The Delhi Metro Rail Corporation, which had been asking for a fare hike since 2009, was finally granted its wish last week. The minimum Metro fare has gone up to Rs 10 from Rs 8, and the maximum fare has increased to Rs 50 from Rs 30.
Delhi Metro needs this money to stay afloat and expand. Operational costs are already up with a hike in electricity tariffs. Running trains and keeping stations clean to the standards which DMRC maintains doesn’t come cheap.
But there are worries that higher fares could lead to a fall in Metro ridership, which has only seen ups till now with 2.8 million passengers taking it daily. It may seem unlikely that Delhiites would abandon their favourite mode of transportation, especially when the mass-transit is all set to expand by another 118km. But experts have told HT that typically Metro ridership slides by 3% if fares jump by 10%.
Last year, the New York City’s subway system posted a 3% dip in ridership on weekends, its first since 2009. In San Francisco, there were 3% fewer passengers travelling on the Bay Area Rapid Transit. In Washington DC, mass-transit rail ridership is down by 12%. Overcrowding and service interruptions were making subway ridership less popular in these cities.
But a study found that in New York, Uber and other cab-hailing apps users had tripled to about 16 million passengers in October 2016, from about five million in June 2015 and could have been weaning away passengers from the mass-transit, especially on the weekends. If that is a reason to worry, Delhi and its suburbs too have seen a sudden proliferation of over 1,50,000 such cabs.
Commuters do factor in more than just how fast the Metro can take them from station A to station B. In Delhi, the time and money spent in getting to the station are often more than 50% of that spent on the actual Metro journey. Often, taking an auto or a shared ride in a cab is cheaper and more hassle-free.
In Delhi, the journey to and from a Metro station remains the biggest challenge. Feeder buses are still too few and their services limited. While many people walk to Metro stations, access points are not pedestrian friendly. Using private vehicles to get to the mass transit stations is not desirable. But at Metro stations in Delhi, more space is designated for car parks than for cycles and auto-rickshaws.
This ad-hocism around last-mile connectivity will only magnify the problems for Metro commuters once another 90 stations come up during 2017. Haphazard and unregulated parking outside these facilities are creating new choke points on Delhi’s already clogged roads.
If the Metro ridership does fall in Delhi, it would not be on account of merely a fare hike. It is up to the DMRC to resolve problems such as frequent breakdowns, delays and lack of feeder buses. Multiple agencies are responsible for removing encroachments, and regulating rickshaws, autos and e-rickshaws that form the bulk of the feeder network. The Metro needs to be complemented by an efficient bus service. But that is up to yet another agency.
Delhi’s public transport needs some operational integration, just like the British capital has Transport for London that manages the entire spectrum of public transport, including the tube, the buses, rails, trams, river services, inter-city coaches, taxis and cycles. London underwent radical overhauls of its Metro and bus networks simultaneously and increased its passenger base despite a 42% fare increase in eight years. It was only last year that Sadiq Khan, the present mayor, put a freeze on fare hikes till 2020.
With statehood remaining a sticky issue in Delhi, it is difficult to get multiple agencies to report to the same boss or have a common funding mechanism. But as pointed out earlier, nothing stops the Centre and the state to agree on a working group of officials and experts for effective coordination.
The Metro has to provide a seamless and complete transit solution to stay the popular choice it has become in Delhi. Otherwise, forced to rely on private or hired vehicles to commute to and from Metro stations, Delhiites may well become wary of the city’s latest congestion points.