AAP agitates against metro fare hike but daily commuters remain indifferent

The Delhi Metro is a time-travelling device. At the west Delhi stations like Rajouri Garden or Patel Nagar, you’ll feel a mileu marked by the Punjabiyat from the post-partition 60s that still sits on old kothis and markets selling greasy spare parts. Get off at the Central Secretariat station in Lutyens’ Delhi and you see Ambassadors circling fountains made of sandstone, which serve as a reminder of the British and also of our freedom from them. There are the crushingly-packed streets leading up to Ghalib’s haveli around Chandni Chowk station and equally petite ones that light up with pubs and cafes as you crawl out of South Delhi’s Hauz Khas station. The metro’s 85 stations are spread across 124.93 kilometers, along which 227 trains traverse bridges and tunnels to bring the capital closer to itself. On 25 December 2002, the day the Delhi Metro started its operations, 114,835 commuters boarded its Red Line. Till April 2016, in its Red, Yellow, Blue, Green and Violet lines, a total of 1.001 billion (100.165 crores) passengers had travelled by the Delhi Metro, registering a 6.56 percent growth in average daily ridership since the previous financial year. Till 29 March 2017, the ridership had touched 100.165 crore and the average daily ridership was 2.76 million.

The Aam Aadmi Party has opposed the hike and is busy staging protests outside stations. Union Urban Development Minister Hardeep Singh Puri has informed the Delhi government that if it wants to stop the hike in fares, then it needs to shell out Rs 3,000 crore annually. Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal has responded that his government is ready to provide half the funds on the condition that it should be handed over the operations of the metro rail network. Delhi’s transport minister Gopal Rai has given a statement that the Modi government is trying to burden the aam aadmi by increasing their daily expenditure. He also dismissed the argument that the surge will, in any way, make up for losses. He highlighted that the fare hadn’t increased in the last eight years but has gone through two revisions in the last six months. An increase in ticket rates will lead to a drop in ridership, the minister said at a recent press meet.

Deputy chief minister Manish Sisodia described the hike as a conspiracy in favour of private cab operators Ola and Uber. Most travellers in the eight coaches of that train rubbished the theory and said cab fares are relatively much higher.

Source: Delhi Metro Rail Corporation.

Source: Delhi Metro Rail Corporation.

To find out what ordinary citizens actually feel about the fare hike and the protests, Firstpost boarded the train from Dwarka Sector 9 to Mandi House station on a busy morning. “I have recently moved here from Kolkata. The metro here is far better than the one in Kolkata. I don’t really care if I have to spend a little more for quality,” stated Krishnesh, who works in Noida. “Look around, everything is getting expensive. If we can bear the burden of expensive food, clothes and bear the brunt of GST, then we can surely spend some more for our convenience,” he added. A little ahead, there was Sadan Sahni, who works as a domestic helper in Noida. “The metro crosses the border with ease. Which other mode of transport will take us through long distances with such ease?" he told us. The Delhi Transport Corporation (DTC) has extended its bus services to border districts in the NCR like Ghaziabad (Uttar Pradesh) and Badarpur and Bahadurgarh (both in Haryana) but these often require the riders to switch buses. “It is easier to switch trains, as one doesn't have to face the heat,” remarked Sahni, adding that swapping buses in heat rising 40 plus degrees Celsius augments his fatigue.

Garima, a student in a private law college, asks Kejriwal’s government why it is wasting its time and energy on pretending to protect ordinary citizens from metro ticket price rise. “The metro is a necessity now, we cannot do without it. Why doesn’t the government focus on improving the metro feeder bus services instead? Those small buses are crowded and the driver doesn’t start till the vehicle is full” she feels it is unfortunate that after a world class travel experience, one faces such a hassle. The metro feeder bus service is the DMRC’s last mile connectivity solution. As per the DMRC’s website, 149 low-floor buses are operational, each with a capacity of 18. The other options to get to the destination from the station are by cycle rickshaws or battery-operated rickshaws, which are vulnerable on larger roads. As per the Road Accidents in India 2015 report by the transport research wing of the Ministry of Road Transport & Highways, Delhi witnessed the highest number of road accident deaths and accounts for 7.7 percent of all road traffic accident fatalities in the country. While there were 1,372 accidents on single-lane roads, four lane or more roads with central dividers saw 2,588 accidents.

