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HindustanTimes Sat,30 Aug 2014
Infrastructure alone can’t cure Delhi’s sclerosis
Shivani Singh, Hindustan Times
January 29, 2012
First Published: 22:46 IST(29/1/2012)
Last Updated: 18:18 IST(12/3/2012)

A senior MNC executive recently wrote to Hindustan Times, demanding “premium coaches” in Delhi Metro. This, he claimed, would attract the non-cattle class to Metro, who now avoid the service because of the subaltern crowd.

While the Delhi Metro Rail Corporation (DMRC) has steadfastly refused to fuel class divides, the frequency of such demands offers an insight into the city’s stubborn transport woes.

The 10-year-old Delhi Metro now ferries 20 lakh passengers daily. Yet, at least 700 new cars hit Delhi’s roads every day and the size of the private fleet is growing by 10% every year. Clearly, not many of those who can afford to buy cars are using the Metro.

By 2016, the DMRC will add another 120km to its existing network of 190 km — a 63% expansion. The Capital will also have more options for public transport in monorail and pod taxis in years to come. But without optimal utilisation, mere development of infrastructure will not unclog Delhi’s roads.

The elite will resist anything with a ‘mass’ tag. Punishing congestion taxes, not lessons in socialism, forced the privileged to share the underground with the plebs in many cities. Of course, crawling road traffic makes that ‘compromise’ inevitable in the long run.

Delhi’s choice, therefore, is simple: Crack the tax whip now to ease road congestion or watch the Capital go, say, the Mexico City way (a car for every four citizens) when daylong pile-ups will leave no real commuting option other than the Metro.

Mindset apart, the absence of last-mile connectivity — means to commute to and from Metro stations — is a major reason for many Delhiites not using the service. We need more feeder buses and also ‘share’ autos and taxis. Since office-goers mostly travel single, ‘share’ autos and taxis can ferry three to four times the numbers. A recent introduction in Mumbai, ‘share’ autos are already popular. In Kolkata, they ferry lakhs every day.

But even ‘share’ autos will have to overcome class, and gender, barriers in Delhi. If the well-heeled are reluctant to share Metro coaches, they won’t be caught dead squeezing themselves into shared autos or taxis. Also, shared services will have limited appeal to the Capital’s women who need reserved coaches even in the Metro for very real security concerns.

It is not impossible to make Delhi’s roads safer. It is certainly possible to provide effective last-mile connectivity and levy anti-car taxes to ensure maximum utilisation of the public transport infrastructure.

It will be impossible, though, to keep adding to that infrastructure beyond its physical limits.

London, the oldest of mega cities, hit that limit years back when its underground network covered all possible corners of the city. But the growing population required that Londoners push the boundaries of modern infrastructure. So mayor Boris Johnson simply returned to the basic: Paddle power.

Ridiculed at the conception stage, Boris bikes are now equally popular among executives and students.

Why only London, cycling is the latest short-distance solution for urban transportation across the world — from Paris to Melbourne, including Hangzhou (China). Even Bangalore launched its own Automated Public Bicycle Sharing System last October.

Delhi’s existing cycling tracks — mostly along the BRT corridor — lead to nowhere.

For a start, the Capital can draw up cycling grids in its educational campuses. Or, while rediscovering the basics, Delhi can at least reclaim its footpaths from encroachers. Adequate walking and cycling space will surely take some load off Delhi’s arteries, and those of the Delhiites.


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