Covid vaccine rule leaves suburban train users high and dry in Chennai

Refused tickets, thousands turn to other modes of transport
A staff checks passengers’ vaccination certificates at Central station. (Photo | R Satish Babu, EPS)
A staff checks passengers’ vaccination certificates at Central station. (Photo | R Satish Babu, EPS)

CHENNAI: Thousands of passengers were forced to travel by bus, autos and cabs after they were denied tickets to travel in suburban trains on Monday, the first day after railways imposed restrictions for those who have not received two doses of Covid-19 vaccines.

Owing to the absence of legal provisions to penalise unvaccinated travellers, the railways chose to deny tickets to those who are not fully vaccinated so as to charge them for ‘ticket-less’ travel, alleged passengers.

While e-ticketing facility was disabled in the UTS app, regular and season tickets were issued at counters for those who submitted vaccination certificates. However, those who had valid season tickets but without two doses of vaccines were also permitted to travel.

The ticket counters at Chennai Suburban terminal, Tambaram, Chengalpattu, Arakkonam, Ponneri, Tiruttani and Thiruvallur witnessed serpentine queues as early as 5 am. At a few stations, a verbal duel broke out between passengers and RPF/GRP for preventing entry of season ticket holders. Later, the railway officials clarified that those who hold valid season tickets can travel without producing vaccination certificates.

K Varadharajan, a regular commuter said, there is no legal provision to penalise unvaccinated travellers. “By denying tickets, the railways is creating a reason to penalise them for ticket-less travel. Without railway board’s approval, no passenger can be fined.” With more than 630 services, the suburban trains cater to about 11.5 lakh commuters a day in Chennai and five neighbouring districts.

According to official data, as of December 27 last year, an average of 56.6% of the population received two doses of vaccines in six districts — Chennai (68.5%), Chengalpattu (55.6%), Kancheepuram (68%), Tiruvallur (52.7%), Vellore (52.8%) and Ranipet (42.2%).

The occupancy levels of trains stood 40 to 50% in Beach - Chengalpattu and Chennai - Arakkonam section during peak hours. S Sekar of Arakkonam, a pharmacist said, “I have received two doses, but my mother’s second dose due date is next month. Despite repeated requests, ticket was not issued for my mother.”

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The New Indian Express