City Buzz: A bus strike, cycling plans and…flying rickshaws!

What's happening in our cities? If you've missed some of the key plots in the urbanisation narrative in India over the last week, here's a chance to catch up.

Chennai bus strike

It was a week of helplessness and frustration for regular commuters in Chennai as a section of transport workers’ unions went on indefinite strike, demanding a revision in wages and settlement of other benefits that they are entitled to.

The workers refused to resume work even after an order from the Madras High Court, and several rounds of talks with the State Transport Department failed.

Transport workers are demanding salaries on par with drivers in other state government corporations. The unions want a 2.57 per cent hike but the government is willing to increase salaries only by 2.44 per cent.

Source: NDTV

Many workers shared the dire straits they were in after being deprived of their rightful dues for years.

“I have been paying Rs 6,000 a month towards interest for the past 26 months,  (totally about Rs 1.44 lakh) for borrowing Rs 1.85 lakh from a  private money lender for my daughter’s marriage in 2014. I had to take that loan because I was denied the loan based on my PF account by nationalised banks. The transport workers’ cooperative society also denied loan because the government was not depositing the money deducted from the workers’ salary for last six years,” said P Subramaniyan, who works as an MTC bus conductor at the Ayanavaram depot.

Source: The New Indian Express

Meanwhile, Citizen Matters Chennai reported on the precarious fiscal position of the state transport department, which is making it impossible for them to meet MTC workers’ demands, even as the state goes on announcing grandiose schemes. Based on an affidavit sourced from the department, it was reported that they have suffered a whopping loss of Rs 2981.57 crores in 2016-17 alone.

Taking advantage of the situation, private operators sought to operate semi-deluxe and luxury buses, but the premium fares charged put many commuters off.  In this time of stress for regular commuters, it was suburban railways that saved the day.

Over 6.2 lakh additional passengers, especially office-goers and students, had used suburban rail services in the last five days.The number keeps increasing every day, even as striking government transport employees have stuck to their demand of higher wage revision. The additional traffic had resulted in extra income of nearly ₹50 lakh for the Southern Railway (SR), according to sources.

Source: The Hindu BusinessLine

In the latest, it has been reported that the state government has allocated ₹750 crore towards benefits for transport department employees, who have retired on or before November 30, 2017. This however brings no guarantee of a resolution.

Fire safety breaches

Not all have received the same amount of media focus as the fire at 1Above in the Kamala Mills compound, but repeated outbreaks — from suburban Mumbai to upmarket Gurgaon — underline the need for a steady, sustained dialogue on fire safety in urban India.

Mumbai has had an almost unbelievably disastrous week. Shortly after the 1Above pub fire, four people were killed at a fire in a residential building Maimoon Manzil in Mumbai’s Marol area. Then a massive fire at Cinevista studio claimed the life of sound recordist Gopi Verma. Thankfully, there were no casualties reported from the fire that broke out at the sessions court building in south Mumbai’s Fort.

Five employees of the Kailash Bar and Restaurant were killed when a fire broke out at the bar in Bengaluru’s Kalasipalya market area in the middle of the night.

Incidents of fire of varying intensity were reported from cities far and wide — Vadodara, Kolkata and Gurgaon.

Meanwhile, the owners of the 1Above pub who had been reportedly untraceable since the tragedy were nabbed by the police when they went to meet their lawyer.

Mobility initiatives in Pune

The focus on sustainable mobility and pedestrianisation is slowly but surely gaining currency in the country. In Pune, the municipal corporation has initiated a number of projects to provide wider footpaths, cycle tracks and walkways, according to this report.

After launching the work of redesigning the Jungli Maharaj (JM) road as per the guidelines of the Urban Street Design, the civic administration plans to replicate the model in other areas. The redesign plan includes providing facilities like benches, cycle tracks and landscaped areas, besides widening the road from Jungli Maharaj Mandir to Deccan Gymkhana bus stop.

Source: Hindustan Times

Meanwhile, Ofo, the mobile bike-sharing mobile, has announced the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the Pune Municipal Corporation (PMC) to support the Pune Cycle Plan, as part of which the civic body wants to put in place the necessary infrastructure for a city-wide cycling network.

A press release shared by Ofo says mobility has been an issue in Pune and hasn’t kept pace with the city’s growth. With this partnership, Ofo aims to provide a healthier, quicker, and greener alternative to motor vehicles. “Our station-free bike-sharing concept has improved the transportation in cities across the world. Our mission is to solve the ‘last mile’ transportation problem in India’s urban areas, and we see immense potential in Pune for Ofo’s convenient, affordable and low carbon way of travel,” says Rajarshi Sahai, Director of Public Policy and Communications at Ofo.


Good news for Delhi commuters

The capital is set to get a new fleet of 1000 cluster buses according to the Deputy Chief Minister Manish Sisodia. The government has also launched a common card for rides on public buses and the metro which will be operational from April 1. The card can be used like a debit card for all DTC and cluster buses, as well as the Metro.

Umm…flying rickshaws too?

Well, you read it right. That is what Minister of state (MoS) for civil aviation Jayant Sinha said his ministry was exploring, as he addressed corporate giants at City Data for India Conclave 2018 organised jointly by Tata Steel and CII in Jamshedpur.

Minister of state (MoS) for civil aviation Jayant Sinha said on Tuesday his ministry was exploring the possibility of ‘air rickshaws’ based on drone technology for easy transportation service…Sinha said a recent survey revealed that the cost of travelling by air was almost same as the cost of travelling by auto rickshaws. “To cover one kilometre distance by an auto, city residents pay only around Rs 4. This was nearly the same amount one pays to travel one kilometre by air, the flight ticket amount is high as several thousand kilometers are being covered during one journey,” he added. Sinha did not give a time frame by which air rickshaws could become a reality. 

Source: Hindustan Times

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