At a meeting on making public transport more affordable, officials proposed that the excise department should charge Rs. 1-2 on the sale of every bottle of liquor and the fund accumulated would be used to subsidise bus fare. Raising a public transport fund by taxing liquor would be acceptable both socially and politically, it was argued.
The earlier moves to raise a transport fund through road pricing measures on the lines of Singapore (1975), London (2003) and Milan (2008) found few takers in Delhi even though almost all expert studies commissioned by the government, Parliament and the courts recommended it at some point of time.
Restraining the movement of seven million private vehicles in a city requires political courage, a paradigm shift from the populist, and often lucrative, policies of building more roads and cutting car prices. But encouraging the use of private vehicles serves only a minority. Studies show that only a quarter of Delhi’s population owns cars and twowheelers and yet choke the city’s roads.
According to RITES, a government-owned engineering consultancy, bus ridership in Delhi has dropped from 60% to 40% since 2000. As a result, Metro is overloaded. But it is not cheap. The minimum cost of taking a bus is Rs. 5, while for Metro it is Rs. 8. While the government caters to four million passengers daily by spending ` 3,100 crore on 6,200 buses, the Delhi Metro with its ` 30,000-crore investment on the 194-kilometre track carries only 2.6 million. The bulk of Metro commuters anyway depend on buses for the first and the lastmile connectivity.
The RITES forecasts that even after the full completion of the Metro project, its ridership will still be at 20% of the vehicular trips, including nonmotorised transport in 2021. Therefore, it recommends that the bulk of the public transport services should be bus-based. Internationally, bus usage is higher than the mass-transit. In London, 3.7 million people use the Underground daily while 6.4 million take a bus. Singapore registers a daily MRT ridership of 2.65 million trips and 3.48 million trips by buses.
A study by CSE in 2012 (Waiting for the Bus) pointed out that the Delhi Transport Corporation’s cost burden was the highest among all metro cities, mainly due to the fuel costs and taxes. Since 2009, the last time the fares were revised, CNG prices have gone up by 80%. While cars and twowheelers pay a lifetime road tax, public buses are taxed every year. While the DTC pay taxes to the centre and the state, DMRC enjoyed a range of exemptions and even gets electricity at subsidised rates. The DTC had only two sources of revenue - fare box and advertisements. But Metro earns from fares, feeder bus service, consultancy, real estate, commercial development, carbon credit etc.
Fixing DTC’s financial health will also help improve its service quality. The CSE study showed that Delhi’s buses had a high breakdown rate at 2.3 breakdowns per 10,000 effective kms, while Mumbai’s recorded 1.3 for the same distance.
For years, the government has been promising the use of Global Positioning System on every bus to update the commuter waiting at the bus stop. The LED display boards provided at all new bus stops built during the Commonwealth Games have either been vandalized or run random trial messages. The kiosks to display routes and timetables lie vacant.
There are lessons to be learnt at home. The Bangalore Metropolitan Transpor t Corporation (BMTC) started revamping its bus system much after Delhi and now runs 6,400 buses. The Vajra buses were well received on the so-called IT sector routes and are now popular across the city.
A dependable, safe and popular bus service can do wonders to the clogged roads and sooty air of Delhi. Tipplers may not mind one too many for the road but can Delhi shy away from taxing congestion?