Arvind Kejriwal's proposed scheme to provide free metro, bus rides to women smacks of bad economics, puts fragile infra to test

On Monday, Chief Minister of Delhi Arvind Kejriwal announced free rides for all female commuters in the city's metro trains operated by the Delhi Metro Rail Corporation (DMRC) and all buses operated by the Delhi Transport Corporation (DTC) along all routes.

The decision, which the government said was aimed at ensuring women's safety, has drawn mixed reactions, with the BJP dubbing it a "false promise" announced only to lure voters ahead of the Assembly elections. However, the scheme proposing free metro and bus rides for women does raise a few questions.

 Arvind Kejriwals proposed scheme to provide free metro, bus rides to women smacks of bad economics, puts fragile infra to test

File image of Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal. AFP

How did the Delhi government estimate that it will cost the state exchequer around Rs 700 crore?

Does the Delhi metro have any estimate of the number of female commuters, which can help calculate the exact loss the DMRC may have to bear if the scheme is implemented?

The DMRC website has a detailed list of ridership for different routes, metro lines and metro stations, but the data in the list is not divided into categories like "female riders" and "male riders".

Neither the DTC nor the DMRC seem to have any hard data on the number of women who use these modes of transport. This makes Kejriwal's estimation that around 33 percent of the people who travel by buses and metros in Delhi are women appears more like a guess than a calculated assessment.

Sanjay Dewan, officer on special duty to Delhi transport minister Kailash Gehlot, told Firstpost he did not have any information related to the number of women who travel by DTC buses.

"As per my knowledge, there is no system of keeping a record of the number of male and female travellers by DTC buses," he said. "Let DTC and DMRC release their report. Then we will come to know."

Moreover, a source in the metro corporation told Firstpost that the DMRC does not have this information either as there is no system of specifically collating the number of men and women who travel by the metro.

"The ticketing system of the Delhi metro does not segregate the tickets between men and women. So there is no way of estimating the number of women who travel by the metro rail daily," the source said.

Even if Kejriwal is right about the Rs 700-crore implementation cost of the proposed scheme, the amount will cover the expenditure only for six months. The expense is likely to be double the amount if estimated for an entire year and as high as 24 percent of Rs 5,902 crore, Delhi's budget surplus estimated for 2019-2020.

According to DMRC's annual report, its farebox revenue was Rs 2612.8 crore in 2017-18. The government spending as much as Rs 1, 400 crore to provide free metro and bus rides for women will come to more than half this farebox collection in a year.

Given how the AAP government's estimates don't appear to be backed by enumerative evidence, there is every chance of the figures put forward being grossly wrong, which could make the fiscal pressure of this scheme on the state's finances even greater.

How could the Delhi government make this decision solo?

The administration of Delhi and the Central government are 50:50 equity partners in the DMRC. Even though Kejriwal gave his assurance that the metro corporation will not bear any losses and the Delhi government will cover the cost of the free rides for women, how did the AAP administration make this decision unilaterally?

Taking the partnership in the DMRC into consideration, it ideally should have been a decision made in consultation with the Centre.

How is the Delhi government planning to manage the sudden surge in traffic that will be the natural outcome of this "free ride" scheme?

According to The Times of India, "footfall at metro stations dropped by more than 50 a day after the Chennai Metro Rail Limited ended free rides across its 45-kilometre corridors". This report, published in February, suggests that free rides for women will most likely considerably increase the footfall of commuters at Delhi's metro stations.

Several reports show a clear inverse relationship between the hike in DMRC's fares and the traffic it attracts. A Business Today report from March said: "In the past two years, despite the introduction of eight new sections on the Delhi metro, the average daily ridership has dropped by over 3 lakh. And you can blame that on the spiralling fares."

In this context, it is assured that providing free rides for women will lead to a sudden surge in traffic. This, without any change in infrastructure and logistics, can create massive crowd management problems for DMRC staff at stations.

Do women really need this?

The most important question that needs answering is whether the targeted beneficiaries — female commuters — really need free bus and metro rides in Delhi. It does not take much to deduce that most of the women who travel by the metro are working women capable of paying for their tickets. Giving them free rides will only accentuate gender stereotypes and inequality.

Kejriwal's AAP will seek a fresh mandate from the people of Delhi soon, with the Assembly elections likely to be held in February next year. Like all other political parties, many of its decisions in the next six months will likely be guided by the sole concern of winning the polls.

Updated Date: Jun 04, 2019 19:45:05 IST