Mass agony, not mass transport


A smog enveloped  the National Capital Region region during the last fortnight.  If you consider the continuing haze to be mere a weather phenomenon, you are wrong. Rising vehicular pollution is a big part of the problem.

The city 'boasts' of more vehicles than those on the roads in Mumbai, Kolkata and Chennai put together. The total number registered in the capital is over 60 lakh – and counting.  The city adds about 1,100 vehicles every day.

Also add to this lakhs of vehicles registered in the NCR region entering Delhi every day – and the sum is disturbing.
One of the main factors leading to this choking of Delhi's roads is the failure of the State to provide an integrated mass rapid transit system. Lack of good public transport has made more people buy their own cars and two-wheelers.

Pranav Kumar, a resident of Subhash Nagar in West Delhi, recounts his experience which forced him to make that purchase sooner than he had planned.

“I could have delayed buying a car by few years and invest my hard-earned money elsewhere. But having tried commuting to office and back by bus for six months, I decided to own one. Since taking a Metro for me was not an option, I used to take the bus for Gurgaon from Uttam Nagar bus terminal. During those six months, I faced all kind of problems from buses running late, the wait at bus stops running at time to more than an hour, to getting stuck midway due to breakdowns.” 

“Though I took the pushing and shoving by fellow passengers as a cost of commuting on public transport in a populated country like ours, boarding a badly- maintained bus and flirting with the risk of dirtying your shirt with stains of tobacco and getting embarrassed at the workplace was asking for too much,” he says.

The city has a Metro network spread over 192.5 km, with three of its branches connecting the satellite towns of Gurgaon, Ghaziabad and Noida. However, according to experts in urban transport planning, Delhi Metro caters to 35 per cent of the city's total area, assuming that the catchment distance of a Metro station is a maximum 1.5 km. Put another way, 65 per cent of Delhi is not connected to the Metro.

Similarly, according to a survey of  Delhi Transport Corporation (DTC) network conducted by government’s infrastructure company RITES and Delhi’s multi-modal transport venture DIMTS, there are bus 657 routes, of which 541 are operational. Taking into account the arterial and sub-arterial roads and assuming that each bus stop has a catchment distance of 750 metres, DTC covers around 70 per cent of the capital.

Apart from the Metro and the buses,  the city has around 55,000 autorickshaws and 10,000 taxis as  intermediate means of transport.

Transport experts say the catchment area of any means of mass transit – be it a bus or the Metro – should not be more than 750 metres. In other words, it should not take more than 10-15 minutes for anyone to reach the nearest Metro station
or bus stop from home or the place of work.

“By that yardstick, more than 50 per cent of Delhi's area is not within walkable distance from the nearest Metro station and around 30 per cent of Capital's area does not avail services of a city bus,” says P K Sarkar of School of Planning and Architecture.
Apart from public transport's limited reach in the city Another aspect to consider is its availabilty in terms of numbers. While an average daily ridership of around two million has made Delhi Metro the lifeline for areas in which it is operational, it has its own share of issues like overcrowding, frequency of trains, technical snags, and last- mile connectivity.

Similarly, the current fleet of DTC buses stands at 5,600 – out of which 1,275 are air-conditioned low-floor buses, 2,506 non-AC low-floor buses and the rest 1,819 standard-floor buses. Apart from that, 316 buses are operated by DIMTS under the cluster scheme. An estimated 45 lakh people use city buses every day.

“Ideally, the city requires around 11,000 buses. The buses have to be run in the ratio of 40:60 by the DTC and under the cluster scheme. Over a thousand buses would be included in the DTC fleet soon,” a transport department official says.

Officials at DIMTS – the operator of cluster buses – say the delay in getting more buses has largely been due to lack of space to park them. “One of the major reasons for delay in procurement of buses is the lack of bus depots,” a DIMTS spokesperson says.


Ahead of the Commonwealth Games in 2010, the city government appeared to be in fast forward mode to change things. The run-up to the Games saw a flurry of activity and a barrage of promises. While the Metro network was expanded with a high speed Airport Metro Express, hundreds of swanky low-floor buses were inducted in the fleet of the public carrier. Sleek bus queue shelters that aligned with low-floor buses, a public information system (PIS) that announced estimated time of arrival of buses on each route and an automatic fare collection system on each bus were promised.

However, two years down the line, most of the promises remains unfulfilled. The automatic fare collection system remained a non- starter; the PIS is almost defunct. The breakdown of even the low-floor buses has become a regular phenomenon even as the Airport Metro came to a sudden halt.

Similarly, despite the Supreme Court's green signal to increase the number of autorickshaws by 45,000 to one lakh, the city government has not been able to issue permits to even 10 percent of them a year after the apex court judgement.

Other measures by the city government like introduction of Bus Rapid Transit corridor also courted controversy, with residents along the only operational Ambedkar Nagar-Moolchand BRT corridor protesting against it as it led to further congestion on the stretch.
P K Sarkar says facilities likeautomatic fare collection and a public information system are an integral part of modern public transport across the world.

“In European countries like Hungary, integrated smart cards are sold at grocery shops, to be used on all means of public transport. In the case of Delhi, the idea has been floating around for a while, but nothing concrete has emerged to date,” he says.

Experts say the lack of a unified transport authority has been one of the major reasons for public transport in the city not witnessing a sea change.

“The National Urban Transport Policy 2006 has emphasis on development of public transport. The policy advocates constitution of an Unified Metropolitan Transport Authority (UMTA). However, nothing has been done on that front. Absence of such a body leads to transport projects being implemented in piecemeal manner. Such initiatives failed to yield desired results as the approach itself is not integrated,” says Sarkar.

The road ahead

The problem of transport in the national capital has reached a stage where the government as well as the planners are in a Catch-22 situation. With development of a modern public transport remaining a distant dream, the number of private vehicles continues to rise.

Experts question the city government's approach. The transport strategy needs to be two pronged – long-term and short-term. “In the long term the city needs to have a well-knit Metro network, with a feeder service along with an integrated fare collection system. There is no alternative to it. That is the model being followed worldwide. However, in the short term you need to give people enough of options if you want them to use public transport,” says Sarkar.

“The city does not have enough of buses, but the state government wants to make BRT corridors. Constructing a BRT corridor incurs huge cost. The same money could be used to increase the rolling stock, which would have reduced the waiting time for commuters at bus stops. In fact, once the Metro network is in place, such BRT corridors won't be required. The city buses would not have any role other than being a feeder to the Metro,” he adds.

According to urban planning experts, one additional bus in an ideal condition of operation could remove at least 40 cars off the roads. “The average occupancy factor of cars in the capital is 1.5. If on an average a bus carries 60 passengers, one additional bus would put 40 cars off the roads. By that average, the awaited 5,000 city buses could remove 2 lakh cars straightaway,” says P S N Rao of School of Planning and Architecture.

With the introduction of CNG in commercial vehicles and the setting up of a modern transport network like Delhi Metro, the national capital appeared to have had an image makeover over the last one decade. But the current  spell of smog has served as a reality check.

Fleet strength

DTC buses    :         5,600
AC low-floor buses    :         1,275
Non-AC low-floor buses    :         2,506
Standard-floor buses    :        1,819
Cluster scheme buses     :         3,16
Metro network (km)    :         192
Metro feeder buses    :         120
Autorickshaws    :         55,000
Taxis    :         10,000

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