Are robust DTC services a distant dream for Delhi’s commuters? For those who can’t afford the Metro, it is just an evil necessity the way it runs right now
Abhishek Mitra, a resident of Chittaranjan Park, does not take the Metro even though the Greater Kailash Metro station is just 3 km from his house. He spends Rs 180 per day to commute to his workplace in Hauz Khas. There is no reliable bus service in his area, otherwise his cost would have been just Rs 40 per day.
“I have tried everything, and every mode of travel costs the same. If I take a rickshaw to the Metro, the total cost would be the same as an autorickshaw all the way. It is a huge burden on my budget but this is the most time-efficient method,” he says.
Getting to the Metro is a task in areas like Vasant Kunj, which is a minimum 5-6 km from the Vasant Vihar and Chhattarpur Metro stations. “The bus comes once in 20 minutes, which makes it very difficult to rely on that.,” Ahan Penkar, a Vasant Kunj resident says. “Most of the people who stay here have to go for an alternative, majorly autorickshaws. They have to pay a minimum of Rs 50 to the Metro station.”
Geetam Tiwari, a researcher in the field of transport policy, traffic safety and public transport, feels these commuting woes are due to lack of initiative by the Delhi Government. “If you can spend around Rs 500 crore for one km of the Metro, give the cost of one km to DTC and see what all they can do,” Geetam argued. “Metro is good for long routes. Delhi is a megacity, and we need connectivity, but I think we spent on the Metro at the cost of our buses.”
DTC’s public relations assistant Anand Sharma assures us that DTC is equal to the task of improving the commuting experience. “Tenders of 300 new electric buses will be floated by August 8. By December, 1,000 AC buses will start running. We found out 200 buses had not completed the required 7.5 lakh km and can be used for another five years, which is such a boost for us.”
While passengers and experts are sure that DTC needs to revamp itself completely to thrive and increase ridership, the truth is that with every passing day, month, year, DTC is losing its passengers to alternative transport.
One solution the government is exploring is a public-private partnership. “Cluster buses, which are the Delhi Integrated Multi-Modal Transit System (DIIMTS) were introduced to solve this situation. A private company should own a minimum of 250 buses to be considered in the partnership. A certain amount of its earnings will be given to DTC.” According to Sharma, that will solve a lot of issues.
Geetam thinks that DIIMTS has a more organised functioning than DTC, which does not have it all. “It has GPS to track the buses, the workers are more trained. You will find none of this in DTC,” she said.
What really bothers passengers about DTC is its unreliability, though there is an app on mobile phones which can track when a bus will reach your stop. Too many buses tend to be out of operations at a time: they have gone for servicing, caught fire or broken down. “We did a lot of research to find out the exact reasons behind it but couldn’t come up with an answer. One of the reasons we are sure about is DTC buses are low floor. The roads are not suitable for that,” lead researcher at Centre for Science and Environment, Gaurav Dubey says.
Gaurav has statistics about the layoffs. “The ideal rate of operations of buses, that is the number of buses working efficiently should be around 90-92%. DTC has it around 83%,” he says. To increase that efficiency, one should have sufficient crew. DTC has the majority of its team on a contractual basis. “You will find a lot of buses lying unattended at the depot, because of no drivers,” Gaurav adds.
Experts in one voice indicate that there is a reluctance from DTC to use technology to enhance its services.
Geetam points out at examples of TSRTC (Telangana Road State Transport Corporation) and KSRTC (Karnataka State Road Transport Corporation). They have used technology to make their system more efficient.
Despite all these flaws, how does DTC have higher ridership than the Metro? Kaushik Chatterjee, a regular passenger of DTC explains, “When introduced, Metro had an affordable fare, similar to DTC rates. After the upward revision — in 2015 and 2017 — Metro became extremely unaffordable to the lower middle class and the poor. It is not a difference of few rupees here and there. There is a four-time increase,” he says.
Around 49 lakh passengers used to travel in DTC buses and Metro carries a load of around 30 lakh passengers.
For example, travelling from Subhash Nagar to Barakhamba Road by bus costs Rs 18 one way and Rs 40 by Metro, which is more than double. According to him, Metro lost 25% of its ridership because of the fare hike. Yet Kaushik, like other bus passengers, faces numerous problems: no fixed schedule, breakdowns, rude and untrained drivers and conductors.
Other factors are lack of safety for women. “In just one week, it has happened three times that I encountered drivers and conductors using cuss-words and cracking rape jokes. How is a woman passenger who is travelling in DTC because she couldn’t afford to the Metro going to feel safe?” Kaushik asks.
Geetam raises concerns of policies revolving around car owners. “Everyone is bothered about insufficient parking facilities. I think they should stop providing parking facilities and building more roads. Only then people will start demanding better public transport,” she said.
Census 2011 pointed out several interesting facts about how people travel to work. While most people walk to work or work from home, the next lot have offices in the radius of 5-10 km, which means they travel by two-wheelers or bus. With 60% of the population relying one buses, DTC should pull up its socks and provide the Capital the services it deserves.