Petrol and diesel prices have just gone up and crippling traffic jams have become a daily feature on the capital's roads. There was, perhaps, never a better reason to keep your car parked at home and start using alternate modes of transport to reach your destination.
There are close to 54 lakh vehicles out on the roads of Delhi and their number is increasing by 1,000 every day. Delhi, however, cannot boast of either a reliable or robust network of public transport or sufficient fleet of intermediary transport like taxis and auto rickshaws. The Delhi government wants Delhiites to switch over from their cars and two-wheelers to public transport but where is that transport system that can make them even think of making the move?
London, for instance, has an extensive metro network and also offers a reliable bus and taxi service. Closer home, Mumbai also offers a very old but an efficient suburban train system and a very reliable bus service that doubles up as a feeder system to the trains. It has a large fleet of taxis and auto rickshaws, which, unlike Delhi, go scrupulously by the meter. Delhi, on the other hand, cuts a very sorry figure.
"Delhi never had a dependable public transport system and all you had for years were the unreliable and infrequent Delhi Transport Corporation buses. While private buses were brought in to supplement the services, they proved to be a greater evil," said a senior transport department official on condition of anonymity.
Thankfully, the Delhi Metro came to the rescue in 2002 end but it was too little and too late. The Delhi Mass Rapid Transit System project was floated in 1980s but the Delhi Metro Rail Corporation (DMRC) was created only in 1995. Construction started in 1998, but DMRC already has a network of 68 kms and promises to add 120 more kms by 2010.
The Metro is used by to 7 lakh commuters and according to a recent study, there are at least 40,000 less vehicles on Delhi's roads thanks to the Metro. DMRC plans to have a network of 413 kms by 2021, which means if it had started in the 80s, we would already have had a citywide Metro network.
"Our ridership is bound to go up due to the hike in fuel prices," DMRC spokesman Anuj Dayal said.
The government plans Monorail and LRT networks but it doesn't seem likely that these projects would beat the 2010 deadline.
There is some hope in the form of low-floor AC buses being introduced by the DTC. "We should have introduced AC buses decades ago because a person driving a car cannot be expected to hop onto a rickety bus. We would identify routes where car users can switch to these buses," an official said. DTC would get 25 AC and 525 non-AC buses by this year-end and 4,500 buses by 2009.