The government seems to be busy trying to meet the needs of the very small section of our population, not realizing that the inaction is leading to a majority of people getting stressed up affecting their health
Fifty seven percent of Mumbai’s 125 lakh resident population lives within three kilometers of their place of work; 69% within five kilometers and 81% within 10 kilometers. 89% live within fifteen kilometers from their place of work and only 1% live beyond.
44% do not use any other mode of transport for their daily work commute—they walk. 3.1% use bicycles, 2.8% use personal motorcars and 8.5% use para-public transport such as auto-rickshaws and taxis. The rest use the suburban railway system and BEST (Bombay Electricity Supply and Transport Undertaking) buses.
These two statistics reveal a lot. But there is one more statistics that needs to be mentioned before embarking of the topic of this write-up. There are about 75 lakh people who travel by suburban railway system daily, nearly equal to the rest of Indian Railway system users. At peak period extended over three and a half hours in the morning and another three and a half hours in the evening, the crowd that travels in the tidal direction is about 360 thousand persons per hour while the capacity of the services is close to about 160 thousand per hour and will attain a capacity of 180 thousand per hour by 2014. During the off-peak period, the frequency of trains is reduced, but consequently the crowd density in the trains and on platforms does not reduce significantly. There are about 40 lakh bus commuters, three-fourths of who travel by the suburban railway.
With this as background, let us get on with the topic of this article—“creating stressful life for all”.
Practically everyone walks in Mumbai, even most of car users and motorized two-wheeler users—short and very short distances if not those three kilometers. There is no doubt that the Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai (MCGM) has improved footpath surface by providing good quality and aesthetics interlocking concrete paver blocks but at many places poor adherence to specifications in laying them have resulted in dangerously unevenness of the surface. Narrow footpaths have not only retained older physical encroachments but added new ones, compelling pedestrians to walk on the carriageways. Motorcars do get parked on the footpaths which is not at all safe or comfortable. Many places have garbage dumped on the footpaths and the stench and unhygienic conditions also gets a pedestrian go on the carriageway; the stench itself creates some degree of stress. There is this lurking fear that one may get hit by the motorcar or two-wheeler, good reason for stress to get built within without realizing it.
Waiting for a bus and boarding it is also stressful as the noise level on the roads are unbearable, fear of bus starting off before one has boarded the bus and then the noise level within the bus after boarding it. Crowd density in the bus is not comparable to the one in the suburban railway system but during peak period, it is still high and this also is a reason for creating stress.
Negotiating the crowd on staircases, foot over bridges (FOBs), platforms and the train plus the anxiety while boarding a train or alighting—the whole process is stressful.
With walking from the railway stations becoming an obstacle race, resorting to taking an auto-rickshaw or taxi has become a norm for people with spare incomes. Not getting a taxi or auto-rickshaw, especially when it rains which keeps roads wet and full of potholes is another reason for stress generation.
After reaching home, is there scope to de-stress? Far from it, as the noise levels from loudly playing TVs and sound systems gives no respite. The only time one can really de-stress is at night time as defined in the noise rule—10pm to 6am. The quietness does provide the necessary restful sleep to cope up with the onslaught of next day’s series of stresses. The residual stress accumulates resulting in ailments such as cardio-vascular as well as high blood pressure, opening up possibilities of stroke. Stresses also triggers off diabetes.
Airline pilots have a strict schedule of number of flying hours they can log per week. This is done so as to keep the pilots alert all through the flights. After all they do carry between 100 to 300 passengers and their lives cannot be put to risk due to physical fatigue of the pilot. There is also a co-pilot and one additional co-pilot for long-haul flights. The crew is also housed in five star hotels to enable them to get restful sleep in a noise-free environment. All this for persons who, in practice, are concentrating only during landings and takeoffs! Most other times, the plane is flying on auto-pilot.
On the other hand, the motorman of the suburban railway system is not only stressed up like any citizen of Mumbai for various reasons mentioned above, but has to be drive the train with full attention all the time, slowing down, speeding up at different locations as per locational requirements, stopping at stations and starting off every three to five minutes, keep attention on the tracks for any technical snag and possible track crossings by commuters lost in thoughts or in conversations on mobile phones or listening to music on earphones oblivious to the approaching trains. A motorman has barely three to five minutes before the return trip begins. This motorman carries about 3,500 persons and sometimes nearer 5,000 in the train he is driving. When repeatedly the motormen’s’ union ask for a co-motormen and also five-day working week and better amenities at terminuses, why is the Railways unable to respond positively? The amenities and breaks in work are after all to de-stress themselves and lower the risks to commuters, is it not? Does the management have to respond only when there is a flash strike by the motormen, causing hardship to 36 lakh commuters (only Western Railway motormen went on strike on Friday evening). Did not the motormen go on a similar strike two years ago for the same purpose?
Railways apart, what is government doing to lower the stress in the stressed up Mumbaikar? It must increase commuting capacity by 180 thousand persons per hour as early as possible. This is possible only by introducing a well designed BRTS (bus rapid transport system). It can give priority to public transport by buses and walkable footpaths at stations and stop this “share a rickshaw” or “share a taxi” system which only encourages road congestion without carrying number of commuters to their respective destinations. Anxiety of not getting the para-public transport will to that extent will reduce and thereby, stress due to that.
The government seems to be busy trying to meet the needs of the very small section of our population, perhaps not realizing that its inaction is leading to a majority of people getting stressed up affecting their health. Under Article 21 of Indian Constitution that is unacceptable.
(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). He is member of the committee constituted by the Bombay High Court for making the Railways, especially the suburban railways system friendly towards Persons with Disability (2011). 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 at [email protected].)
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