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How many flyways must we add before we pay congestion tax?

columns Updated: Oct 14, 2013 20:46 IST
Shivani Singh
Shivani Singh
Hindustan Times
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After declaring Wednesdays as bus days for his senior staff, Union petroleum minister Veerappa Moily finally ditched the chauffer-driven government car and got on to the public transport last week. Voluntary use of public transport once a week is part of the minister’s mega fuel conservation campaign.

Moily’s staff responded well. Two joint secretaries rode bicycles from their homes to office. His ministry claimed to have saved 600 litres of petrol and diesel worth over `40,000 in just one day. We hope Moily’s Wednesday’s commute to work was not a one-off celebrity jaunt, the one for the camera. We have seen enough of those in the past.

Delhi Metro, of course, has made public commuting easier. But in a city living in silos, many wouldn’t be caught dead on public transport with the plebeian. There have been demands to introduce a first-class section with higher fares to attract those who avoid the “cattle class”. Fortunately, Delhi Metro Rail Corporation (DMRC) has refused to fuel a class divide.

The frequency of such demands offers an insight into the city’s transport woes. The 11-year-old Delhi Metro now ferries 24 lakh passengers daily. Yet, 700 new cars hit the roads every day and their number is growing at 7-8% every year. Clearly, not many of those who can afford to buy cars are using the Metro.

By 2016, the DMRC will add another 140 km to its existing network of 190 km. The Capital will also have monorail and pod taxis in years to come. But without optimal utilisation, mere development of infrastructure will not unclog Delhi’s roads.

In Delhi, mobility is not an issue. Accessibility is. Mindset apart, the absence of last-mile connectivity — means to commute to and from Metro stations — is a major reason why many do not use the service. Even Moily, who was happy to have saved time travelling by the Metro, thought getting to the stations was the biggest problem.

A 2010 study by the School of Planning and Architecture revealed that 58% of those who commuted by private vehicles were willing to use the Metro if provided with better feeder service. And, almost 90% of those who did take the Metro identified feeder service as a problem.

Feeder buses that connect Metro stations to residential neighbourhoods are few and their service is limited to only some stations. The time and money spent in getting to the station is often more than 50% of the cost of the actual journey. While most people walk to the stations, access points are not pedestrian friendly.

Using private vehicles to get to the station is not desirable, say experts. But at Metro stations in Delhi, there is more space designated for car parks than there are for cycle and auto-rickshaws — the main transit option in the absence of feeder buses. The result is over-reliance on cars, even for short-distance commutes. Studies have shown that almost 50% of all cars trips in the city are for less than 6km.

Earlier this year, a High Court-appointed special task force on traffic suggested levying congestion pricing in commercial districts such as Connaught Place, Karol Bagh, Chandni Chowk, Nehru Place and South Extension. Interestingly, citizens too responded positively. But implementing such harsh measures requires political courage.

As for the elite, they will resist anything with a ‘mass’ tag. Punishing congestion taxes, not lessons in socialism, forced the privileged share the underground with the plebs in many cities. Whether they like it or not, crawling road traffic will make the so-called compromise inevitable in the long run. There is only so much road space — or so many flyovers — Delhi can have.