Metro vs bus: Integrated public transport system need of the hour
It was reported in the media that the Delhi Metro Rail Corporation (DMRC) has requested Delhi government to not run buses parallel to its network. The DMRC feels that running bus along the same lines as Metro will take away passengers from the Metro, which will result in its under-utilisation thus impacting its finances. The Delhi Metro ridership declined ever since it increased the fare in 2017. Currently, the Metro in Delhi carries around 24 lakh passengers per day. On the other hand, buses in Delhi have seen a rise in usage. The Delhi Transport Corporation (DTC) has seen an increase in the number of passengers from 27 lakh to 32 lakh in last one year. Therefore, Delhi Metro feels that as more buses come into the systems and as their route gets rationalised, it will impact its patronage.
A somewhat similar conversation has also happened in Gurugram. Infrastructure Leasing & Financial Services (IL&FS) Limited, the erstwhile operator of Rapid Metro in Gurugram, had served termination notices to the state government stating an alleged breach of contract. One of the reasons was that Haryana government was unable to ban auto rickshaws that were running parallel to the Rapid Metro’s network. The private operator felt that it was losing the ridership and income due to the shared auto rickshaw. IL&FS eventually pulled out of the Rapid Metro project, which is still struggling with low ridership.
Therefore, the question is should there be a parallel bus service along Metro lines? If Metro and buses offer same quality of service and same price, then surely there should not be any overlap but what if there is a difference? So, before getting into the Metro vs bus debate, let’s look at three fundamental parameters:
Delhi Metro has the largest Metro rail network in the country with 390 train coaches running over 391 kilometres of network in Delhi and its urban agglomeration. Delhi has close to 30,000 kilometres of road network. Out of which around 1,200 kilometers are main roads in the city. If we assume that majority of the population lives around main roads in the national capital, it can be seen that even with such a large network Metro cannot reach a bulk of the population. Also, building Metro network is costly. The first three phases of Delhi Metro has come over a price tag of over ₹70,000 crore. Therefore, to assume that Metro can go to every corner in the city is neither technically nor financially feasible. Buses, on the other hand, have flexible operation. Yes, Delhi is facing a shortage of buses but if the buses are added with well-designed routes and operations, it can cater to majority of the population.
The average trip length in Delhi is around 11 kilometres. However, the average trip length of Delhi Metro user is around 16 kilometres. This means that Metro is preferred mode of transport for longer distance. In fact, Metro lines connecting the urban agglomeration towns like Gurugram and Noida have much more usage. This is also due to the fact the in longer distances Metro offers much better service and is also time saving. However, public transport is also needed for shorter distances and that’s where the Metro becomes inconvenient. This is where the buses come in. The flexibility of the operations can easily cater to shorter distance trips as well. Hence, Delhi government’s route rationalisation is a right approach to structure route to cater to short and long distance usage.
As per the draft Delhi route rationalisation and last mile connectivity report, the average bus user in Delhi spends around ₹11 per trip while the Metro user spends around ₹29 per trip. This means that the average Metro user spends more than two-and-a-half times of the average bus users. Therefore, the Metro is a costly public transport option. But the bigger question is how many people can afford it? The report also shows that 48% of households in Delhi spend anywhere between ₹750 to ₹2,000 per month on transportation. This means that average ticket size is between ₹8 and ₹21 for almost half of the population in Delhi. This makes it clear that Metro will be unaffordable for more than half of the population. However, given the skewed income distribution, this number may be much higher. Therefore, the question is should the poor be forced to use expensive mode of public transport when they can’t afford? This additional expenditure may impact their spending on education, health and other basic services, especially for the poor.
No single mode of transport can address all the mobility requirement of a city, Metro included. What is important is to develop a multimodal transport plan, which is based on relative strength of transport options. Therefore, Delhi should not get into Metro vs bus debate and instead focus on getting more people in public transport.
This is an important learning for cities like Gurugram, which are developing public transport system. Some high-density corridors may need Metro, while others may be served by a high-quality city bus service. The city should focus on an integrated transport system.
(Amit Bhatt is director, integrated transport, at WRI-India)