Efficient public transport: Has Delhi missed the bus?

  • Atul Mathur, Hindustan Times, New Delhi
  • Updated: Sep 10, 2014 01:06 IST

The success of a city’s public transport system depends on how many people use its bus service. In Delhi, only 40% commuters (50 lakh) travel in buses every day.

Though up from a mere 22 lakh in 2008-09 (as per Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) study ‘Waiting for the Bus: Paying for Mobility in Our Cities), experts said there was an earnest need to increase the number of buses and take ridership to a healthy 80% by 2020, as envisaged in the Delhi Master Plan.

“Delhi needs a high-frequency high-capacity bus system. There should be about 14,000-15,000 buses on road by 2021. Bus stands should be within a walking distance of mere five minutes from all areas. Bus frequency should be a maximum of 2-3 minutes in peak hours and 5 minutes during off-peak hours,” said Ashok Bhattacharjee, advisor, CSE and former director of Unified Traffic and Transportation Infrastructure (Planning & Engineering) Centre (UTTIPEC).

Though the number of buses has seen a rise and its ridership too has increased, it has failed to meet the expectations of people. Delhi’s bus service continues to be erratic and breakdowns are frequent. But experts believe buses play a crucial role in mobility in big and medium-rung cities and a well-managed and well-organised modern bus system delivers efficient public transport services at affordable rates.

“There is an urgent need to improve public transport. There should be proper routing and scheduling of buses to make public transport system more reliable,” said PK Sarkar, head, department of transport planning, School of Planning and Architecture.

The Delhi government’s own assessment says the city should have at least 11,000 buses. Since DTC alone cannot run such a huge fleet, the government divided its fleet equally between DTC and cluster bus service, which is run by the Delhi Integrated Multi-Modal Transit System (DIMTS).

The DTC is in the process of buying 1,380 buses with which it will reach its target of running 5,500 buses. However, lack of space for depots to park buses has prevented DIMTS from acquiring the fleet. And while the number of buses may have gone up, the service continues to remain erratic.

Some bus routes boast of back-to-back buses, while there are routes where the frequency varies between 20 and 30 minutes. Here’s why this happens: Bus routes are modified on commuters’ demand, pressure from local politicians and the ‘wisdom’ of DTC officials. No scientific study forms the basis of bus allocation.

The change in routes made by the DTC on the basis of DIMTS’ route rationalisation study done did not extend beyond 25 routes taken up in the pilot phase. Reliability, experts believe, is another issue. Unlike South American cities such as Bogota and Curitiba, Geneva in Europe and Jakarta in Indonesia, where commuters know the exact time of arrival of the next bus, the service in Delhi is unpredictable.

Except on the BRT corridor, the 5,000-odd bus stops in Delhi do not have an operational passenger information system (PIS). The DTC had installed PIS display boards in Lutyens’ Delhi, but the service never became operational.

“The GPS devices installed in buses have either been removed or have been damaged by drivers or companies that maintain these buses. Unless you have a system to track the movement of a bus, you cannot know how much time it is going to take to reach a particular bus stop,” said a senior DTC official, requesting anonymity.

Para Transit Delhi’s para-transit too requires a complete overhaul. There are about 80,000 registered auto-rickshaws and 20,000 taxis (including radio cabs) in the Capital.

However, refusal to go and overcharging are two big problems that commuters face in the city. The autorickshaws do not have proper stands and unlike Mumbai and Kolkata or foreign cities, you cannot flag down a taxi here.

Experts said there is a need to regulate autorickshaws in Delhi and their number also needs to go up. “The Supreme Court has put a cap of one lakh autos which should be removed,” said Nalin Sinha, Director, Initiative for Transportation and Development Programmes.

Though the transport department has been trying to regulate autorickshaws by making GPS device compulsory, the unions are resisting the move.

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