Ab Dilli Door Nahin!

Delhi does India proud. It boasts wide open roads, endless flyovers, a metro network covering nearly the entire city, and of course the envious, green and beautifully laid Lutyen’s zone.

Yet I believe, within two years, Delhi will be ‘grid-locked’. Traffic during the day will move in inches, and not miles.

Signs are already evident.

Within the last two years, average speed has dropped significantly. Distances which Delhites covered laughing all the way with their foot on the car’s accelerator pedal, now seem painfully far. Traffic comes to a stand-still for slightest of bottlenecks – a broken car, partly dug sidewalk, slow moving traffic ahead, water logging.

Worse, there’s little scope to improve things any more. Roads are as wide as possible. There’s little scope to construct new flyovers as nearly all crossings have one. Metro, which would soon cover nearly entire Delhi and carries 15 Lakh commuters, is already jam-packed during peak hours.

What’s caused such a dramatic change?

Not the Common Wealth Games 🙂

Lutyens Delhi – beautiful!

Key reason is the unprecedented growth in number of private cars. Over the last two years, Delhi has added no less than 7 Lakh cars. Another 5 Lakh cars will be added over next 12 months itself. (Sigh!)

There is another reason.

In 1985, Delhi = ‘New Delhi’ + ‘Old Delhi’. Its population was 5 million. DTC, or Delhi Transport Corporation, had 5,000 buses to meet public transport needs. Private cars barely numbered a couple of laths. (Maruti started production in 1984; prior to that, India produced only 35,000 cars annually.).

Now? ‘Delhi’ means New Delhi, old Delhi, Noida, Gurgaon, Ghaziabad, Faridabad, et al.  Population has quadrupled to 20 million+.

Strangely, the number of DTC buses has shrunk. To barely 3200. Even after you add the DTC hired blue-line buses, the figure doesn’t touch 5000.

On the other hand, the private cars now number 3 million – a 15 times increase in 25 years!

Stuck in long traffic jam three days back, I asked myself: Is there any relationship between ‘too many cars’ and ‘so few buses’?

That is, did the lack of buses made people opt for cars; or the increase in cars prompted DTC to not add any more buses as nobody would have used them?  

What do you think?

Here’s my view.

If DTC were to keep pace with just Delhi’s population, it should have had 20,000 buses on road today. Considering the improvement in lifestyle and growing income, at least half of these buses should have been air-conditioned.

“But isn’t the government doing just that now? There are so many new green and red buses now?” you’d like to question.

Unfortunately, the buses total just 3,106 (according to DTC’s website).

Now that we missed the opportunity to add buses, what should be done to avoid the catastrophic consequences that are bound to befall Delhi?

Here are a few suggestions:

  1. Create footpaths, which are evenly constructed, clean, well-maintained and available to public. With lots of trees on them. Some of them could even have artificial roofs to keep the sun-off.  So we can walk on them comfortably, and without the fear of being knocked down by speeding traffic. Remember, Delhi has pleasant weather six months in year. Good quality footpaths will bring back the joy of walking.
  2. Make the traffic ‘horn-free’. If there’s one reason I hate to walk is the deafening noise of honking. Do whatever – tax it, ban it, it must be stopped! With the same kind of determination we demonstrated to get Delhi rid of pollution. (Delhi is the only city in the world where all commercial public transport vehicles run by CNG.).
  3. Create dedicated pedestrian signals. Mumbai is full of them, so is Bangalore. But Delhi has almost none. It’s impossible to cross a road without running, or without criss-crossing through numerous vehicles. In fact, the easiest way to cross a road in Delhi is to drive from one side of the road to the other! Dedicated signals will not only help pedestrian cross the roads safely, but also force motorists to respect the rights of others on the road. The latter is desperately required, especially to tone down the ‘aggressive inclined’ Delhites.
  4.  
  5. New way to look at bus service:  Allow at least three-four large private operators to offers bus service. A
    private-public model can be used where the two cooperate to offer quality bus-service at same price as DTC. Government could support by providing bus depots, investment in buses, while the private partner can focus on management and service. To illustrate: DTC has a fleet of 3106 buses and 773 routes (this is from DTC’s website). This works out to barely four buses per route. Certainly, not a very efficient way to serve passenger
    New buses introduced have brought much comfort

