Metro Railway stuck to the holiday script of running skeletal services on Tuesday instead of rising to the responsibility of a transport lifeline, leaving lakhs of people out for Puja shopping to travel like cattle.
Trains ran at intervals of 15 and 10 minutes on Gandhi Jayanti, a schedule Metro Railway follows on national holidays when the flow of commuters is usually less than normal.
What surprised — and disappointed — regular commuters on Tuesday was their otherwise reliable Metro’s failure to anticipate a holiday rush because of Puja being less than three weeks away.
“We ran 134 trains, which is the norm on a national holiday,” a senior official said.
Ankita Mookherjee boarded one of those at Sovabazar station around noon and feared she would suffocate before reaching Esplanade for some shopping. “A small girl standing near me started crying, saying she could not breathe. Her father requested fellow passengers to give his daughter some space but we were hardly able to move a leg, it was so crowded inside,” she recounted.
According to available data, more people availed themselves of the Metro on Tuesday than the average number of commuters boarding the same number of trains on a weekday.
On an average, around six lakh people travel by 270 trains on a weekday. Tuesday saw four lakh people crammed into half that number of trains.
“Till 8pm, the Metro ferried 3.66 lakh people. We expect the day’s figure to be four lakh,” said Protyush Ghosh, deputy general manager (general) of Metro Railway.
Trains ran at intervals of 15 minutes between 7am and 5pm and between 8 and 10pm. In the three hours in between — 5 to 8pm — Metro services were available at intervals of 10 minutes.
Platforms in most stations were teeming with passengers for most of the day but Metro Railway remained in snooze mode, refusing to alter its schedule despite the rush increasing every hour.
“A public transport system, especially a lifeline like Metro Railway, is meant to be of service to people when they need it the most. What is the point of running a skeletal service on a day when everyone at Metro Bhavan would have known that hordes of people would be out Puja shopping?” demanded Anubrata Roy, a resident of Tollygunge.
The train Roy took from Rabindra Sadan to return home came almost five minutes behind schedule. “At every station, the doors would close after three or four attempts because people were struggling to get in,” he recounted.
Metro Railway’s reluctance to adapt to commuter needs means there will be no respite on any of the holidays before Puja. There are two holidays — October 14 (Sunday) and 15 (Mahalaya) — in the run-up to Puja.
“We run 78 trains on Sundays at an intervals of 15 minutes each,” said an official.
The Metro authorities have yet to decide whether to follow a holiday or a weekday schedule on Mahalaya. “We might increase the number of trains, depending on an estimate of commuters,” the official said.
The rush could get worse on Panchami and Sashthi, when Metro Railway usually does not run extra trains. Panchami, October 19, is a Friday, when trains will run till 10pm.
Commuter trends over the last few years indicate that people nowadays start visiting pandals from Panchami, which has already prompted Calcutta Police to deploy extra cops on the roads from that day.
“Our Puja deployment will begin on Panchami this year as well. The plan until last year was to deploy extra police personnel from Sashthi onwards,” said a senior police officer at Lalbazar. “Last year, we were not prepared for a crowd surge on Panchami and traffic was paralysed,” he admitted.
Metro Railway’s Puja schedule kicks in on Saptami, which means Sashthi (October 20) will see not more than 205 trains, as is the norm on a Saturday.
But deputy general manager Ghosh held out hope for the harried commuter. “We are contemplating running 270 trains on Sashthi,” he said Protyush Ghosh.
Metro Railway will run trains through the night on Saptami, Ashtami and Navami.