It was 6.21 am exactly five years ago when the first train of the Delhi Metro left Shahadra station. The day did not go well, trains broke down, ticket counters were not open and escalators stopped midway as a million people crowded in, turning the coaches into packed cattle wagons.
Five years on, the story is very different. A still relatively clean Delhi Metro has expanded to three lines with a total length of 65 km, 56 stations and a daily load of over 600,000 passengers.
From the initial sense of awe at the shiny stations and seamless operations, citizens of Delhi have taken travelling in first-world standards a la Metro as part of their daily commute, even though the rest of transport infrastructure in the capital, especially the bus system, have not just failed to keep pace with demand but are rapidly falling apart.
According to a study conducted by the Central Road Research Institute (CRRI), the metro system would have saved Delhi over Rs 20 billion (approx $507 million) by the end of this year. The amount was calculated by quantifying various indicators like the amount of fuel saved, reduction in the commuting time and cost of maintenance of vehicles.
Further, the report released in June mentioned that the Delhi Metro would save 1.6 million vehicle kilometres, with its consequent cutback in emission of almost 4,000 tonnes of poisonous gases by the end of 2007.
The completion of Phase I means that an average passenger has saved 66 minutes daily, which translates into the removal of 40,000 vehicles from the road.
The impact of the Delhi Metro is usually felt during big-ticket events, like the annual India International Trade Fair at Pragati Maidan, which attracts nearly over a million visitors. Since the opening of the metro station inside Pragati Maidan, the recurrent traffic snarls on the Ring Road outside the fair complex have reduced substantially, with people preferring to travel in comfort in the underground system, rather than brave the hard-to-get parking spots.
Delhi Police's Joint Commissioner (traffic) Qamar Ahmed told IANS that the introduction of the Delhi Metro had "helped a lot in traffic management".
According to experts, any new public transport system for commuting not only has to be successful in shortening the transportation time for passengers but also has to be an effective engine for economic growth.
Like elsewhere in the world, metro has been one of the major reasons for the spike in real estate prices in previously depressed suburbs of Dwarka and west Delhi. The rise has been especially phenomenal in Dwarka, which has witnessed over 80 per cent increase in prices - a sharp contrast to the previous decade when rows and rows of multi-storied apartment blocks remained empty without any buyers in the southwest Delhi suburb.
Similarly, when phase II extends to Noida by 2009, property developers hope for a significant rise in the real estate prices by almost 30-40 per cent.
However, there is still some distance to travel in dovetailing the metro system, with its limited reach, with rest of the city.
"We have not fully utilised the Delhi Metro primarily because we do not have enough feeder services. Connectivity to all metro stations is not sufficient," union Urban Development Minister Jaipal Reddy acknowledged in June.
There have been several initiatives to increase feeder services, but they have still not fulfilled the demand. A recent unique project introduced was a 'hire a cycle' scheme introduced at the Vishwavidyalaya station.
Even Delhi Metro officials acknowledge that there is still some way to go in integration plans, like common ticketing system for buses and metros. "We are ready to go ahead with it," said a senior official, obtusely hinting that the delay may be from the Delhi government's side.
At the same time, traffic experts said the metro system was not a replacement to the existing public transport system, but only a complementary network that often induces increased commuting by passengers. For example, anecdotal evidence from shopkeepers in Chandi Chowk demonstrates that there has been an increase in footfall since the Chawri Bazaar station was inaugurated.
Delhi Metro, with its limitations, is certainly not the magic wand to solve the ailing public transport crisis in the capital. With a moribund public bus service, there has been no drop in the number of 600 new vehicles registered in Delhi every day.
Similarly, traffic statistics have only registered a dip of about one per cent in motor vehicle accidents since the introduction of Metro in Delhi. "Maybe, there will be a more substantial impact once Phase II is implemented and there is a more expanded network," said a senior police officer. Delhi Metro is set to add another 118 kms by 2010 in time for the Commonwealth Games.