Metro travel may appear short, but there are instances where they turn into longer commutes.
Toilets at Metros are clearly needed, but charging or not for their use is a decision to be made case by case.
Recently, the Delhi Metro Rail Corporation (DMRC) filed an affidavit with the High Court of Delhi stating that all metro stations had drinking water and public toilets available, but at a nominal fee. They also added that if a person was unable to pay, then all they had to do was to approach the staff.
This brings us to an important question: Should Metro stations have public toilets or not and should passengers be charged to use them?
When the Namma Metro in Bengaluru started commercial operations in 2011, none of the eight stations had public toilets. Officials of the Bangalore Metro Rail Corporation Limited (BMRCL) argued that toilets were not required as Metro services were short haul trips. It wasn’t until 2013 when the corporation relented, after immense public demand and the intervention of the Karnataka State Human Rights Commission (KSHRC), and separated half of its staff toilet into a paid toilet for passengers to use. Chennai Metro Rail Limited (CMRL) too started charging passengers to use the toilets since they were located in the non-paid areas of the stations. DMRC has installed toilets at stations only in 2007 following a High Court order. Mumbai’s Metro on the other hand has had free toilets right from the start at all stations.
Between the time that Namma Metro’s first section was thrown open and toilets installed, no new stations on the system were set up. Both the operational lines are currently being extended while two new lines are under construction. While toilets are now available at all operational stations, would the BMRCL have been able to make such a justification after the new lines became operational had they not installed toilets earlier?
While officials may be correct in their assumption that metro rides are – relatively – short, what matters is the overall journey. A person may be travelling a long way before they board a train. It is not uncommon to see passengers of Bengaluru-bound buses from Mumbai board the Metro from the Nagasandra terminal to avoid city traffic.
As more lines open and the network expands, travel times increase for those making longer commutes. Further, many a commuter might be travelling additional distances to reach the metro station. For example, it takes an average of 90 minutes to travel from Dwarka Sector 21 to Noida City Centre on the Delhi Metro – a single journey with no changing of trains required. If a user has to change to another line and go further, the journey becomes longer.
Lack of public toilets on transit networks may force people to use public spaces. A 2015 report in the Wall Street Journal said that India has the world’s longest waiting times for people to use the toilet. Therefore, it is crucial especially due to the distance that metro stations are equipped with toilets.
Now, for the second half of the question: Should toilet use be charged?
Managing public toilets in India is a herculean task, mainly due to the sheer volume of people who use it. This makes maintenance a rather expensive affair.
While there are opposing views on charges for public toilets including arguments that it would dissuade people from using them to arguments that claim that it violates human rights, the general assumption is that a chargeable commodity would see users take better care of it. At the same time, a chargeable service would also be able to recover the costs of maintenance.
While Delhi charges Rs 2 and Rs 5, Bengaluru charges Rs 10 to use the facilities on its premises. Mumbai on the other hand does not charge users. However, it must be noted that the 11 km-long Mumbai Metro, with 400,000 passengers per day has managed to capitalise on the station’s real estate well. The Mumbai Metro One Private Limited (MMOPL) has gone the extra mile by leasing out space on the concourse level to many a food joint, along with advertisements on trains, platforms, stations, and the pillars below on the road, thus giving them a major non-fare revenue boost that allows the organisation to keep the station clean. Further, with the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) deciding in February to make all its public toilets free-to-use, it makes little sense for the Metro to charge users. The BMC, while it has allocated Rs 10 crore in its 2018-19 budget to maintain these toilets, is looking at additional means including advertisements to raise revenues for their maintenance.
If Metro operators are able to make additional revenue through non-fare means, then it makes sense to have free-to-use toilets rather than charging for their use. This will certainly ensure that people do not use public spaces to do so. However, the question remains one that can only be answered on a case-by-case basis.