Metro Railway has snatched from commuters with blindness or impaired vision their only guide to a safe entry and exit from stations.
The strips of yellow tactile tiles that were laid inside Metro stations two years ago to help the visually impaired find their way have been encroached on at several places.
Metro found a kiosk here, an X-ray machine there or a barricade somewhere blocking the sequence of tactile pathways at several stations. Worse, there is nobody to guide any commuter who follows the tiles and hits a dead end.
Kalighat station appears to be the worst offender with the maximum number of obstructions along the strip leading from the entrance to the token counters.
Just before Durga Puja, a passenger assistance kiosk came up right on the strip near the staircase. Four days after Puja got over, the empty kiosk continues to hog space that rightfully belongs to commuters with special needs.
A few feet ahead, an X-ray machine obstructs the pathway. Once past the flap gates, the queue manager meant to streamline the arriving passengers runs right across the strip, once again blocking the path.
According to an estimate by the National Association for the Blind, Calcutta and its suburbs have over 2 lakh people with complete or partial visual impairment, a large percentage of whom rely on public transport.
“It is unfortunate that a good initiative by Metro Railway has been wasted. It is not enough to have these strips. Personnel should be trained about the importance of these tiles,” said Kanchan Gaba, secretary of the National Association for the Blind.
In a city that has few facilities for people with special needs, the initiative to make commuting more convenient for those with blindness or impaired vision was the first such step in the transport sector. Introduced in August 2010, tactile tiles first came up at four stations on the old route — MG Road, Chandni Chowk, Park Street and Maidan. The other stations got them in 2011, though not all of them have tactile pathways beyond the platforms.
The tiles with protrusions can be felt with a walking stick or one’s foot. They are painted bright yellow — a universal standard — to enable those with partial vision to spot the tiles.
While tiles exist along the platforms at all 25 Metro stations, only six stations have them at the level of the ticket counters. Of those six, four — Kalighat, Park Street, Central and Dum Dum — are guilty of obstructing the path.
While queue managers have been placed on top of the tiles at Dum Dum, a pedestal fan blocks the path at Central. Park Street, like Kalighat, has its baggage X-ray machine right on the strip in addition to a metal barricade.
“We conducted several workshops to create awareness about the pathway. However, we have received several complaints about the ineffectiveness of the tiles and the unwillingness of the staff to co-operate,” Gaba said.
There have also been complaints about announcements within the trains. “The announcement before a train arrives at a station is often late and sometimes skipped, which creates confusion among those of us who depend on it,” said a visually impaired commuter who often takes trains from Tollygunge station.
Rabi Mahapatra, chief spokesperson for Metro Railway, said: “We will survey all stations and make sure the encroachments along the tactile tiles are removed at the earliest.”