Not many of us think of our daily commute in terms of a ‘transport chain.’ Walking, riding a bicycle or two-wheeler or taking an autorickshaw to the railway station, changing over from train to bus at a transit point such as Central, Egmore or Velachery, form such links.
We don’t do that because these things are taken for granted. Able-bodied individuals can vault over most barriers. In the case of the disabled, however, each of these links in the chain must be friendly, failing which it becomes an insurmountable barrier. Fortunately, the more modern systems that are being installed in the city are likely to be less hostile to persons with disability.
The Chennai Metro has promised to put in facilities that would make the stations and trains accessible to the disabled, and The Hindu reported on their demands in March 2012. The Bangalore Namma Metro, which operates on a limited segment at present, provides some idea of how these features work.
In the accompanying picture, the passenger in Bangalore waits at a line made of yellow tactile tiles, which are intended to guide persons with disability. Such tiling is found uniformly in all stations, starting at the ramp and leading to the staircases, lifts and so on.
If Chennai Metro Rail delivers on its promises, the city will have a safer system with enclosed waiting areas for passengers that lead into the coaches — and without exposure to the track. Yet, can safe stations alone constitute an accessible transport chain for the disabled? Obviously not. The city’s civic agencies appear to be waiting for some perfect solution to make footpaths walkable and traffic intersections navigable.
Although there was talk of providing doors in all buses (and increasing the number of buses) after the death of students on the footboard of a deluxe bus at Kanthanchavadi, that concern has faded away. Now, the Delhi rape incident has led to talk of installing CCTVs in MTC buses with doors‘soon’.
That resolve may also evaporate, as public attention shifts to some other issue. Or, the cameras may go the way of the ones that hang limply like limp birds with drooping necks at traffic intersections all over the city.
MTC has a history of making a mockery of disabled rights. It fitted a few buses with special doors for wheelchair-bound passengers, merely to appear to comply with Section 44 of the Persons with Disabilities Act of 1995. The sparse fleet of air-conditioned MTC buses with low floors — which help disabled and the elderly — offer overpriced travel even for the middle class.
Finally, autorickshaws are also unaffordable for many of the disabled, creating yet another weak link in the chain. What all this points to is the need for Chennai Metro Rail Limited to plan a robust feeder system to connect its stations. That must include multiple choices, such as medium-sized vans and autorickshaws with fixed tariff. To achieve this, CMRL will need the cooperation of the Tamil Nadu government, since special interests are keen to scuttle such moves (although such a system would benefit the vast majority of autorickshaw and van operators as a Metro partnership).
Such a universal access model will enable everyone, including persons with disability, to access the Metro. The government may also consider extending the model to suburban rail, MRTS and key bus termini too.