA), who do not follow the street design guidelines,” said an official of the engineering wing of DTIDC, on condition of anonymity.

The behaviour of DTC and cluster bus drivers is also an impediment to passenger comfort, said Gaurav Jangid, a road design consultant, who works with the Delhi government’s PWD. “Bus drivers need to be trained better, in a sustained manner. These buses hardly stop at the queue shelters and we see people running on to the main carriageway to catch a bus, which is a big safety hazard. Those alighting the bus have to wade through traffic to reach the footpath or the bus stop (queue shelter),” he said.

Mukti Advani, senior scientist, Council of Scientific and Industrial Research - Central Road Research Institute (CSIR-CRRI), said another issue that needs to be addressed immediately are pathways leading to these queue shelters. She said that as per UTTIPEC’s street design guidelines, a queue shelter must be “universally accessible” and located clear of the 1.8-metre ‘walking zone’.

“Besides, authorities must focus on fixing uniform signage across all bus stops. Also, do we even have enough bus stops in the city?” she said.

A study by the transport department suggests that the city needs at least 2,000 more bus queue shelters and the highest demand for this facility is in outer Delhi. But, at present, Delhi has only 1,874 modernised bus stops, even as the notified number on paper stands at 4,627 – implying that the remaining ones are either dismantled or dilapidated. Till now, the state transport department has floated five tenders to set up 1,397 new bus stands across the city, but failed every time due to lack of bidders. The last tender was floated in the last quarter of 2018.

Dr Satendra Singh, a disability rights activist and associate professor of physiology, Guru Teg Bahadur Hospital, called for an audit of all bus stops. “There is no compiled data to know which bus stops are the busiest and which are used the least. Without data, any planning would have no meaning. The government must do an audit and also conduct a survey of commuters seeking suggestions, which would help re-design the BQS,” he said.

First Published: Mar 15, 2019 10:39 IST

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