Revenue from bus stop advertisement is more important than human life
The death of a passenger electrocuted in a bus stop should shake up Traffic Police, Municipal Corporation, MSRDC, MMRDA, PWD, MTSU and perhaps even the judiciary
3 May 2012, Chota Durgah Bus Stop, Mahim: A commuter got electrocuted little past midnight. This happened because a live wire supplying power to the advertisement hoarding at the sleek and clean stainless steel (SS) bus stop is reported to have gotten loose and touched the integral steel structure. Apparently the earth-wire may have got disconnected from the structure and when the 21 year old youth tried to sit on the SS seat, the current passed through him and he died of electrocution.
Why did this happen at all? In my humble opinion, it happened because of abdication of duty by the governmental agency, in this case, the Brihanmumbai Electric Supply and Transportation Undertaking (BEST) from the very first stage of putting this new SS structure. No doubt prompt action was taken by BEST to shut off power to all the bus stops unless the advertising agency which put up these thousands of bus stops free of cost to BEST obtained the certificate of safety. It has been observed that none of the bus stops are illuminating their advertisements since then.
It is interesting to note that BEST, in trying to earn revenue from advertisements, have begun to cover their red SLP (street light pole) Box with a large metal box cover and providing space for illuminated advertisement. This SLP Box actually belongs to BEST’s Electric Supply wing, which is in fact already subsidizing the loss-making transport wing. If the purpose was to make transport wing self-sustaining, as desired by Central/Maharashtra Electricity Regulatory Commission (CERC/MERC), then this surely is cross subsidy. Keeping that issue aside, the safety aspect will continue to be identical to the bus stop in terms of possibility of earthing malfunction. While the SLP Box is a necessity and has been kept to the smallest dimensions for the purpose, the advertisinng box cover is an aggression on urban landscape and additional encroachment of footpaths. These advertisement box covers have the potential to electrocute a pedestrian road user and also force him to walk on the road if the footpath it occupies is narrow.
The new modular design SS bus stops were put up by a private advertising agency at no cost to BEST in lieu for getting advertising rights. The area for advertisement is not only on the top front but top sides and rear side concave panel seat level to eye level and the front splash protection panels. Depending upon the viewable location of bus stop and not number of passengers observed to be waiting or number of buses halting at the bus stop, the number of modules were decided by the agency and not BEST. With the sole aim to earn money, safety aspects naturally take a back seat. Firstly even on a narrow footpath, the same design was installed even though impractical for the location, forcing pedestrians to walk on the road. The level of footpath could have been lowered to enable bus passengers to queue up in the shelter rather than on the road—it takes effort and time to get down, walk to the bus and climb up into the bus.
In the early days of installation of these bus stop shelters, power supply was by either battery or by DG (diesel generating) sets with no particular attention given to proper earthing or air and noise pollution. Subsequently, when electric connection was obtained, more often it was by hanging cable from adjoining lamp post, the issue of secure power connection and earthing was not addressed.
It is not that BEST were unaware of the problem, but having abdicated their responsibility of providing a proper bus stop passenger shelter, they seem to have abdicated their responsibility to inspect and approve the installations from all aspects of safety and convenience to commuters and pedestrians alike. The only convenience these shelters have provided is cleanliness and seats. Even the meter boxes are placed precariously low, with every likelihood of its corner hitting a man’s head while entering the shelter or walking along the narrow footpath space in the back.
The callousness about electrical safety can be observed at several lamp posts where the switch box covers have been left missing on the one hand and on the other hand earthing cable not fitted.
Bus stops have been placed on the ramp section of flyovers on the Western Express Highway for buses plying on them in order to prevent them from moving to kerb side of the road after the flyover and then move back on the lanes going over the next flyover. Approach to the bus stop for bus commuters is from the slip road adjoining flyover through steel step ladder. While the step ladder has been provided with hand railing, the narrow footpath along the ramp of the flyover, the hand railing is conspicuous by its absence. While the bus stop passenger shelter may have been BEST’s responsibility, providing hand railing along the ramp of surely rests with Maharashtra State Road Development Corporation (MSRDC) or Public Works Department (PWD).
The list could be endless but one final point to note here is about having vehicles halt at Stop Line. Delhi Traffic Police seems to be doing that quite effectively. This begins with road markings.
The Mumbai Traffic Police on the other hand seem busy putting up hoardings “Stop at Zebra Crossing, it is Only Decent” or campaigns with barricade sign “Halt at Stop Line”. Instead of enforcing this on ground level, it asks vehicles to come forward to halt beyond the ‘Stop Line” and even occupy the zebra crossing. The Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai appears to be in a perpetual state of poor funds to make road markings, especially the Stop Lines and Zebra Crossings! This makes road crossing not only tedious but dangerous for all groups of people perhaps short of track athletes!
It is time members of the various authorities —Traffic Police, Municipal Corporation, MSRDC, MMRDA, PWD, MTSU and perhaps even the judiciary—took to walking and began to understand how dangerous the whole infrastructure is to practically the whole of Mumbai’s population. It is not that other cities things are any better—the Delhi example is an exception—they too have several issues. We have got to be caring to the Life and Limb and situation on the roads that reflects the pride of our nation’s ‘democracy’. Today it is far from it.
To end with positive note, it is observed that when the engineers are sensitized about the purpose of their work, they do respond positively. The turning at Chowpatty-Babulnath junction had a dead area where vehicles did not generally go over. A suggestion was made to build the footpath at that location. However, perhaps there was no budget for this work, MCGM did the next best—it continued the kerbside marking around the curve, thus psycologically making vehicle driver to avoid the dead space altogether. It is hoped that the footpath will be built there and make life safer to pedestrian.
Similarly, the footpath width was widened at Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, addressing pedestrian safety, parking and traffic flow. There are a few bus stops which have been very correctly been earthed and provided with secured electricity supply, but ofcourse, after the electocution, electicity supply to all bus stop shelters have been cut off.
(Sudhir Badami is a civil engineer and transportation analyst. He is on Government of Maharashtra’s Steering Committee on BRTS for Mumbai and Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority’s Technical Advisory Committee on BRTS for Mumbai. He is also member of Research & MIS Committee of Unified Mumbai Metropolitan Transport Authority. He was member of Bombay High Court appointed erstwhile Road Monitoring Committee (2006-07). While he has been an active campaigner against Noise for more than a decade, he is a strong believer in functioning democracy. He can be contacted on email at firstname.lastname@example.org)
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