Commuters at the Delhi metro. Pallavi Rebbapragada/Firstpost

Commuters at the Delhi metro. Pallavi Rebbapragada/Firstpost

Last month, the Delhi Cabinet approved a proposal to procure 2,000 buses, which includes 1,000 DTC and another 1,000 cluster buses. “I haven’t boarded a bus in ten years. Luckily, the metro had started by the time I entered college. Since childhood, I had been hearing horror stories of my sisters and aunts being molested in crowded buses,” said Meenakshi. One thing the commuters in the ladies’ compartment agreed on was that the metro brought with it a new psyche, and new standards of respect even towards the elderly and disabled who have seats reserved for them. Two other commuters, Manjeet and Rekha, boarded the train at Janakpuri station. They ranted about bus drivers taking pride in hitting jerky brakes, or dunking passengers far away from bus stops. They feel safe in sending their daughters to college in a train heavily guarded at each stop. “The metro has changed the way Delhi girls travel in the capital," they said. In order to the ensure the safety of women who use the capital’s public transport, in 2016, the AAP-run government hired 200 private security guards and deployed them as marshals in DTC buses.

Rajender Kumar, who works in the administrative division of the DTC station in Dwarka, alleged that the marshals are mostly asleep or tuned into their headphones. These marshals, who are in civil clothes, merge with the crowd. He suggested that they should instead be uniformed and stationed at bus stops, so they can invoke fear in the minds of anti-social elements and also help clear traffic congestion. He also asked why the Delhi government doesn’t show as much enthusiasm is taking up issues plaguing the DTC. Another problem that he pointed out was that a good amount of conductors hired on contract are sent back home each day because the buses are far fewer in number. These men are between 20-30 years of age, hold licenses and are registered with the employment exchange.

Other commuters too pointed to the relative safety of the metro. “It is not as though the metro isn’t crowded, especially at stations like Rajiv Chowk and Vaishali, but it is still safer than the buses. People get up and offer seats to the elderly, there are attendants at every station and also a wheel chair facility we can avail,” said Mr Rajendar Singh, a septuagenarian who feels the metro lets him feel independent. Singh said he won’t mind paying some more for such facilities. He challenged politicians to board the bus from Kirti Nagar to West Enclave, a popular route in West Delhi.

A ticket vending machine at the Delhi metro. Pallavi Rebbapragada/Firstpost

A ticket vending machine at the Delhi metro. Pallavi Rebbapragada/Firstpost

Kishto, who migrated to Delhi from Jharkhand, said, “It is better to pay higher fees to the metro authorities in order to reduce foreign debt. I am contributing to development while making good use of it."

Another issue that multiple passengers pointed to was the constant congestion on roads in the interiors of West, East and Old Delhi. “My business is based in Chandni Chowk, where the roads aren’t enough wide enough for cars to enter. It takes me just 50 minutes to get there from Janakpuri, which would roughly been 2.5 hours had I been driving. Ask any trader/shopkeeper in Chandni Chowk and they’ll tell you that their business has expanded after the metro started there in 2005,” said Kapil Malhotra. In complete agreement with him is a trader who travels daily from Kirti Nagar (West Delhi) to Gurgaon and back for Rs 120 a day. “In my case, it takes me an hour longer in the metro because I have to change trains at Connaught Place. But with petrol prices hitting Rs 70 a litre, I find the train cheaper,”

Apart from the AAP, student bodies Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP) and the National Students’ Union of India (NSUI) have also expressed their resentment publicly. NSUI members jumped onto the tracks at the Vishwavidyalaya Station. “Prior to this protest, we had sought appointments from Mr Hardeep Puri, Union Minister and Mr Kailash Gahlot, Transport Minister, Delhi. But, we were refused an appointment. This shows the dictatorial mindset of both the Central and State governments as they refused to meet students who wanted to express their pain and anguish on the exorbitant fare hike by the Delhi Metro in which both governments have an equal stake,” said Neeraj Mishra, national media in-charge of the NSUI.

The members of the ABVP staged an equally dramatic protest. They stormed into the DMRC’s headquarters, the Metro Bhavan at Barakhamba Road and started shouting slogans. The protest turned violent when the police intervened and began dragging them out. “We were protesting peacefully and the police manhandled us. A special metro pass for students has been an agenda in our manifesto since two years,” informed Prerna Bharadwaj, member, ABVP.

It’s time the ruling dispensation in Delhi rethinks what it chooses to resist and also the method it uses to channel that resistance.

Updated Date: Oct 14, 2017 18:21 PM

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