Why Delhi’s transport model is showing signs of distress and decline

In 2015, DTC had 5,900 CNG-fuelled buses, today it’s down to 3,700 buses. Even the strength of bus drivers and conductors on the rolls of DTC has come down by half to 75%

Sidharth Mishra September 30, 2022 16:42:33 IST
Why Delhi’s transport model is showing signs of distress and decline

A DTC bus. Image courtesy Ramesh NG/Wikimedia Commons

An area that has been witnessing urgent signs of distress and decline in the national Capital is the transport sector. Come winter and Delhi shall be covered with a thick smog blanket, thanks to burning fields of Punjab. With an AAP government in Punjab now, one wonders if Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal would be raising this issue as forcefully as was the case in the past.

As we wait for the air quality to deteriorate, let’s face the fact that one of the major factors for the increase in air pollution in the national Capital over the years is the collapse of the public transport system. Due to its shrinking fleet, the public transporter — Delhi Transport Corporation — has been forced to shut down its depots.

Why Delhis transport model is showing signs of distress and decline

File image of Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal. ANI

In the past seven years the number of operational bus depots has come down from 46 to 39. The bigger shame is that 99.15 per cent buses of the operational DTC fleet are over-aged and not fuel-efficient, thus adding their bit to the pollution in the city.

The number of over-aged buses in the DTC fleet in 2015 was as low as 19.74 per cent and a scheme had been drawn for phasing them out. The current status of 99.15 per cent over-aged buses speaks volumes of the governance deficit in the sector of public transport.

The induction of new buses in the DTC fleet has also been delayed on account of questionable intent in floating a defective tender for the purchase of 1,000 buses. A case now has been registered by the CBI and AAP Minister Kailash Gahlot is under the scanner.

Gahlot is third minister from the seven-member AAP government in the national Capital who is facing corruption charges and being probed by the Central and state agencies. Gahlot is charged with placing an order of 1,250 buses when the tender was floated for just 1,000 buses.

More importantly, the tender documents promised a Rs 1,000 crore maintenance amount to the supplier from the day of the delivery of the buses, even for the period of warranty. Now the matter is being probed and one can be rest assured that it would be some time before new buses are added to the DTC fleet.

From possessing the largest CNG-fuelled bus fleet globally in 2015, the DTC today is custodian of an aging and dying fleet. In 2015, DTC had 5,900 CNG-fuelled buses, today it’s down to 3,700 buses. Even the strength of bus drivers and conductors on the rolls of DTC has come down by half to 75 per cent.

As mentioned above, since Delhi government has not added any new buses to the DTC’s ageing fleet, the bus traffic has largely come to be handled by the private operators running buses under cluster scheme. These buses refuse to operate on low-profit routes to remote destinations. Thus from covering 9.7 lakh kilometres on a daily basis in 2015, the distance coverage by buses in Delhi is today down to 4.3 lakh kilometres. This is less than the 1998 figures of 5.3 lakh kilometres.

This shrinking in daily coverage of kilometres, in turn, has forced increased number of private vehicles on the roads. It should be appreciated that vehicular pollution in Delhi is not caused much by vehicles standing on the red lights, as Kejriwal would want us to believe and shut down engines, but more by the traffic moving at the snail’s pace on congested roads.

Pollution levels would continue to rise as long as the number of vehicles continues to multiply. The number of vehicles on the roads of the national Capital are multiplying not just for the reason of shrinking DTC fleet. The slow pace of expansion of Delhi Metro too has added to the distress.

In 2001, the first phase of the Metro measuring 64 kilometres was completed. In 2005, the second phase of the Metro measuring 230 kilometres was completed. During this phase, the satellite towns of Gurgaon in Haryana and Ghaziabad-Noida in Uttar Pradesh were integrated with the national Capital through the metro network.

In 2012, the third phase of Delhi Metro covering 160 kilometres was completed. This phase, while going to the interiors and also remote areas of the national Capital, also expanded the network in Uttar Pradesh and Haryana. The planning for the fourth phase was completed in 2013 and then Arvind Kejriwal arrived on the scene.

With his politics of friction between the Centre and the Delhi government, expansion of the Metro network was inordinately delayed, putting much strain on the existing lines. The chafing related to starting work on the three corridors of phase IV, on which an embargo was placed by the Delhi government.

The Delhi government wanted the Centre to solely bear the cost of any operational losses during the building of this corridor. The basis of this decision is claimed to be ‘financial prudence’. Never mind that the Kejriwal government while preaching financial prudence made an announcement to provide free Metro rides for women ahead of the 2020 polls.

When Kejriwal had announced free ridership, Delhi metro’s founder E Sreedharan had written a note to the Prime Minister. Sreedharan mentioned that when Metro services were first launched, he took firm stand against any policy of giving free rides to any section to make the operations efficient and financially viable. Sreedharan in the letter said that free ridership was not a good idea as the corporation has to pay back huge loans taken from Japan.

It’s time for the Kejriwal government to seriously go for the prudent management of public money, and make it a top priority.

The writer is an author and president, Centre for Reforms, Development & Justice. Views expressed are personal.

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