Not enough buses for Delhiites

Not enough buses for Delhiites

With an increasing number of cars taking over the city roads, Delhi’s government “Car-Free Day” and its “Ab Bus Karein” or Let’s take the bus campaign lay emphasis on shifting to public transport – and more so on bus hopping. But is the city with 25 million inhabitants ready for this?

The Delhi Transport Corporation (DTC) buses ferry nearly 4.5 million people daily despite the Delhi Metro’s expanding reach and unfailing punctuality. In fact, the corporation claims that a majority of people living in the city’s rural suburbs or localities away from the Metro station still rely on the CNG-powered bus services.

But commuters say that not all is well with the state-run buses. Meet Kritarth Singh, a 28-year-old resident of east Delhi’s Mayur Vihar area. It usually takes him one hour to reach his office in Nehru Place.

“During rush hours, taking a bus can get nightmarish. City life has become such that you can’t do without your own vehicle,” Kritarth says.

“Going to work to me means reaching the nearest Metro station by rickshaw, and then travelling on three different Metro lines – Blue, Yellow and Violet. When I am getting late, I take an auto. But now I am cutting corners to save for a car,” he adds.

For young professionals like him cutting down on commute time is one of the priorities. According to data from Payscale, a US-based salary tracking firm, the average one-way commuting time in Delhi is 42.96 minutes.

Kritarth on most days avoids taking a bus to office. He says the DTC buses are either not available in time or suffer from overcrowding.

Experts argue that a city like Delhi can’t just rely on expansion of the Metro network. The maintenance of an adequate fleet of buses, regular operation on scheduled routes and increased comfort on board are equally important for encouraging people to shift to public transport.

Currently, DTC operates about 4,700 buses, the Delhi Integrated Multimodal Transport System (DIMTS) – a joint venture between the city government and IDFC – oversees operations of some 1,200 orange-coloured Delhi Transit buses.

The poor response from manufacturers of CNG-powered low-floor buses has been a major hurdle in fleet augmentation. DTC’s plans of procuring 1,380 semi-low-floor buses is still in a limbo, despite its willingness to scrap the annual maintenance clause due to which the corporation has seen three failed bids.

Now DTC is planning to run more buses under the cluster scheme, which involves buses owned by private transporters.  According to Delhi Transport Minister Gopal Rai, the corporation is in the process of procuring 1,000 buses under this scheme.

The parking space will be provided by DTC itself, officials say. Transport Department and DIMTS have identified land in Karkari Nahar, Rewal Khanpur, Dichaon Kalan, Dwarka Sector- 22 and Rani Khera. These depots will be in operation by March 2016, Rai says.
To achieve “large scale expansion of bus service”, as promised in the Aam Aadmi Party manifesto, the Arvind Kejriwal government says it has asked the Delhi Development Authority (DDA) to provide 500 acres of land for parking 10,000 buses.

Earlier, the Delhi government had approached the NGT seeking a direction to DDA to allot parking space.

Besides roping in corporate entities under its cluster scheme and seeking more space for building bus depots, the Delhi government has also invited Expression of Interest (EOI) at global level from the companies to provide CNG and electric buses.

According to Rai, these buses will ply on city’s arterial roads and provide the much needed last-mile connectivity to commuters.

Presently, the city requires some 11,000 buses. But DTC has less than half of it on roads and in the last three years no new buses have been added to its fleet.

The rural outskirts of the city are facing severe transportation crunch. In northeast Delhi, for instance, residents of Sonia Vihar, Bhajanpura, Khajuri Khas, Chauhan Patti, Sabhapur Village and many surrounding areas have to put up with crowded buses.

Buses in these localities often run with the door open, allowing people to hang on. Locals say that on some most of these routes the frequency of buses has decreased over the years.

Those who suffer the most are often office goers and students. “I have been telling my parents to allow me to rent a place near North Campus. I spend more than two hours in commuting back and forth from my college,” says Bhajanpura resident Mudit Gupta, who enrolled in a Delhi University college this year.

For the comfort of travelling in Delhi Metro, he takes a Phat Phat Sewa to the nearest Metro station. “I don’t know if there is a direct DTC bus service to North Campus. I can’t imagine travelling in the crowded DTC buses, even though it takes me 20 minutes just to reach the Shastri Park Metro station,” Mudit says.

But the Transport Department says that DTC buses will soon get a facelift. The government has announced that it will conduct trial run of Wi-Fi and CCTV cameras in buses by December to identify the suitable technology.

Pilot projects
An automatic fare collection system is also on the cards for the DTC. Pilot projects are already in process.  According to DTC officials, the trials are already underway and in the next six months all buses will be covered under the new fare collection system.

To step up security on buses, the government has decided to hire services of private firms to deploy 200 marshals in two months. Currently, about 1,300 home guards are deployed as marshals on DTC buses.

DTC also claims that it is trying to improve the on-road performance of DTC buses, which is prone to fresh breakdowns.  The corporation claimed that many of its depots achieved ‘zero breakdown’ target in mid-September.

Until last year, on an average around 500 DTC buses broke down each day – a staggering number considering that it took out over 10 per cent from daily services.

The Aam Aadmi Party government is also batting for “improved” Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) corridors. Earlier in July, facing criticism, the Delhi cabinet had decided to scrap the BRT corridor between Moolchand and Ambedkar Nagar in South Delhi, constructed during the Sheila Dikshit tenure. According to Delhi PWD minister Satyendar Kumar Jain, the BRT was scrapped because of its “design fault”.

“We will introduce improved corridors. And, we also plan to redesign the 1,260 km-long PWD roads and remove all encroachments on them,” he had said at a Delhi Transport Vision conference held earlier this year.

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