Despite the government announcing restrictions, commuters complain that some MTC buses are still crowded with many not wearing masks properly
Fear of contracting COVID-19 has made many opt for bikes and cars over public transport. However, for those forced to travel on Metropolitan Transport Corporation (MTC) buses, the fear still remains. Many passengers feel that though there has been an improvement when it comes to wearing masks and ensuring physical distancing, stricter enforcement from the MTC is needed to ensure that sanitisers are provided in all buses and the vehicles are sanitised after each trip.
With COVID-19 cases increasing steadily in the State, the government reintroduced certain restrictions from April 10. As per the order, private and government buses plying between the districts and MTC buses running in Chennai should be operated only with seated passengers.
Each bus has the capacity to accommodate 44 seated passengers and 25 standing passengers. To enforce the restrictions, the MTC has rolled out 400 additional buses on busy routes. The passengers and the bus crew are expected to wear masks, and sanitisers are supposed to be provided in all buses.
“On Tuesday, I was travelling on [bus route] 23E. But only the driver was wearing a mask. Most buses do not have sanitisers. The number of standing passengers has reduced to some extent due to enforcement,” said M. Somasundaram, a consumer activist.
A bus conductor said the crew do not allow people to board the bus without a mask. “Some listen, but many argue. Sometimes, the traffic policemen enter the bus and fine those who do not wear masks or ensure distancing. However, we need sanitisers on the buses. We are at risk as we interact with thousands of passengers every day,” he said.
According to MTC officials, before the lockdown began, 34 lakh passengers used to travel on 3,300 MTC buses every day. However, after COVID-19 restrictions were imposed, the number of passengers dropped to 21 lakh, and now it is around 18 lakh. “It will drop even more due to the night curfew and Sunday lockdowns. But we are operating around 2,900 buses every day,” an official said.
He said some buses, especially those plying through industrial areas, were still crowded during peak hours. “This happens primarily when bunching of buses on the same route occurs. But since the number of passengers has dropped, the crowd has dwindled,” the official added.
Regarding sanitisers on buses, the officials claimed that they did not have the funds to procure them for each and every bus. “Initially, the Health Department provided us with sanitisers. Later, they asked us to procure it ourselves. We do not have the funds as we are already staring at huge losses. But we ensure that the buses are cleaned regularly,” an official said.
A senior MTC official said steps were being taken to vaccinate the staff at the earliest. “There are a total of 21,000 MTC staff and of them, 11,000 fall under the above 45 category. Vaccination is for their safety as they have to interact with many passengers every day,” the official said.
Autorickshaws and cabs
Besides, the government order also stated that rental taxis and cabs should operate with a maximum of three passengers, apart from the driver. Autorickshaws can carry a maximum of two passengers, apart from the driver.
“Regular autorickshaw drivers are following the government rules, taking public health into consideration. There are 1.1 lakh autorickshaws in the city. But the police and the government should tighten enforcement of share-autorickshaws,” said M. Sampath, general secretary, All Auto Driver Associations.
S. Ezhumalai, president of the Chennai and Suburban Share Autorickshaw Drivers’ Union (CSSADU), claimed that crowds had reduced. “People are frightened to travel in crowded vehicles. But no norms are followed in unauthorised vehicles that ply as share autorickshaws, especially in the suburbs,” he said.
P.R. Samy, general secretary, Tamilaga Call Taxi Matrum Anaithu Vaagana Otunar Sangam, said all the drivers were following the norms strictly.
“There is strict enforcement from the police. Our members, who drive for different app-based taxi aggregators, also inform the customers to wear masks and follow the rules,” he said.
K. Bhavaneeswari, Additional Commissioner of Police, Traffic, said the traffic police personnel were conducting awareness programmes on the importance of wearing masks and ensuring physical distance at traffic signals.
“We also ensure strict enforcement,” she said.
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