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Metro Matters: How new partner London can help Delhi ride better

Indian cities are asphyxiating with traffic congestion and it hasn’t helped that in the last 20 years, the number of cars has gone up five times while the number of public buses increased by only 25%

columns Updated: Jan 09, 2018 12:51 IST
Shivani Singh
Shivani Singh
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
Delhi buses,Transport for London,TfL
Commuters trying to catch a DTC bus in the middle of a road on a day when Ola Cabs and Uber were on strike in April, 2017.(Sunil Ghosh/HT Photo)

Looking for ideas to overhaul the ragtag public transport in Indian cities, the Union cabinet last week decided to enter a partnership with Transport for London (TfL).

We could do well in seeking help from the agency that has transformed London into a city that moves efficiently. In contrast, Indian cities are asphyxiating with traffic congestion. It hasn’t helped that in the last 20 years, the number of cars has gone up five times while the number of public buses increased by only 25%.

Delhi is the epitome of this chaos. Following a systematic erosion of the city’s bus system, the fleet size has hit an eight-year low. The Metro network is expanding but the last-mile connectivity options are grossly inadequate. Pedestrian and cyclists have no road rights. Every year, private vehicle numbers jump by 7-10%. Even with the country’s most extensive road network, Delhi can’t accommodate this ever-expanding fleet of vehicles.

That is enough to make Delhi a case study and seek remedies for its transport woes in this partnership with London. If fixed, the national capital could, in turn, become a template for transport reform for the rest of the Indian cities, just as London is for cities across the United Kingdom.

Here are a few lessons Delhi could learn from London:

Integrate and streamline: Delhi’s transport management is riddled with as many as 19 agencies, including Union government ministries, in charge of roads, pedestrian facilities, transport modes, traffic management, street lights and numerous other functions that keep a city moving.

Another capital city, London found a solution in the Transport for London. Set up in 2000 under the mayor of London, the TfL manages all modes of public transport including the buses, the Tube, rail, trams, river services, inter-city coaches, taxis and private hires, and cycles. It also looks after London’s 580-km road network, 6,000 traffic lights, and regulates congestion charges and low-emission zones.

Invest in bus services: In London, five million people use the 400-km Underground network daily while six million take a bus. Buses are cheap and still the priority in the British capital’s transport planning.

For a population of 8.6 million, London has 9,500 buses. Delhi, with 16.7 million people, has only 5,421. Still the cheapest mode of public transport in London, buses access areas that are not on the tube or rail map.

To beat London’s increasing road congestion, plans are afoot to give priority to buses ahead of the rest of the traffic on selected routes, and add capacity by buying more double-deckers. To boost ridership, the TfL has launched Hopper — a fare scheme that allows passengers to make a second journey for free within one hour of beginning their first.

Take people on board: From running night buses to providing alternatives bus service in case of a tube shutdown, the TfL even provides travel mentors to help people — particularly the elderly and the disabled — navigate their first few journeys around London.

Delhi is all set to launch a common mobility card or a pre-paid smart ticket for commuters to pay for their Metro and bus rides before they board the vehicle. Launched 11 years ago, London’s Oyster card works for all modes of public transport that the TfL controls. It also helps gather data, which is freely available to application developers to build transport apps.

Bite the bullet: Back in 2003, London introduced a congestion tax to discourage private vehicles from entering its central district. The charge — now GBP 11.50 (nearly R 1,000) per drive — raised GBP 250 million last year. By law, this income has to be reinvested in public transport after covering the cost of enforcement.

In 2008, London introduced low-emission zone where vehicles that do not meet high emission standards are charged a pollution fees. Last year, the authorities scaled it up by adding a GBP 10 fine for drivers of pre-Euro 4 vehicles, typically those registered before 2006.

There is no permanent solution to congestion as even the bold experiments in London have thrown up new challenges. The numbers of private cars have dropped sharply in restricted zones but the space vacated has since been filled up by private cabs and delivery vans.

As the British capital looks for ways to meet its new-age challenges, Delhi must make a beginning and move in the right direction. For inspiration, we don’t need to look beyond our new partner and its motto: Every Journey Matters.

First Published: Jan 09, 2018 12:48 IST