Friday, January 21, 2011

Once accessible Metro stations in New Delhi, India fall into disrepair

From The Hindu:

Broken ramps, congestion caused by cars, lack of proper signages and irresponsible digging by civic agencies outside various Delhi Metro stations is making it difficult for physically challenged passengers to use the metro. While some of these problems have been there from the beginning, most have cropped up of late.

“When the Delhi Metro operations began in West Delhi, it was a dream come true for people like me. The new and well-maintained structure made it easy to travel across the city,’’ recalled Ankur Dhir, a resident of Paschim Vihar, who owns a stationery shop in Karampura.

A motorised wheelchair user, suffering from muscular dystrophy, Ankur is no longer able to travel on his own by the metro system. "Now I find it extremely hard to travel by the metro and prefer private transport instead," he said.

Ruling out the maintenance of the stations as a possible deterrent he reveals accessing the stations has become a a major problem.

"At many stations like Kirti Nagar, the ramps leading to the premises are broken and it is not easy to drive one’s wheelchair in. Then at stations like Rajiv Chowk, one finds cars blocking the exits. While people on foot are able to negotiate their way through, I have often got stuck there with my wheelchair," explained Ankur.

Another wheel-chair user Neeru Gautam, who is also associated with the Sahyogi caregiver scheme of National Trust under the Union Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment, concurs that it is becoming increasingly difficult for the physically challenged to access the Delhi Metro system.

"Outside Ramesh Nagar station you will find the road all dug up and without an assistant it is impossible for a wheelchair user to enter the station. Similarly, the lifts are available only on one side of the main road at various metro stations and there are no indications to tell which side it would be. At Shadipur station, in the absence of parking near the lift, one has to cross the main road and move along the wrong side to reach it," she said.

Grateful to the Delhi Metro to have allowed many physically challenged an opportunity to venture out on their own, Neeru insists proper signages indicating the presence of the lifts and deployment of security staff at secluded spots is needed to make the physically challenged, especially women, feel safe. "At the Akshardham metro station the lift opens into a secluded area, where there are no signages or volunteers to guide you," she pointed out.

While the metro has enabled her to travel all the way to Noida Sector 18 for visiting the malls there, she says the lift there opens into a very congested area and cannot be located easily.

"We do not want to run down the Delhi Metro as it has empowered us to travel far and wide. I even provide information via Facebook to other wheel-chair users on places that can be accessed through the metro. But there are some faults with the system now which need to the addressed urgently," she said.

Anjlee Agarwal, executive director of Samarthyam National Centre for Accessible Environments, who had been part of the access audit of several metro lines, said the DMRC has done a lot to create a barrier-free environment in Delhi. "Most of the access audits are done prior to the commissioning of the lines. We also need to do regular audits during the operational phase and need to pay adequate attention to the maintenance to preserve the environment that has been created."