Public Transport: Some Models



I was impressed by the pleasant ambience of the Trivandrum railway station and the bus depot for long distance travel which is just across the road.

This is how public transport should be but this has become so rare due to the callousness of our politicians and bureaucrats.

The whole area is clean. And travel is really seamless. I got out of the train at Trivandrum station and immediately there was an elevator which made carrying the luggage so much easier. There was a smooth walk to the efficient share auto booth . The auto rickshaw man did not grumble about taking a short distance trip for Rs. 20 to nearby Munjalikulam road where there are plenty of reasonably priced hotels and despite its proximity to the station this is a quiet area.

At the busiest of times I did not notice any major traffic jam at the station-bus depot junction.

In Mumbai we too have Bombay Central railway terminus and the long distance bus depot on the other side of the road. But see how badly the area is maintained. This is partly because it is not used much by the elite and is a rather run down area. The proximity of the two transport nodes shows that we did have good planning in the past in Mumbai but over the years there has been a criminal neglect. So in the last 50 not a single decent bus depot has been created. A real shame.

At the Trivandrum bus terminal I was pleasantly surprised to find that buses had enough space to turn around, there was no chaos, no honking, no noise. A lot of sitting spaces. Very clean and reasonably priced restaurants.

A 10-storey tower with a semi-circular frontage has come up in the last couple of years on the bus depot land apparently as part of the new policy of commercial exploitation of the land. But it does not seem to have found many customers and most floors are empty. So there is a lesson that such commercialization is not necessarily paying results.

Next there is also car and two wheeler parking space which is too generous to the car lobby. One can park a car for upto 30 days at only Rs. 75 a day which shows a heavy subsidy to the upper class if one considers the high land prices in urban areas.

I found elevators not only at Trivandrum station but also at Nagercoil, a few miles away. The Trivandrum elevator service was inaugurated two years ago by the then railway minister Suresh Prabhu. What a shame Mumbai’s big stations lack such basic amenities despite the huge number of users.

I was impressed by the black stone building of Trivandrum station with paintings of Kathakali dancers , martial arts and an elephant at the entrance. There is also a good garden in front.

A pity the adjoining nallah has so much garbage dumped into it . And the authorities also seriously need to address the lack of footpaths in most parts of the city and rest of the State with very narrow roads.

Maharashtra’s callous rulers really need to learn. . Almost every other state has better bus depots than in Maharashtra. Even Pune’s busy and old Swargate bus depot looks so run down.

Kerala also perhaps accounts for a bus depot with the most pleasant surroundings. In Kollam, the city with ancient fame for spices, one finds the marvellous backwater across the road. I walked to the boat landing point and was lucky to do so. A boat conductor immediately offered me a boat ride to Alleppy for Rs.400 which was a steal considering that it is a whole day journey with some wonderful scenery , bird watching and rural life on the shore. On the way one had a wonderful buffet vegetable lunch for Rs. 125 .

Before reaching Kollam I had thought the bus depot at Tiurnelveli in Tamil Nadu was most remarkable for its surroundings. There is a lovely lake across the road and it looked very clean. Otherwise, Tamil Nadu favours very unfavourably in cleanliness with Kerala even as a steep fee of Rs. 5 is charged for its filthy urinals. Obviously, there is also a huge leakage of funds all over the country from these commercial toilets which do not issue tickets.

The serious neglect of public transport is is because of the elite’s obsession with high end travel,particularly by air.So all facilities are provided at the airport but few at railway and bus terminals. The Bandra and Kurla terminus in Mumbai would be a disgrace to any city. During my recent travel I found the Lokmanya Tilak Terminus at Kurla less filthy than before . It now has a shining glass dome but few facilities. Like the Bandra Terminus such glass structures become extremely hot even in mild weather and are environmentally not sustaining. There is not even a newspaper or book stall in the whole big terminus. So I had to walk a long distance to Tilak Nagar suburban railway station , climb a bridge and buy the papers. The bridge has a lot of broken tiles and is extremely hazardous .Again a matter of shame for the railways. The nallah along the station is as filthy as before. Wonder why cleanliness is not maintained even at public spaces.

At Churchgate railway station in Mumbai a poster of Prime Minister Modi cleaning with a broom with a big handle has recently come up outside the lone toilet block.. Those who use the place frequently know what a fraud all this is. By the railway’s own specifications there be should be several toilet blocks at such a big terminus . It is not just callousness, the authorities simply lack self respect, have no sense commitment to people at all.

There seems to be a little more awareness in the railways over the issue of cleanliness though this is done without providing adequate amenities to the cleaning staff.. During my recent travel by the Netravati Express to Kerala, I found half a dozen workers in blue uniform sitting on long wooden boxes in the passage. It was as if the boxes carried some valuables. It turned out that they carried brooms and bottles with cleaning liquids. The men also slept in the passage at night.

This job can be easily done at intermediate railway stations as it has always been done though not very efficiently. Why make workers travel all over without adequate place to take rest ?

Besides, this train requires the least cleanliness as the passengers here have more consciousness about cleaning. Ordinary people have much better sense. A traveler from the North rightly remarked that such facilities should be provided in trains in the North which are really dirty, people simply dump paper cups, packets into the wash basin, not to speak of other places.

The main problem is lack of public campaign and providing dump bins. Putting up posters has little effect. For the first time I saw big plastic bags hung in the passage beween two bogies in the Netravati express. Even such simple measures are lacking in most trains. And the new bio toilets are far from clean.

 Vidyadhar Date is a senior journalist and author of a book on public transport

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