    needs. We have to remember that competition for bus service in Delhi comes from privately owned vehicles that take people from their residence’s doorstep to the parking lot of their office, cocooned in the luxury of their modern cars. To wean such people, the bus service has to be planned like airlines plan their routes and time. Both the quality and the comfort, and the reliability and frequency have to match what commuters are going to leave behind. In fact, it needs to be modeled like Cineplex’s which got the audience back to cinemas by offering viewers superior experience.

  6. Create pride in using public transport. Let m illustrate this. When Bangalore launched its new airport 2 ½ years ago, the Bangalore Metropolitan Transport Corporation (BMTC) introduced special, air conditioned airport buses from 9 different parts of the city. The bus service has become very popular. It also saves the city at least 5,000 private car trips to and from the airport EVERYDAY – what better way to protect environment! Every time I use the airport bus, I feel I’ve not only saved 70% of the money I’d have otherwise spent on a cab, but also feel I’ve taken a ‘green decision’.

Unless we do something quickly, Delhi will die. Sadly, other cities will not be far behind.

Dilli Door Hi Reh Gayi – could be next new phrase to go into history.  

Please share your views. I’d to take these to Delhi’s Chief Minister.

Comments

  1. Raj, first an update on Ab Dilli Door Nahin……..

    Ab Dilli Door Nahin is an upcoming animated Bollywood film featuring the voices of Ayesha Takia Azmi, Govinda, Urmila Matondkar, Suniel Shetty, Akshaye Khanna and Boman Irani. It is produced and directed by Nikhil Advani. The film traces the journey of four animals/birds from Mumbai to Delhi.

    Ok, Now coming to the real issue.

    I think as far as Delhi traffic is concerned there is a combination of reasons which is responsible for it. To begin with, DTC was and is the countries worst Public Transport system, not only when it comes to its fleet timing but even when it comes to the crowd in it. There is something like a ‘Crowd Mentality’ thing….. Like when I visited Chennai, long back, I remember the seats were available on the left hand side, yet the men folks were standing in the bus towards the right and I thought it was ridiculous. Fine, if there is a lady passenger, you vacate the seat but this bus was surprisingly woman-less, yet the men folk stood rather than take their chances in the ladies seat. It is sort of going overboard, I know, but it speaks a lot about the ‘Crowd Mentality’ thing. I been told that the Conductor would insult you even if you choose to stand on the left side of the bus, no way at all, yours is the right side and that’s what you face, stand and sit.

    Similarly, in Mumbai we know who the boss is in the BEST bus. Me, Mannu , Ashsis and Vimal Khurana went to Mumbai way back in 1989. We tried boarding a Double Decker but after counting just two of us, the conductor didn’t allow the other two to board it. “Bus full hogaya”, he said and … Ting!! Ting!!….. and the bus was off. Typical Delhites, we chased it and boarded the bus only to realize that the Conductor stood his ground, stopped the bus and told us to get down. Of course, we weren’t going to oblige so easily, after all it was a prestige issue now. As we argued with the Conductor, we looked into the crowd to look for a sympathizer but to our surprise we realized that they were not annoyed with the Conductor for having stopped the bus over just two passengers, they infact agreed with him and toldtwo of us to get down. You think we had a choice?? We got down, all the 4 of us and the bus moved on.

    What needs to be noted here is the commitment of the Conductor and also the “Crowd Mentality” which accepted the commanding position of the Conductor. In Mumbai, in the Double Decker, the Conductor even decides whether you sit on the lower deck or the upper one. So much for a disciplinarian, but good for the people.

