The Delhi public transportion saga . . .

By Avikal Somvanshi & Nidhi Adlakha


On 22 June, 2010 The Indian Express Newsline read: “The hop-on-hop-off to Qutub – Metro to Gurgaon becomes a joyride on Day 1, many make multiple trips” ‘Joyride’ is precisely what the Delhi Metro is turning into instead of an effective means of public transportation. After thousands of crores being spent on this mass transport system, fact remains that the metro is an underutilized gimmick that is accessible to very few. Roads in Delhi are continuously getting more congested, and pollution levels are increasing. What is going wrong then?

Mass rapid transit systems (MRTS) They are the only viable, logical and equitable option in a city’s transport design as they are cheaper, enable faster mobility, reduce traffic congestion and significantly reduce pollution levels.

Road space in Delhi is 21% of the total available space, and there is little scope for future expansion of roads. To accommodate the increasing vehicular population on Delhi’s roads, the government has resorted to allocating majority of its financial resources for construction of flyovers, wider roads and the Metro.

The present design of Delhi’s transport pattern is such that it provides minimum benefit to buses and enables private transportation. Cars have replaced buses on the roads and cyclists have switched to two-wheelers and motorcycles. This changing pattern not only increases traffic congestion but pushes pollution levels to new highs. Buses are the cheapest mode of public transport. But very little has been done to make them acceptable and financially viable.

Exacerbating Delhi’s traffic predicament is a rapid growth of private vehicles. This phenomenon is driven by the dual vectors of immigration and affluence. However, city planners have resorted to implementing mass rapid transport systems to address the city’s traffic woes. The first preference was given to the Metro. The Delhi Metro’s first phase was completed in 2006. The Metro was aimed at serving Delhi first and is in the process of extending its services to the entire the national capital region – Noida, Gurgaon, Faridabad and Ghaziabad.

The Metro was created for a capacity of 80,000 persons per hour/per direction. In reality, only 10,000 avail the services and it is still congested. The Metro as a transport medium is fixed and benefits people living in close proximity to the stations, which is a very small part of the population. “Why should I take the Metro when it takes the same amount of time if i take my car? I don’t have to go through the hassle of changing trains and commuting to and from the stations.” said Prateek Dasgupta, a Delhite. It is such statements that offer an insight into both the myopic policy decisions that mar of MRTS projects as well as attitude of elite citizens towards public transportation.

Like a sequel to a flop movie, The Bus rapid Transportation System (BRTS) was added to the ongoing Metro project as authorities realized the Metro system and was failing to address the existing transportation problems. A cheaper BRTS at the cost of Rs. 8.5 crores per km was implemented; the Metro costs Rs. 175 crore per km. “With the thousands of crores the Delhi Government has spent on the Metro, 80 premier medical institutes like the AIIMS could have been built which would have greatly improved the health scenario of Delhi”, said Sandeep Gandhi, one of the principle designers of the BRT corridor. Mr. Gandhi’s frustration is justified since the metro has failed to reduce the use of private vehicles and congestion on Delhi’s roads.

The purpose of mass transport system is defeated when people spend more time travelling to-and-fro from the stations than on the journey. The need of the hour is to create an efficient transport system that reduces travelling time at all stages of the journey, which the Metro or closed BRTS fail to address. The system should give people the option to choose their desired modes – walking, cycling, taxis, car, bus or train. A system should be heterogeneous in nature and allow for equitable access and usage of road space, while being affordable. Furthermore, it should discourage private automobiles while creating various incentives for public transportation. “Paris has an excellent public transport system with speed limits that favour buses and the system encourages pedestrians and cyclists, automatically discouraging cars on roads.”, added Sandeep.

One system that effectively discourages the use of private vehicles is the open BRTS. Buses being the most flexible and cost-effective mode of intra-city transport are prioritized and the other modes are facilitated in ways more than one. Firstly, in BRTS all modes of transport are given exclusive lanes according to their load carrying capacity. Special lanes are demarcated for pedestrians and cyclists that help reduce peak hour congestion as there is a homogenous flow of traffic. Anjor Bhaskar, a student of environmental development, an avid cyclist says, “As a cyclist on Delhi roads I have always felt like a third class citizen and the new BRTS lanes give me an immense sense of pride and freedom.

I no longer feel inferior and hope to see many more of these lanes.” The transport structure in India is developing in such a way over the years that it caters to the idiosyncrasies of the elite. The city is being ‘metroized’ instead of being mobilised. “I prefer travelling by the Metro as it is safer, cheaper more convenient and most importantly its air conditioned.” said Anukampa Gupta, a student. On the other hand we have a large majority of pedestrians who have been pushed off our roads and their footpaths have been encroached by hawkers and two wheelers. The culture of walking in India’s cities is being pushed off the roads and into malls and parks. “Streets today are so dangerous that I can’t imagine taking my three-year-old granddaughter for a leisure walk let alone a casual walk to the local supermarket.”, says Kavita Shrineth, a resident of Saket, a colony in South Delhi.

The BRTS has run against the enforced psychological barrier of the population although, it holds a possible solution to the traffic problems. The major setback has been the fact that people have expected it to be a replica of the elitist Metro. The city is proud of its world-class “toy” that has come at a huge cost and chooses to overlook the fact that it has been ineffective in reaching a wider segment of the population.

These two mass transportation systems have failed in Delhi. One fails to address the city’s transportation needs while the other collides against the popular notion that buses are inconvenient and unglamorous, therefore failing to address the situation. People at times do not realize that they spend more time travelling to and fro from stations and bus stops than the journey. A system like the BRTS considerably reduces travel time as the system’s flexibility enables a commuter to use with varied options to access the BRTS. Buses as a transport system have the advantage of reaching residential areas via multiple routes. The bus routes cover the city far more extensively than the fixed Metro tracks.

In 2001, 60% of Delhi’s population used buses on a daily basis. The figure showed a stark decrease and by 2009 only 43% people were using buses and as of 2010 only 41% of Delhi residents use the bus as their mode of transport. State policies are meant to encourage the use of public transportation whereas these systems have had the opposite effect.

Startling statistics show that use of buses reduced almost 20% in the past decade. The blame, however, doesn’t lie with the government alone. Citizens are to be equally blamed for the current scenario. The struggle between the city plan implementers like the municipality officials, traffic police and every day people at the crux of the issue. Those who are supposed to use public transport never seem to conform to the expectations of the planners. People continually flout rules and view traffic rules as something that restricts their mobility. That’s when things like jumping red lights and crossing road barriers takes place. BRTS also subtly advocates paradigm shift in how people view urban transportation. Most people refuse to change their mindset and adapt to new changes that are meant for their betterment, which was reflected in their refusal to accept BRTS in the trial phase. Kailas Singh, a blue line bus conductor sees no difference in the traffic scenario post introduction of the BRTS. He said, “If there can be a change in the city’s traffic it will be because of the many flyovers the government constructs and not systems like the BRTS. Flyovers se hi traffic kam hota hai”.

People and the media will continue celebrating inaugural ‘joyrides’ such as that of the Huda City – Qutub Minar Metro Link which was saw 30,000 commuters on day 1 while its design capacity is multi-fold. As Sandeep rightly put forth, unless people accept transformation and understand its implications, such projects will remain a grand dream.”
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By - Aldrina, Anubhuti, Anjor, Lakshmi
with Ritodhi & Joel
Illustrations - Preeta with Ragini

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