The 12-day Commonwealth Games achieved what three decades of transport planning couldn't — Delhiites leaving their cars to endorse public transport.
The chaos witnessed on Delhi's roads during the trial runs for the reserved Games lane projected a traffic apocalypse in store for motorists. This was enough to drive many car users to the Metro to avoid long traffic jams.
The Games didn't see any traffic horror stories as Delhiites rediscovered public transport. From CEOs to college students, almost everyone traveled by the Metro or the sleek low-floor buses of Delhi Transport Corporation when the Games were on.
The Games managed to break the class barrier that makes many of us think that only those people use the public transport system who can't afford a car. The question is, can this become a way of life for Delhiites who even drive down to the neighbourhood grocery stores?
"The reason I bought a car a few years ago was because I didn't want to travel in overcrowded buses or haggle with the autowallahs every day," said Tripti Sharma, who works at a private firm in Nehru Place.
"I tried using the Metro during the Games to avoid the jams and just loved it. Even the new air-conditioned, low floor buses are pretty swank and I don't mind traveling in them if their numbers increase," she said.
The Games has also managed to change the image of public transport. When they think of public transport buses, the rickety and overcrowded Blueline buses are what come to Delhiites' mind. With the government pulling nearly 1,600 Bluelines off the roads and increasing the number of low-floor buses, the picture has changed. The sleek new Bus Q shelters too are a world away from the drab, leaking bus stops Delhi was so used to.
"Delhiites deserve a reliable and comfortable public transport system," said Delhi Transport Minister Arvinder Singh Lovely.
"We had committed to phase out Blueline buses and have already phased out 1,000 Bluelines," he said.
The infamous autowallahs too behaved themselves during the Games. "We have received almost no complaints of overcharging or misbehaviour by autorickshaw drivers this month," said a senior Transport Department official who didn't wish to be named.
"Delhiites are not averse to using public transport like Metro or low-floor buses but some more improvements are required," said Pankaj Agarwal, secretary general of the Delhi RWA's Joint Front. "The Metro is very convenient and you don't face any traffic jams but the trains are also crowded during peak hours."
"While visiting my relatives in Noida, I take the Metro but for regular use more feeder services are required," he said.
"How do I reach the Metro station in Green Park from my Safdarjung Enclave residence? The trains are also running beyond their capacity." Transport numbers
For this man, the Metro rocks
Ashish Banerjee, 57, partner in a private firm
Fifteen years ago, when Ashish Banerjee moved to Noida, his first purchase was a car. With the dismal transport system in the Capital's suburb, a car was a must to travel to his office in Connaught Place as well as in and around Noida. "I've got so used to driving that I never thought I could use the public transport even when the Metro reached Noida," he says.
But all that changed with the Commonwealth Games. "Though the distance from my Noida Sector 15 house to CP isn't much, the traffic snarls on NH-24 are a headache. Expecting more chaos on the roads during the Games, I decided to take the Metro instead," he says.
The Games are over, but Banerjee can't stop raving about the Metro. "Now I park my car near the house and walk to the nearest Metro station. I am at my office in less than 30 minutes," he says. Now Banerjee plans to take out his car only for family outings on the weekend. "I wish the Metro had come to Noida much earlier. I would have been saved the hassle of driving and finding parking space every day," he says.
As told to Sidhartha Roy
Rediscovering DTC buses
Ishnita Nayantara Keskar, 23, Student
For Ishnita Nayantara Keskar, 23, the Commonwealth Games were an unlikely boon. "The Blueline buses went off the roads. It was such a relief," said the post-graduate student. "I used to either travel by auto or my car earlier, but since the frequency of DTC’s new low-floor buses has increased, I prefer to travel by them," she said.
The Okhla resident has seen a marked improvement in the service of DTC buses ever since the Games.
"Before the Games, the number of DTC buses was very low and I used to travel by my car but the situation improved greatly during the Games," she says.
She finds the DTC buses more reliable and cheaper. "They have a well-defined schedule and don’t idle at the bus stops so I don’t usually get late. Also, the new AC buses are very comfortable. I don’t see the need to travel any other way," she said.
As told to Mallica Joshi
Improved public transportation and future plans
Ahead of the Commonwealth Games, Delhi saw many changes. The public transport system, too, had its share of changes. Here are some of them. Some have been implemented and some are going to be implemented.
GPS in Buses
The Transport department has already started installing global positioning system (GPS) in DTC and Blueline buses. With this, you will be able to get the expected time of arrival of the next bus on your phone through text message, through the Internet or by calling up a phone number.
Bus timings and routes will be displayed on light emitting diode, or LED display boards installed at each bus stop as well as buses. The GPS system will also generate reports on the functioning of each bus making them safer and their maintenance easier.
Information kiosks and public information system
The transport department installed smart Bus Q shelters at 400 locations around the Games venues and Games Village. The department now plans to invite tenders to display advertisements at these shelters and to maintain them. Similar Bus Q shelters will be built all over Delhi, too. Information kiosks, similar to the ones DTC set up near the stadiums, will be set up at several other locations where passenger movement is high. These will provide information on places of importance across the city and bus routes to reach there.
Drivers and Conductors
The drivers and conductors have been given uniforms to make them appear smart. Those assigned to buses meant to ferry athletes, technical officers, foreign media and delegates were also given special refresher training in English speaking and etiquette. They were also told about Delhi, various places of importance and also on how to reach those places to guide the passengers.
GPS in Autos
This will be a two-way communication system between the auto-rickshaw driver and a call centre. The passenger will be able to book an auto by calling or sending an SMS to the call centre. With this, the auto-rickshaw’s location can be traced and it will ensure the safety of the passengers. The installation of GPS will start from January 2011.
Automatic Fare Collection System
It was introduced on a pilot basis as the 'Dwarka Circular Sewa' and will soon be extended to the rest of the city.
Passengers will have to buy contact-less smart-cards to pay fare onboard. Smart Card validators will be installed near both the doors of the buses, where passengers can tap-in and tap-out their smart cards at the time of boarding and alighting.
One Control Unit will be installed near the Conductor's seat to recharge the passengers' smart cards and administrative functions like selection of route and log on/log off.
The Transport department plans to covert this smart-card into a common travel card for the DTC, Metro and other mass transit modes on the lines of London, Paris, Miami and several Australian and American cities.