Had it been implemented, the recent decision by the Delhi government to slash Delhi Transport Corporation (DTC) fares would be like strangling an already dying asthma patient. There are many reasons justifying that DTC is an asthma patient on a deathbed. The Times of India reported with reference to a study commissioned by the Urban Development Ministry that, “the availability of public transport (buses and Metro) in Delhi per 1,000 people is a shocking 0.504.” Slashing fares by a flat 75% means a bump in commuters which in turn will make the existing conditions of the buses worse.
The same report says that the average waiting time for all 517 DTC bus routes is 70 minutes. In addition to this, my first-hand experience says that pick-pocketing, jostling, and ill treatment of women, due to crammed buses (sometimes clothes are never the same after the “ethereal” journey), longer travel time than by any private transport etc., are some of the reasons. Women often report that they are groped by anti-social elements in the buses.
Notwithstanding the above-mentioned circumstances, DTC is the highest passenger-carrying public transport system in Delhi. According to a report “The total passenger trips per day catered by buses are more 60% of the total public transport trips in Delhi, which is a significantly higher share than the Metro, at fraction of its cost.”
The reasons are obvious. Firstly, because of the last mile connectivity and secondly, just like America, Delhi has a large number of migrants, with people coming in each year for better education and in search of better standards of living. According to a recent report by the Indian Institute of Human Settlement (IIHS), the two largest streams of migration are from Uttar Pradesh and Bihar to Delhi. Each of these streams consists of over three lakh people. Most of them migrating to Delhi are labourers. For them, buses are the only affordable means of transport.
Another section of society that travels by DTC is students. For them, DTC is a saviour helping them cope with the daily travel expenses by providing passes at a very nominal cost. The questions that present themselves to us are: Why would anybody working in an MNC (where dress matters) want to travel by a DTC bus? Why would anybody want to spend more time on the road adding to their mental and physical exhaustion? Why would anyone want to risk their belongings by boarding an already crammed bus? Why would any woman travel by DTC when she fears that she might be groped by someone?
DTC has become what we call in Hindi – “Majburi ka naam Mahatma Gandhi (necessity is the mother of invention)” for those who travel by it. Those who can afford it, prefer to travel by private means of transport, be it cabs or their own car or bike. Has DTC become a poor man’s vehicle? Bus transport in major cities of the world like Singapore, Hong Kong, and Japan caters to more commuters than any other transport means, notwithstanding the fact that they are known for their efficient metro system.
Simply slashing fares and implementing an odd-even method of regulating traffic is not going to work. It only looks good in government’s life size posters thanking Delhiites for making odd-even a big success. There is a dire need to plan and implement a good transport system for all, regardless of class. More buses should be added to the existing fleet keeping in view the numbers of commuters; dilapidated conditions of the existing buses should be improved, and an online bus information system should be created. There is much to learn from Singapore, Hong Kong, Japan and obviously our Indian city Ahmedabad.
Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) corridors should be put in place unlike the previous ones from Moolchand to Ambedkar Nagar. Remember, comfort is the key to wooing daily commuters to switch from private to public transport. Only delivering a pep talk about pollution and using the term like “gas chamber” for Delhi won’t work. The government should be criticised but self-criticism is the need of the hour. Make Delhi safe not only for women but for all.