With the Centre extending the nationwide lockdown till 31 May, many states have begun re-opening cities, barring states like Maharashtra where the number of cases continuing to rise with more than 35,000 confirmed infections and more than 12,000 deaths.
In the fourth phase of lockdown, which began on Monday, the government has permitted states to decide on zones and which state borders are to be kept open with mutual consent. But the one equation that was clear with state chief ministers across India was that with the coronavirus pandemic still at large " crowded, packed " public transport in cities cannot run at full capacity.
Issuing fresh guidelines on Sunday, the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) allowed inter-state and intra-state movements of passenger vehicles and buses from areas other than the containment zones. However, the guidelines made it clear that bus services will be allowed with the mutual consent of states and Union Territories involved.
All necessary standard operating procedures which include social distancing, wearing of masks, availability of sanitiser need to be ensured.
"We need to learn how to live with corona," Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal said while addressing an online media briefing on Monday. "There cannot be a permanent lockdown. This two-month period was used to prepare our infrastructure for the disease. Now, it is time to focus on opening our economy."
Let us take a look at how some of the cities are re-opening their public transport under the new guidelines issued for lockdown 4.0.
In the National Capital, public transport barring Delhi Metro is operation from Monday. People boarding buses in the city will have to be screened first, Kejriwal said, adding that four-wheeler vehicles, including taxis, will be allowed with only two passengers.
Two-wheelers will be permitted but without pillion riders, the chief minister said.
Drivers of taxis, auto-rickshaws, and cabs will, however, have to disinfect the sitting area of passengers after every trip. Car-sharing and car-pooling will not be allowed by cab aggregators in the city, Kejriwal said.
In Kolkata, the ubiquitous yellow taxis are likely to be back in the city's streets from 18 May with a 30 percent hike in fares, Bengal Taxi Association (BTA) secretary Bimal Guha said told PTI last week.
He said that the association, in a meeting with senior West Bengal Transport (WBT) department officials on 14 May, proposed the 30 percent hike over meter readings at present rates.
Times of India reported that Monday was a test-run for the skeletal bus service on 15 routes by WBT, with 1,000 app cabs that are currently operational These buses will be plying in 15 routes at every half an hour from 7 am to 7 pm.
All these 15 routes have been designed to have touched upon all nodal points in the city with each bus carrying 20 passengers at a time, the report said.
The Telangana government on Monday announced relaxations in lockdown restrictions to a large extent with effect from Tuesday, while extending the general lockdown till 31 May.
Telangana State Road Transport Corporation (TSRTC) will operate buses across the state from Tuesday. However, city services will not be operated in Hyderabad and similarly, there will be no inter-state services. There will be no metro rail services in Hyderabad, reports Livemint.
Chief Minister K Chandrashekhar Rao announced after the state cabinet meeting that auto rickshaws and taxis can also ply across the state including in Hyderabad. Driver plus two passengers will be allowed in an auto-rickshaw while drivers plus three passengers will be permitted in a taxi.
Easing restrictions further as the COVID-19 induced lockdown entered the fourth phase, the Karnataka government on Monday allowed public transport services to operate from 19 May, except in containment zones.
Chief Minister BS Yediyurappa on Monday said that for the benefit of movement of people, all four state transport corporations (BMTC, KSRTC, NEKRTC, and NWKRTC) have been allowed to operate, except in containment zones, from Tuesday morning. He also said unless necessary, people from other states such as Maharashtra, Gujarat, Tamil Nadu, and Kerala will not be allowed to enter Karnataka.
Private buses have also been permitted to ply, he said, adding that only 30 people would be allowed to travel in a bus with the mandatory wearing of masks and maintaining physical distancing.
Amid apprehensions about bus fare hike due to losses faced by these transport corporations, the government has made it clear that the fares would not be increased and it would bear the losses. Inter-state transport of people would not be allowed, except in emergency cases, the chief minister said.
Autorickshaws and taxis were also given the green signal to ply, but only with three passengers, including the driver.
In maxi-cabs, the maximum number should be four passengers, including the driver. Trains can operate within the state, but there will be no inter-state services till 31 May.
The Centre had classified Guwahati as a green zone " with no cases in the past 14 days. But now Guwahati reported 22 cases in the last two days alone. As of Monday, seven more COVID19 positive cases were detected in Guwahati including the one died of the deadly virus. With the new cases, the number of total COVID19 positive cases in Assam has risen to 135.
But even before the MHA had issued new guidelines, Assam since the first week of May had eased restrictions.
City buses, intra-district, and inter-district buses started operating with 50 percent capacity, but they will not be allowed to ply in red and orange zones.
Bus conductors allowed a limited number of people to get in due to social distancing norms leading to crowding of the bus stops. Other public transports such as autorickshaws, cycle rickshaws, taxis, and cabs have started plying following the one driver-two passenger norm to ensure social distancing.
Only 50 percent of the total number of buses shall be allowed to operate and only under the authority of Assam State Transport Corporation (ASTC). All vehicles which are allowed to ply are not permitted to stop in the Containment and Buffer Zones.
Auto Rickshaws, cycle rickshaws, and taxis shall operate with one driver and two passengers maintaining social distancing. Meanwhile, private four-wheelers are allowed with a driver and two others. For two-wheelers, pillion riding is allowed either with one female or one child up to the age of 12 years.
The Kerala government on Monday decided to allow public transport in a restricted manner with an increased travel fare to compensate the shortage of passengers due to the implementation of social distancing norms in view of the COVID-19 pandemic. Transport Minister AK Saseendran said initially public transport will be allowed only for intra-district services but hotspots will be avoided.
"We will open the public transport system in a restricted manner. Initially, the bus services will be allowed within the district. Services will not operate to hotspots. There will be an increase in the minimum charge," the minister said. He also said that the services will be only as per the guidelines issued by the centre.
"With the present guidelines issued by the centre, we will assess the situation and decide upon the inter-district and inter-state services," he said.
The state transport minister also said Kerala preferred train services over inter-state bus services. "For inter-state, Kerala prefers trains over bus services. Few trains are better than around 250 buses," Saseendran said.
With inputs from agencies