Local trains have reopened for Mumbaikars after a gap of over 10 months. But the decision hasn't brought much joy to the residents as they are still not allowed to travel during peak hours. While the government has said it expects offices to stagger their timings to suit local trains' schedule, many office-goers are in a state of flux, wondering how long they will have to wait for such a decision. Meanwhile, the traffic on the streets hasn't eased as people from far away suburbs are forced to take the road route to reach work destinations.
From February 1, the Maharashtra Vikas Aghadi government resumed local trains for all Mumbaikars. But they will not be allowed to travel in peak hours between 7 am to 12 noon, and between 4 pm to 9 pm. Only those serving in essential services, are allowed to travel in peak hours. Meanwhile, the Central Railways and Western Railways have restored 95 per cent services to cater to the additional load.
On the first day of the service being opened, chaotic scenes were witnessed outside several prominent railway stations.
"People are not at all happy. There were serpentine queues throughout the day. During the peak hours, I could issue tickets to only those who had valid identity cards. The others had to be turned away. People are so upset. Many people cursed me. What can I do? Even I am helpless. Very few people understand. Locals should open for all the Mumbaikars now. This will be painful to handle," a ticket vendor at Mumbai's Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Terminus said.
He said the footfall had already increased during the non-peak hours.
"How will office goers travel? This is very inconvenient. Office timings continue to remain the same. But government says we can't travel in peak times. How can we wait till 9 pm after every day? The government should think about it," said an office-goer, who had been denied return ticket at CSMT.
"There is no use of this opening up," said Ishwar Namugade, a streetside vendor from Dadar. For the last 40 years, he has been selling small decoration items at the Dadar footpath, outside the railway station. "When the trains were closed for us, it was nothing but exploitation. Rickshaws, taxis overcharged us. We paid exorbitant price for transporting goods. Firstly, this is Corona period. There is no business. People don’t leave homes, they don’t buy much. On top of it, we can’t even procure goods without being exploited. We are all having a bad time," he said.
When asked about how he conducted business during lockdown, he said survival was difficult. Now that trains have opened, does he feel it will be better?
"Of what use is the resumption of trains? Someone leaves for work at 6 am or 7 am, they will be caught by the TC. They won’t be allowed to travel after 7 am. For us, shops open at 11 am. I have to travel to Masjid bunder to get my goods. Even if I travel after 12 noon, how will I return before 4 pm? Does it mean I will have to sit till 9 pm so I can travel back?" he asked.
Maharashtra Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray had last week announced the opening of local trains for general public. But he had also requested private establishments to stagger the timings of their offices to make sure that the load of peak hour does not fall on the local trains. “It is important to maintain social distance and to practise precautions to save ourselves from Covid,” he had announced. But since work hours continue to remain unchanged, heavy traffic on streets continues to be a routine feature in Mumbai.
"This is not going to change till we are allowed to travel in locals without any restrictions," Namugade said.