ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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COVID-19 and the State of Exception

Urban Mobility under the Epidemic State

The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed that the shared taxis in Shillong are governed in an exception to the Motor Vehicles Act, thus rendering the lives of transport operators and users precarious. This precarity stands upon an underlining political consensus that gives power and authority to the executive to order the city even if in violation of the law that is supposed to govern it.


As with many other aspects of city life, urban mobility has been one of the biggest victims of the COVID-19 pandemic. While on the one hand, the governments across the world have put many restrictions on the operation of vehicles in urban areas, and on the other, the pandemic has dramatically altered the public perceptions on the use of public transport (Finbom et al 2021; Gkiotsalitis and Cats 2021). Researchers in China have found a direct correlation between the public transport connections from Wuhan (the city where the first COVID-19 cases were detected) to other cities and the number of people infected with the virus (Zhang et al 2020). These findings led many governments to seal their borders, close ports and harbours, and stop public transport services. Following these global practices, the Government of India put the entire country under a draconian lockdown from 25 March 2020 as a COVID-19 precaution. Under the lockdown, all public transport services (including flights, railways, waterways, and road transport) were completely banned.1 The lockdown lasted until the end of May, after which the country entered a calibrated unlock process. Since then, while the daily cases of COVID-19 in India have fluctuated between a modest 8,000 to an astronomic 4,00,000, the central government has resisted a nationwide lockdown. Instead, they encourage the state governments to issue such orders to contain the spread of the virus. As a result, in the last two years, transport regulations in Indian cities have changed so many times that even administrators find it difficult to keep pace with them.

Changing transport regulationsin addition to perceived risks of infection in unhygienic environments in close proximity to strangershave led to drastic changes in passenger behaviours. While those who could afford private modes of transport have shifted from public and shared transport services to private travel modes (Thombre and Agarwal 2021), many others who could not afford private transport have been rendered transport poor in the absence of decent transport services (Mahadevia and Mukhopadhyay 2021).2 Amidst this, public transport operators have struggled to keep their services profitable. A statistics brief by the International Association of Public Transport (UITP) and the World Bank found that during the lockdown, public transport operators in India faced a double whammy of losing huge revenues and the continuous pressure of loan repayment and staff salaries (Ollivier et al 2020). Moreover, their financial losses increased with expenditure on hygiene measures, such as social distancing, sanitisation of vehicles, and protective equipment for drivers and conductors. These measures have disproportionately affected smaller transport operators in small cities with no additional source of income.

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Published On : 20th Jan, 2024

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