Namma Metro is not designed for inclusivity

Making station entries accessible, having special amenities for different groups - Namma Metro has to do a lot more to make it inclusive for all.

As station after station is built along the nearly 119 kilometres of Namma Metro under Phase 2, it is crucial to review the design of the existing infrastructure and analyse it through the lens of inclusivity and accessibility. 

Any city comprises a diverse group of people with varying needs, and all public infrastructure must cater to different user groups such as persons with disabilities(PwD), trans persons, the elderly, parents with young children, etc. 

The Metro Rail policy 2017, a central level policy that has to be adhered to at the state level, lays down guidelines requiring Metro infrastructure to ensure last mile connectivity. This policy draws focus on developing last mile connectivity and pedestrian friendly infrastructure in the five kilometre radius surrounding metro stations. 

The Harmonised guidelines and standards for universal accessibility in India, developed by the Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs, sets the standards for the design of inclusive, universal, non-discriminatory built environments for all groups in the Indian context. 

Indian Road Congress IRC:103-2012 provides guidelines on providing safe standards for pedestrian-oriented and universally accessible design of facilities on roadsides and at road crossings. Despite the existence of such strong statutes and codes pertaining to design of metro transits, there is a serious lack of adherence to the norms. However, much can be improved by simple, small, and evidence-based design thinking to provide a huge leap in convenience for the city’s residents.

Multi modal integration

Bengaluru, with its radial urban plan, cannot rely only on Namma Metro for  public transport. A good system must integrate both the BMTC bus and metro rail to efficiently connect all the nooks and corners of the city. Without this crucial multi-modal design, the entire transit system will remain underutilised and serve only a few pockets of Bengaluru. 

Read more: Metro stations can be key to seamless connectivity in Bengaluru, here’s how

Although bus facilities are within walking distance of most stations, there is no safe and dedicated pathway leading to the bus stops. Seamless connections and a single payment card for all modes will go a long way in ensuring multi modal integration. Commuters must be able to plan their travel in advance and have access to best routes, reliable arrival timings of transport, etc. 

A pre-paid auto system to ensure just fares must be made available at metro exits. Namma Metro has a feeder bus system operating, but these buses travel in the same route as the metro line, which is parallel to it. Feeder buses must operate radially or perpendicular to Namma Metro routes to connect non-serviced areas within a distance of five to eight kilometres from stations. 

Scene outside the Baiyappanahalli Metro Station
Metro stations can be ideal for transport integration, when they have vehicle parking facility and auto/bus stops nearby. Pic: Ekta Sawant

Focus on non-motorised transport around Metro stations

It is critical for the success of any public transport system that emission free travel options, such as walking and cycling are promoted. The status of pedestrian facilities in the vicinity of metro stations is dismal, barring a few stations like KR Market and Vidhana Soudha. The width of the footpaths are  too narrow, sometimes broken, and even non-existent. Footpath design has not been considered with shaded areas, landscaping, and seating to provide a good experience for walkers.

Safety of commuters can be achieved through footpaths that are not deserted and safe due to the presence of street vendors and other activities. This can be achieved through street activities, vending zones, and other stalls. Many footpaths are deserted and pose a threat to women users especially in the evening hours. 

With its pleasant climate, Bengalureans can easily use cycling as a first and last mile connectivity. To this end, Namma Metro can provide bicycle rental points, safe parking at all stations, as well as  consider allowing bicycles in certain coaches of the metro train. Currently, Namma Metro permits foldable bicycles in trains, but these are not commonplace, and excludes a large percentage of the city’s riders. 

Read more: Better mobility design can encourage the use of public transport, cycling and walking

Vehicular parking 

Poor last mile connectivity creates a situation where residents depend heavily on private vehicles to reach metro stations. However, here arises the issue of the lack of parking spaces at stations. Major stations such as MG Road, Lalbagh, and Majestic do not have parking spaces at all. 

Stations along Lakshman Rao Park, such as Jayanagar, South End circle, have minimal parking and are available only for two wheelers. Many stations do not have parking for four wheelers. Parking facilities for cycles and dedicated parking for adapted two wheelers are not available across stations. 

