Commuting by public transport in Chennai brings with it concerns around safety. We come across news reports about the unruly behaviour of youth in MRTS trains and MTC buses. Issues ranging from harassment to scuffles break out on public transport and the average commuter finds themselves in the crosshairs.
There have been calls to strengthen safety in public transport, especially in buses, bus stops and the MRTS trains and MRTS stations. Sadly, not much headway has been made in this regard even after many years.
Safety in MRTS stations and trains in Chennai
Over the last few months, we the members of Community Welfare Brigade – a civic platform – have lodged several petitions regarding issues faced by commuters due to the unruly and unsafe behaviour of fellow passengers in the MRTS trains and stations.
On May 3rd, a group of us travelled on an MRTS train from Chennai Park Town to Tirumayilai. Four youths boarded the train at Thiruvallikeni station and immediately began skating on the platform and performing risky moves such as hanging off the doors and windows.
They continued to move between train compartments from the outside even as the train was in motion. In doing so, they were risking their lives and causing unnecessary stress to fellow commuters.
We chose to take some photographs and videos and lodged a complaint with the Station Master at Tirumailai Railway Station. The Station Master was kind enough to record our grievances and promised to escalate the same to his higher officials. He suggested that we meet the Railway Protection Force (RPF) authorities who are empowered to take corrective action.
During this time there was not a single RPF official on any of the platforms. We approached the officials at the RPF Police Station in Tirumailai Railway Station. We sought the help of the officer on duty in taking corrective action against the unruly youth.
Unfortunately, we were informed that there was little the RPF could do against such behaviour as the officials did not want to face any public ire due to taking action against juveniles.
Speaking to a senior official also yielded the same response. We merely wanted the officials to have a stern word with the youth in order to dissuade such behaviour in the future.
In order to keep the matter alive, we escalated the issue to Southern Railways through Twitter. Subsequently, I received a call from an officer from the RPF Control Room. He promised to speak to the officials at the Tirumailai Station and address the issue of unruly passengers on MRTS trains.
Safety in MTC buses in Chennai
Safety in MTC buses too has been called into question. Women have been subject to harassment and unwanted advances in crowded buses and catcalled while waiting at bus stops.
Infamous college gang wars also break out in some of the routes of the MTC with young men wielding weapons taking to travelling by buses in broad daylight.
Police Officials both from Law and Order and Traffic choose to remain silent spectators unless the issue is raked up by some good samaritan and escalated through the media.
Various media reports about the phenomenon of Route Thalai and the daily experience of many commuters are evidence that travelling by buses can turn out to be dangerous due to the behaviour of fellow passengers.
MTC has now made the move to introduce panic buttons in buses. Our hope is that with some way to escalate the issue, such incidents can be brought under control and travel by public transport made safer.
Improving safety parameters in public transport
Visible police presence in railway stations can help act as a deterrent to anti-social behaviour. Prominent displays announcing how commuters can address grievances or raise an alarm in case of emergencies are essential.
Similarly, ensuring CCTV cameras are operational across railway platforms and large bus stands can help identify any illegal or dangerous activities and take immediate action. Manpower must be spared to closely monitor the feeds and come to the aid of commuters in need.
Unfortunately, the absence of visible policing has led to a rise in instances of vandalism and other criminal activities in bus stops and railway stations. The enforcement authorities also end up having to devote their time to facilitating the movement of VIPs in the city, taking away from their time to address the grievances of commuters.
With governments reducing the funding provided to the enforcement agencies and demanding them to do “more with less” the agencies are unable to meet the increasing citizen expectations or handle the crime threats effectively. The powers that be must understand the importance of public safety and prioritise funding patterns accordingly. There is a need to improve patrolling around public transport in the city.
Contributions from commuters and the use of CSR may also be considered. Commuters may be willing to contribute a small one-time fee as long as they are assured of better services in the long term.
Commuters must be sensitised on how they can step up and diffuse conflicts or call for aid for fellow commuters when public safety is under threat. Special digital channels may be created to communicate with enforcement agencies regarding emergencies related to public transport.
The provision of on-body cameras and smartphones to enforcement officials on the ground can ensure the safety of others as well as officers performing their duty.
Modernisation of transport infrastructure can also help in reducing threats to public safety. Token systems, automatic doors, better lighting and other facilities can help ensure that public transport can remain accessible and safe for all.
Information for commuters:
Greater Chennai Police Helpline – 100
Greater Chennai Traffic Police Helpline – 103
Railway Protection Force (RPF) Helpline – 1322
Women Helpline – 1091
Childline – 1098
Railway Police Helpline – 1512
To report anti-social behaviour digitally:
Greater Chennai Police:
WhatsApp Number – 7997700100
Twitter – @chennaipolice_
Greater Chennai Traffic Police:
WhatsApp Number – 9003130103
Twitter – @ChennaiTraffic
Railway Protection Force:
WhatsApp Number – 9003161710
Twitter – @rpfsrmas