Activists are worried that people with disabilities (PwD) won’t be able to board the first batch of 3,600 electric buses, which are a part of the massive PM eBus Sewa programme that aims to install 10,000 electric buses in various cities. According to reports from The Indian Express, the campaigners have urged the government to rethink its choice to purchase normal floor buses rather than low-floor buses.
PM eBus Sewa
The Union Cabinet authorised the PM eBus Sewa programme in August with the goal of deploying 10,000 electric buses around various cities. On November 17, the Union Housing and Urban Affairs Ministry launched the first tender under the scheme for 3,600 electric buses in cooperation with Convergence Energy Services Ltd (CESL), the organisation in charge of the process. Buses for cities in states including Bihar, Gujarat, Haryana, Jammu & Kashmir, Maharashtra, Meghalaya, Odisha, Puducherry, Punjab, and Chandigarh are needed, according to the tender, which is open until December 14.
When the tender was still in draught form on October 26, the Freedom of Movement Coalition (FMC), which is made up of activists and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) that are committed to accessibility, first voiced their concerns to Housing and Urban Affairs Secretary Manoj Joshi. The main concern they had was that accessibility guidelines were not being followed. The FMC addressed a second letter to the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways (MoRTH) on November 24 claiming that the tender had broken the Central Motor Vehicles (CMV) Rules, even though the final tender had the same specifications.
“The PM eBus Sewa tender for 3,600 Type-I (intra-city) buses specifies a floor height of 900 mm – i.e. footboard plus 2 steps, even after a representation was made by the Freedom of Movement Coalition,” said the letter.
The Automative Industry Standard (AIS) 153, which states that Type-I buses (urban or city buses) must have a maximum floor height of 650 mm and be accessible for people with impaired mobility, including at least one wheelchair user, is allegedly violated by the tender, according to activists. Although the tender specifies that “25%” of buses must be wheelchair-accessible, Vaishnavi Jayakumar, an FMC member, points out that the Central Motor Vehicle Rules, 2022, which were meant to go into effect on April 1, 2023, require that wheelchair users have a minimum of one slot.
Jayakumar highlights that PwD are required to have “access to all modes of transport” under the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (RPD) Act, 2016, yet the Act does not state that only 25% of buses must be accessible. True low-floor buses, which are seen to be the best option for people with disabilities, have a maximum height of 400 mm, even though the tender calls for a 900 mm floor height and AIS 153 sets the maximum height at 650 mm. The campaigners contend that it is impractical to equip high-floor buses with hydraulic lifts for accessibility in a city bus setting. An officer from the Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs stated that FMC’s representation had not yet been looked into, but the ministry did not respond to demands for comment.