Amenities at  stations

Toilets and drinking water points are found in all stations. However, in most of the stations built in phase 1, passengers have to walk into interior parts of the station to access toilets as the station toilets were initially only designed for staff and later opened to passengers. Baiyappanahalli metro station and MG road station are especially unsafe and need renovation of the restroom approach. A few other amenities like wi-fi, telephone booths, locker facilities (in specific stations, such as Majestic), and refreshment facilities would be useful.

Safety measures

Some key safety concerns in stations were the lack of screen doors at platform edge, slippery flooring in stations, and absence of panic buttons. During peak hours, there is a danger of overcrowding and pushing near the platform edges into the open tracks. The open tracks are perceived as a danger for visually impaired persons, especially since there is no warning to indicate the edge of the platforms.

The polished granite flooring at Metro stations are a threat to commuters rushing to catch the trains, particularly the elderly, and persons using crutches. There have been instances reported of passengers slipping and injuring themselves, which can be solved by a simple process of roughening the stone in existing stations, or using rough granite in new station design.

Namma Metro must also provide some basic women safety features, such as help desks, panic buttons, and a complaint-cum-grievance redressal cell at each station. Another overlooked area is the safety of the surrounding environment and last mile connectivity options for women passengers travelling during  late hours

Special attention to persons with disabilities(PwD) and the elderly

One of the basic needs for PwD is access to a barrier-free route from entry to platforms that can be accessed easily using a wheelchair. Such a route is not available in many Metro stations. The gap between platforms and trains is also a concern for persons using crutches and could be reduced by use of extendable ramps at pre-designated doors.

Some of the simple changes that can be incorporated in both existing and new stations is to create a levelled parking lot, priority queuing at all the facilities, and lowered height ticketing counters  to assist wheelchair users. For instance, the parking area in Banashankari and Vajarahalli stations are  unpaved and cannot be navigated by wheelchair at all. Certain routes in stations, such as Lalbagh Metro station and RV road metro station, are not connected by escalators in both directions, making it inconvenient for passengers.

Needs of persons with sensory impairment

Design standards in India mandate that information must be provided according to the principle of two senses, which are  audible/tactile information for people with vision impairments, and visual information for people with hearing impairments. None of the signs follow these principles and are not inclusive. Namma metro must make use of audio visual representation of emergency procedures etc. to catch the attention of the passengers who are rushing through the transit.

Although Namma Metro is providing tactile flooring indicators in all stations, evidence suggests that persons in this group rely heavily on audio and braille signages for navigation, both of which are largely absent in the entire metro infrastructure. Tactile maps printed on paper can be made available to visually impaired commuters at all entrances so that they can consult them and familiarise themselves with the layout of the metro station.

Audio guidance throughout the station, indicating the important processes and procedures, would be useful. Ticket vending machines often remain inaccessible to visually impaired people, to people who are illiterate or do not speak the local language, or even to those with an intellectual disability. Thus, interfaces such as text-to-speech should be designed with all of these restrictions in mind. 

Inclusivity for other groups

Certain other groups such as pregnant women, nursing mothers, persons with speech or auditory impairment have special needs. As pregnancy is not visible in the initial trimesters, some women may find it awkward to ask for a seat. International metro systems offer facilities for pregnant women, persons with hidden disabilities with the option of the “I need a seat” badge. Similarly, nursing mothers and parents of young children require a place to nurse the child, change diapers, clothes etc. in metro stations. Such facilities are lacking across Namma Metro. At least one person trained in sign language has to be available in each station, coupled with continuous announcements in sign language on LED screens.

World over, cities are revamping and retrofitting their infrastructure to ensure inclusivity and accessibility. It is important for Namma Metro also to invest in inclusive infrastructure, both by retrofitting existing ones and learning the lessons for inclusivity before sanctioning construction of new station designs.

Note: The original version of the article has been replaced by an updated one, with inconsistencies and non-validated findings removed.

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