Cities offer opportunities for prosperity and growth therefore they attract people. Delhi is the most populous city of the nation; people travel to and from the city for work and study. This makes traffic jams and congested roads a common sight. There is a dire need to address the city’s mobility issues. How can this problem of traffic congestion be solved? Do we need to consider building new modes of public transport and expand roads or can the existing transport infrastructure be modified to suit the dynamic demands of the city’s travellers
With over 1.09 crore registered motor vehicles, Delhi has the highest number of vehicles plying on its roads in the country.
According to the Delhi Economic Survey 2018-19, this number continues to grow at 5.81 per cent per annum, which is also one of the highest rates of growth. Numerous studies and reports have claimed that this traffic problem can only be addressed by improving the public transport system.
Despite the presence of the Delhi Suburban Railways (DSR), Delhi Metro, Delhi Transport Corporation’s bus services, app-based taxi services like Ola and Uber, autos and e-rickshaws, the city’s population largely fails to adopt more than one mode of transport for their daily commute.
Lack of inter-connectivity of different modes of transport, multiple points of ticketing are reasons why the public prefers to travel either using just one mode of public transport, or via private vehicles. Delhi’s mass-transit system has yet to find ways to cope up sufficiently with the demands of its commuters.
Mass transit – problems and solutions
Delhi hosts a wide variety of public transport facilities, both state and privately owned. Delhi Metro serves the most number of people. Started in December 2002, the metro service quickly gained popularity amongst the population and became one of the most used public transport because of convenience, reliability, cost effectiveness and increasing connectivity.
B I Singhal, Former Director General, Institute of Urban Transport says, “No doubt that the Delhi Metro is an excellent example of how well can a planned, state-owned mode of public transport operate. The Delhi Metro Rail Corporation (DMRC) continues to learn from experiences and make its services better for the commuters.” He also explains how the metro service could complement the existing ring railways.
He added, “While planning and development was going on for the Delhi Metro, had the government adopted a truly integrated approach, the metro service could have easily revived the Delhi Suburban Railways with it. The DSR could then have served as a means of diverting excess ridership from the pre-existing modes of transport along with the Delhi Metro.” The Delhi Suburban Railways was built in 1982 as part of Delhi development plan for the Asian Games. Since then, its popularity continued to decline to the point where a majority of the population did not even know of its existence. Every day, a few EMU trains ply under the DSR serving a few hundred riders. Mr Singhal further explained, “The potential of the DSR has been largely ignored. Careful development of civic amenities in and around the suburban railways could have easily helped commuters, even those who undertake regional travel on a daily basis.”
The government must consider re-developing the Delhi Suburban Railways as a means of reducing the strain of vehicles on Delhi roads, particularly the Ring Road. They must plan while keeping aspects like population density along the route, condition of railway stations and the trains, security of travellers (especially women) and most importantly, first and last-mile connectivity along with the integration of DSR with other modes of public transport in the city in mind. The bus services in Delhi can play an important role in providing this first and last-mile connectivity to the rail transit services.
Delhi Suburban Railways The ignored saviour
The Delhi Suburban Railways (DSR) includes the Delhi Ring Railways (DRR) the tracks of which run parallel to the famous and integral Delhi Ring Road. However, apart from a few hundred regular users of the service, the city population is largely unaware of the existence of the service. Despite having extremely low pricing on its tickets, the service has been unable to compete with any other mode of public transport running parallel to it, whether it be the DTC bus service, the Delhi Metro or even autos and cabs. A few reasons for the failure of the DRR are:
- The tracks mostly pass through areas that have very low population density as compared to other areas in Delhi.
- The concept of first and last mile connectivity of the DRR is entirely absent. There is no mode of transport fixed for people to reach the station or to reach other places after getting off at the station. So much so that the DTC bus service has only a handful of bus routes that even connect passengers to any of the stations along the DRR.
- A majority of the stations of the DRR are located in secluded, vegetated areas. This makes them unsafe for passengers, particularly women.
- Due to the above points, the popularity of the DRR is extremely low. This low popularity coupled with the low frequency of the trains eventually leads to low demand of the DRR services.
- The condition of the train coaches is also very poor. They are not air-conditioned and many of them don’t even have proper doors or seats for people to sit on.
- The condition of the stations along the route is also dilapidated. They lack basic amenities like washrooms and drinking water facilities. A number of them are also not accessible for the handicapped population of the city.
It is therefore clear that until the concerned authorities are determined to amend these shortcomings, the DSR and the DRR, in particular, will continue to remain ignored and act as a liability rather than an asset for public transportation in the city.
Since its establishment in 1948, the Delhi Transport Corporation’s (DTC) bus service remained the city’s lifeline for almost five decades. During the 2010 Commonwealth Games, DTC was given a massive upgrade with the introduction of a new fleet of low-floor AC and non-AC buses. The service was aimed at improving the quality of DTC buses and fixing problems like frequent breakdown of buses. This was a much-needed improvement for the DTC. However, over the years, due to the lack of upkeep of the buses, the condition of DTC’s services was back to square one. Frequent breakdowns of buses, overheating and damaged exteriors started becoming a common sight again. This is not the only problem that the bus service faces. Dr Sewa Ram, Professor, Department of Transport Planning, School of Planning and Architecture, Delhi says, “Since long, the bus routes have not been revised. Certain bus routes which were once integral now have only a few riders. On the other hand, newly developed residential and commercial societies are yet to be connected with the DTC bus routes. Here, the problem of integration of different modes of transport is highlighted again. The bus service could have easily provided the much needed first and last mile connectivity to other services like the Delhi metro and the DSR.” However, this aspect was never addressed. Moreover, transport corporations across the world are now taking their services online to allow passengers to buy tickets and search for bus and train routes online. This consequently increases the popularity and ease-of-use of the transport services. The DTC is yet to work towards development of online services for its passengers. Meanwhile, some privately owned modes of public transport have started providing services online and through mobile apps like Ola, Uber and Shuttl.
Privately owned public transport
The national capital boasts a variety of privately-owned modes of public transport including app-based taxi services, CNG autos and electric rickshaws along with shuttle bus services. These newly introduced taxi services, daily shuttle services and electric rickshaws are helping in bringing down the overall carbon footprint as the taxis and buses run on CNG while the rickshaws are electric. However, companies running the taxi services often raise prices during peak hours while the shuttle bus service has still not covered all major routes in the city. This discourages a number of commuters from opting for cab and shuttle bus services for their daily travel. On the other hand, rickshaws and autos do not have a high average speed due to technological restrictions. Drivers of these vehicles often do not follow the most basic traffic rules or drive in their designated lanes leading to traffic slowdowns and sometimes even accidents.
Dr Sewa Ram suggested that the government must seriously consider bringing these modes of transport under a centralized, integrated organization which will be responsible for fixing rates of cabs and rickshaw services. They must also actively help companies running cab and shuttle bus services to expand their reach. The government can also consider constructing auto and rickshaw stops in order to make movement of autos and rickshaws more organized and make it easier for the public to board these vehicles.
Delhi has been the center of growth in the country since a long time now and with growth, a city comes face to face with a range of new problems. Despite an existing web of public transport services in the city, the state apparatus and all other concerned authorities need to come together to plan a more sustainable and integrated transit system. This system must assist one mode of public transport to overcome the shortcomings of another. Unless this is achieved, Delhi’s commuters will continue to suffer.