For Delhi, 2016 may herald a cultural shift. We will start by testing the existing modes of transport when the road space rationing is enforced for a fortnight on January 1 and, hopefully, end the year with many more buses and new Metro lines to ease our daily commute.
Right now, the government itself is not sure of the carrying capacity of the poorly-networked buses and the Metro. At least that is the reason it gave for exempting two-wheeler drivers from the 15-day restriction. But by end of 2016, Delhi would have added 118 kms of Metro lines to its existing 213-km network and, as promised by the AAP government, at least 2,000 extra buses.
But how many of us will chuck our cars in favour of public transport? Metro says that in 2014, it kept 3.9 lakh vehicles off roads, helping Delhi save Rs 10,364 crore in fuel, besides easing congestion, reducing air pollution and accidents. Yet, 5.5 lakh new vehicles were registered in the city during the same time. Clearly, not many of those who could afford cars and two-wheelers were using the Metro.
It could be because of the patchy network which will expand considerably by the end of 2016. Without optimal utilisation, mere development of infrastructure will not unclog Delhi’s roads. We need to fix last-mile connectivity and levy anti-car taxes. But a switch to public transport need not be a compulsion. It has many more benefits other than cutting congestion and air pollution.
Public transport users get more physical activity per day than those who use private vehicles, reported a study by Moriguchi City Health Examination Center, Japan, this November. The center interviewed 6,000 adults in Osaka, Japan, comparing bus and train commuters with those who drove.
Adjusting factors like age, gender, smoking, etc, the study found that compared to those who drove to work, people who took the bus or train were 44% less likely to be overweight; 27% less likely to have high blood pressure; and 34% less likely to have diabetes.
The Marchetti’s constant, developed by Italian physicist Cesare Marchetti, states that anything beyond a 60-minute commute stresses one out. Delhi drivers have long crossed that limit. The waiting time at traffic signals is becoming longer. According to IBM’s 2011 Commuter Pain Index, 70% of the respondents in Delhi said traffic increased their stress levels, upped their anger, and negatively affected their performance at work or school.
There is the added strain of finding space to park. Once parked, one worries for the safety of the vehicle. A Centre for Science and Environment report states that in some locations in Delhi, as much as 45% of the circulation area is under parking encroachment. Yet, parking is a mad scramble. This year, a vehicle was stolen every 15 minutes in Delhi. Police blame acute shortage of safe parking space as the main reason behind these crimes.
In their paper, Transit Service, Physical Agglomeration and Productivity in US Metropolitan Areas, researchers Daniel Chatman and Robert Noland said that the economic value of mass transit could be worth anywhere from $1.5 million to $1.8 billion a year, depending on the size of the city. Every time a metro area added about four seats to trains and buses per 1,000 residents, the central city ended up with 320 more employees per square mile — an increase of 19%, Chatman told the CityLab of the Atlantic.
Riding public transportation also gives people time to do things they couldn’t (legally) do while driving. Bus and Metro travellers can talk on the phone, send text messages, work, read, and listen to music while commuting. Or just take a power nap.
Ultimately, public transport is of little use if the commuters can’t time their journey. In Delhi, we not only need a reliable network but also real-time information at bus stops and Metro stations and through websites and phone apps for those on the go. There is no reason why “sarkari” can’t be smart, or why we can’t make a lifestyle choice for a greener, faster and healthier Delhi.