Audit Conducted between 2nd November – 2nd December 2016 as directed by the Bombay High Court, by Collective for Spatial Alternatives (CSA) and Indian Center for Human Rights and Law (ICHRL). Click to download full report
Introduction: Accessibility and Barrier Free Built Environments
Mumbai’s Suburban Railway Network provides an affordable and efficient mode of transport to more than 7.5 million commuters daily, but suffers from severe overcrowding, unsafe conditions, and poor accessibility for persons with disabilities. In October 2016, the Bombay High Court directed the petitioners of a PIL (No. 27 of 2007) filed by the Indian Center for Human Rights and Law & Others to undertake an accessibility audit of all the Suburban Railway stations in Mumbai. It was undertaken by the Collective for Spatial Alternatives (CSA), an urban research and planning group, along with the Indian Center for Human Rights and Law (ICHRL).
The purpose of this audit is to identify all the obstacles and barriers to accessibility for persons with disabilities and senior citizens on the Suburban Railway network, in order to assist the Railway authorities in improving its facilities and services, and produce an environment that enable all people to access its transit infrastructure independently and on an equal basis.
The survey was conducted based on the guidelines prepared and published by the Ministry of Urban Development in 2016, called the Harmonised Guidelines and Space Standards on Barrier Free Built Environment for Persons With Disabilities and Elderly Persons, 2015 (HG2015) and the Railway Board guidelines for passenger amenities for persons with disabilities, 2013 (RBG2013).
The Findings in Brief:
The accessibility audit of the Mumbai Suburban Railway stations reveals a very low general level of compliance to the Ministry of Urban Development and Railway Board guidelines. The overall compliance level is 37.7% for all stations, and a slightly higher 39.4% for all the major stations. The Western Line (40.6%) fares better than the Central Line (38.6%) for all their stations overall, but the major stations of the Central Line (42.5%) do marginally better than the major stations of the Western Line (41.9%). The Harbour Line is well below the average at 33.8% overall compliance, with its major stations (32.8%) doing worse than the overall Harbour Line score.
Stations of the Island City and Suburbs fare similarly for all lines. The major stations of the Suburbs do better (44.6%) than those of the Island City (42.1%). While the stations of the Central Line in Mumbai’s Suburbs do better than others (47.5%), the Harbor Line stations in the MMR Region and beyond do most abysmally at 27.9%.
Of all the 122 stations, only 16 (or 13%) have achieved compliance of over 50%, however, none of them crosses the 60% mark. While 106 stations score less than 50% in compliance, 48 stations (or 40% stations) have compliance levels of less than 35%. Of all stations, Matunga Road, Dadar (Central) and Kanjurmarg do best comparatively with 57.8%, 57.7% and 57.6% respectively.
Most of the entrance areas are inaccessible for persons with disabilities. The quality of construction is extremely poor generally, with uneven surfaces, broken tiles, and improper details. Rarely does one find guiding paths from drop-off points to entrance areas, or ramps for ingress into the station buildings. Booking offices have shown some improvements due to construction of special counters for wheelchair users and visually impaired persons, but almost no station has trained personnel to assist persons with disabilities. No station has provided tactile schedules. Though some platforms have guiding paths and audio signals to assist persons with disabilities, in many cases the location of these were improper, making it difficult if not dangerous for commuters. Most platforms did not have toilets for persons with disabilities. Circulation features are often provided without a clear understanding of the needs of persons with disabilities and without an overall conception. Almost always, stairs have inconsistent tread and riser ratios, as no edge indicators. Ramps, where provided, have to steep a slope for a wheelchair user. In most stations toilets for persons with disabilities are absent, and wherever these are built, they are insufficient in number, and almost always locked.
Survey Approach and Grading Method:
The audit was devised based on two guidelines – the HG2015 and RBG2013. To identify the barriers and obstacles to accessibility, the survey methodology was developed based on the way commuters use the railway stations and its various services, as a set of spaces and features. Spaces are understood as well defined areas or areas that serve a broad function – such as approach & entrance, ticket purchase, horizontal movement, vertical movement, waiting, resting, administration, etc. By features we mean the set of properties, elements or objects that constitute, are contained within, or help transition through these spaces, such as counters, booths, stairs, paths, audio or visual signs, illumination, surfaces, etc. These spaces and features were then investigated for their presence / absence and accessibility in the form of 104 queries, that were recorded as graded responses. The findings were eventually assessed as compliance (percentage) with the above mentioned guidelines. The findings were also analysed and compared along the three lines – Western, Central and Harbor (including Trans-Harbour) – and along three regions – Island City, Mumbai Suburbs and the Metropolitan Region (MMR and Beyond). Here is an overview of the 8 Spaces and some of the Features surveyed, and some of the survey findings (for the detailed findings and analysis, download the full report here).
(1) Entrance Areas: which includes the approach to the buildings and their visibility. The features that were inspected were steps, ramps, handrails, signages and surface quality of the floor. Some findings:
(2) Ticketing Counters: include the booking offices, and were inspected for features such as accessible counters, interfaces, communication of schedules and prices, and illumination of the area. Some findings:
(3) Platforms: the most conspicuous space of every station, platforms are the one or many areas to board and alight trains, and were assessed for its various features such as guiding paths, safety indicators and elements, sound signals, directions, schedules and other signs, quality of floor surfaces, entry and exit points, toilets, etc. Some findings:
(4) Circulation: in this case is understood as the spaces that help commuters move horizontally in every station, and were inspected for sizes, obstructions, guiding paths, signs, surface quality, benches, etc. Some findings:
(5) Level Changes: are spaces that enable to move people vertically – using features such as stairs, ramps, lifts, etc. These were evaluated for safety, surface quality, communication, sizes, guides, etc. Some findings:
(6) Toilets: were be assessed for their suitability for persons with disabilities. Features such as signs, mirrors, handles, doors, grab bars, alarm systems, faucets, surfaces, etc. will be assessed for safety, communication, location, sizes, etc.:
(7) Waiting Areas / Offices / Eateries: consist of the spaces for administrative and service functions, and features such as counters, tables, seats, audio and visual aids, etc. were inspected:
(8) Parking / Drop Off Areas: were evaluated for adequacy in terms of number of parking spaces for persons with disabilities, visual indicators, seamless approaches and distances:
Special care was taken to understand the constraints within which the Railways operate while formulating the survey. Through various affidavits, the Railways has expressed its difficulty in implementing accessibility guidelines due to congestion, heavy flow of passengers and space constraints. It is with an understanding of these constraints that the questions have been framed. For instance, since ramps may not be possible due to limited space on some stations except with considerable expense and restructuring, the survey accepts accessible lifts as an alternative. Similarly, it may quite difficult for the Railways to provide parking spaces on some stations, hence the survey assumes well designed drop off points and approach areas as an acceptable substitute. However, none of these constraints can be considered too severe to prevent the Railways from finding any solutions to make spaces or features accessible.