When the Aam Aadmi Party swept to power in Delhi in 2014, it immediately promised to bolster the city’s bus system that was groaning under plunging vehicle numbers and an outdated fleet.
Chief minister Arvind Kejriwal pledged to take the Delhi Transport Corporation’s strength to 10,000 vehicles and introduce premium buses to make car users to shift to public transport.
But after 15 months in office, the AAP is yet to add a single bus to theDTC, spelling doom for the backbone of Delhi’s transport system that meets over 60% of the city’s travel demand and torpedoing attempts to clear the Capital’s foul air.
Officials say a mix of poorly drafted tenders, confusion in the government about the kind of buses to be procured and repeated delays is slowly choking the DTC.
The result: In the past five years, the corporation’s bus strength has fallen by a third and the DTC carries 847,000 fewer passengers than it did when the AAP first came to power in 2013.
The AAP first focused on rural areas and moved a proposal for 1380 standard floor and 500 mini buses. But a few months later, officials were asked to prepare a proposal for 1,380 semi-low-floor buses.
“In between, a bus aggregator policy was launched to bring in premium buses. Now, the government wants to procure 3,000 buses of different categories,” said a DTC official.
“No scheme has taken off and we might have 1,000 buses under cluster scheme but that too will take a year.”
The last bus was added to the DTC fleet five years ago. Seven unsuccessful attempts have been made since, and with each failed bid, the commuters’ faith in the corporation has plummeted. The DTC’s passenger strength per bus is currently the lowest in four years.
“The number of passenger carried per bus is also reducing. It has resulted into overcrowding and overall the ridership of DTC has reduced from 158.67 crore in 2013-14 to 129.44 crore in 2015-16,” the DTC official said.
This failure has also wreaked havoc with Delhi’s air, considered one of the most polluted in the world, as the number of private vehicles has mushroomed in the absence of a credible public transport system.
Data shows the share of buses among registered vehicles has shrunk to 0.36% in 2014-15, almost 80% down from 1.52% in 1980-81.
During the same period, the share of private vehicles (two and four wheelers) jumped to 95.95% from 86.61%.
This is bad for the city’s air as cars and two wheelers emit far more toxic effluents per passenger carried compared to buses.
Private vehicles use more than 75% of the road space but meet only 20% of the commuting demand.
Buses use just 5% road space to cater to 60% of the commuting demand in the city.
The depleting fleet has buttressed its image as a poor man’s service, keeping new commuters away. This is bad news as a high-level committee set up by the urban development ministry said an improvement in the bus service as the only option to decongest Delhi.
“To make people use buses, access to service should be within walking distance from home or office and bus fares should be priced less than per/km cost of running a two wheeler. For Delhi, 2,000 buses should be procured immediately and 4,000 in the next phase,” the report said.
Of the 4352 buses, DTC has 569 standard, 2,506 green low-floor and 1,275 AC low-floor buses. Apart from this, there are 1,100 cluster buses in the city.
The standard buses are outdated and will be taken off road by the end of this year.
“Most of the standard buses have been phased out as they have completed their service. Buses have to be taken off the road after they complete five lakh kilometer and eight years on the road. However, the new buses will be procured that will be fit enough for 12 years and 7.5 lakh km,” the official added.
In the past five years, the DTC has sold more than 1,200 buses to scrap dealers.
In its last budget, the AAP government had said that the only way to reduce pollution is by improving the public transport.
“The government will procure about 1,380 semi low floor buses, 500 midi buses under DTC and around 1000 more buses under cluster scheme. We propose to bring 10,000 buses of different specifications, to meet the needs of commuters,” deputy chief minister Manish Sisodia had said.