After a long wait, Delhi is likely to launch a common mobility card in October. This pre-paid smart ticket will enable commuters to pay for their Metro and bus rides before they board the vehicle. If successful, the government will attach more services such as parking and taxi payments to it.
But what good is a common card if your last-mile connectivity options are a mess? Or when the bus stops and Metro stations are not within a walking distance?
Public transport has to be safe, accessible, reliable and comfortable. In Delhi, you can estimate your journey time only if you are riding the Metro. That too between stations. Any journey after that is a commuting risk. The Delhi Transport Corporation that runs the bus service does not even follow a time-table. It is hard to get any information on bus routes and frequency to plan your journey in advance.
Delhi’s public transport management suffers from the same chaos as the rest of the public services. For an administratively fragmented national capital, it is never easy to fix responsibility for any civic mess. Be it policing, blocked drains, diversion of traffic and maintenance of motorways or a traffic snarl — routine administrative issues turn into full-blown blame games.
For years, Delhi’s last-mile connectivity problem hasn’t been resolved because Delhi Metro runs the feeder bus services but the routes are decided by the state transport authority. The bus service is, anyway, patchy and most people use autos, cycle-rickshaws to cover the last leg of their journey.
The transport department performs regulatory functions such as registration of vehicles, issuing driving licences and permits for buses and trucks, fixing fares for autos and taxis. There are different rates for parking vehicles in different municipal jurisdictions run by five different civic bodies. Multiple agencies are responsible for improving signage, removing encroachments, regulating rickshaws, autos and e-rickshaws.
Delhi’s mobility card is already being compared to London’s iconic Oyster card. But unlike us, the British authorities introduced it after fixing the back-end. Set up in 2000, the Transport for London (TfL) manages all modes of public transport including the buses, the Tube, rail, trams, river services, inter-city coaches, taxis and cycles. It is also responsible for London’s 580-km road network, 6,000 traffic lights and regulating congestion charges and low-emission zone schemes.
The TfL’s Oyster is not just a travel pass. Introduced in 2003, it has now a smart tool to gather information and data to make policies and improve services. According to CityMetric (New Statesman), there are at least 5,000 developers signed up to the TfL website for data sharing and around 360 apps on Apple’s App store using its data.
With the population of self-employed workers growing in London, reported The Economist in May 2015, more than 60% commuters travel during non-peak hours. So the Tube adjusted to these unusual working hours and made occasional commuting cheaper for people who work from home a few days a week. Again, the decision to open two lines through the night on Fridays and Saturdays (which finally took off this week) is partly motivated by TfL’s discovery that nearly half of those travelling on night buses were on their way to or from work.
Delhi needs some operational integration to even attempt such groundwork. The Sheila Dikshit government moved a proposal for setting up of a Unified Transport Authority but it got stuck in administrative tangles. The AAP government put it on its 70-point agenda. But the wait continues.
With statehood remaining a sticky issue, it is difficult to get traffic police, Delhi Development Authority, municipal agencies, the Metro and the Delhi government agencies to report to the same boss or have a common mechanism for funding. But nothing stops the Centre and the state to agree on a working group of officials and experts for coordination among agencies.
Right now, the government doesn’t even have the expertise to evaluate the plans prepared by consultants. Road and transport projects involve more than brick and mortar. But the bulk of planning is still done by the government’s civil engineers who are not trained to appreciate the challenges of urban mobility.
The proposed mobility card will be of little help if it can’t offer a complete commuting solution. While aspiring to be likened to London’s Oyster, the scheme better imbibe TfL’s motto: ‘Every journey matters’.