    Both these aspect of a public transport, along with ill planning of routes, lesser number of fleets is what is killing the Delhi’s public transport. Hence, people first started to drift towards independent two wheelers. At one point of time in 1986 or so the number of Two wheelers in Delhi was more than the number of Two Wheelers in Mumbai, Chennai and Kolkatta added together. That speaks volumes about the Delhi traffic. The figures may show differently today but with the availability of cheaper car and peoples affordability rising up to it. These figures in Two Wheelers got converted to car and when they did, the Two Wheelers which were mostly limited to the men population of Delhi gained its woman share too.

    As of today, there is a huge plan to do away with the Blue Lines and they are slatted to go off the roads completely by December, 14th, 2010. Unfortunately, the authorities have tasted the traffic comfort without the Blue lines on the road during the CWG but they are not addressing the need for it, irrespective of its tardiness. It would have been better if they had come up with some concrete Public Transport alternative. Of course the existing Green lines and the new Red lines will fill in some gap but it won’t be enough. They are banking on the charted buses to fill in the gaps and how they go about doing it is left to them. They are allowing free markets to operate in the area of Public Transport which I think is unwise. Without any authority or control every alternative will have only one motive, that being, profit motive. Service will take a back seat.

    In this existing scenario, expecting the AC comforted car owner to shift towards Public Transport is great expectation.

    Other than the Public Transport woes there are other reasons, specific to Delhi.

    Delhites take pride in their Car…… it is a status symbol. How embarrassing it would be for them to travel in a Public Transport vehicle with the commoners, have you thought of that? It is not easy changing the old mind set. Of course, metro has brought in some change, a lot of change but even the Metros are now bursting in the seams. They should add 6 coaches in each train but alas the same are not available it seems.

    Yes, Metro does have the style to it like the Bangalore Buses you mentioned above but slowly and steadily it is going the Delhi way. Public decency can not be taught and it will never come on its own either.

    ;O))

  2. Dear Raj,

    Few points that can be implemented immediately

    1. Identify the office hubs and create bus service to: Nehru place, ITO, CP, Karol Bagh, Rajendra Palace, Wajir pur, Janak puri, Vikas marg

    2. Frequency to increase every 1 hr in morning and evening. e.g. if the office hrs are from 6 am to 10 am in the morning. 6 to 7 am there can be 5 buses from each hub. 7-8 am there can be 10 buses. 8-9 there can be 20 buses. Same formula for evening hrs from 5 pm to 9 pm

    3. all these buses can go for maintenance check every day between 12 pm to 4 pm. there by keeping them going like BEST buses in Mumbai

    4. the costs can be 40% less than a car fuel expenses on office trips. there can be prepaid passes for corporates. thus while people wud start opting for it; DTC gets to collect advance monies making them cash rich. or rather just link it to payment gateway

    5. lastly there can be exempt in tax for all those who donot opt for car/petrol allowances and submit actual DTC passes to encourage bus pools

    Even if they make 5 days a week; Delhi would survive

  3. Raj, I really like the pictures you’ve used. I’m keeping my fingers crossed that the perma-grid-lock (where pedestrians and cyclists go over grid-locked cars) won’t hit us for another 15 years. After that my boys are done with school and I can move to the latest city under development at the time. 🙂

  4. Let me speak about Gurgaon. A lot of places in Gurgaon are walkable – depending on where you live – or cyclable at best. So why dont people in Gurgaon walk or use a bicycle? Besides the fact that the ‘roads’ are poor, traffic is erratic, drivers are rash, etc. etc.
    There is one other reason that I have observed. People are very ‘class concious’. Your social status is judged by the kind of verhicle you drive !
    Do you know that if you rode a bicycle, you will not be permitted entry into ANY hotel or large corporate building. We had an Expat in our office who would cycle to work each morning. Every morning he was stopped by the guard and made to take a back lane to the ‘cycle parking’ lot and handed a token. He surprised the heck out of everyone there too. He wasnt permitted to ever take his bike up to the same parking via the front porch. This is a building where one of India’s largest builders has an office !
    Personally, I prefer to walk. Have you been on the ‘pavement’ lately? If it isnt encroached by hawkers, beggars and sundry time wasters smoking beedis, then it is broken in more places than one – including the place you get on and off (because the motor cyclists use these as ramps to get on and off footpaths when the road traffic is dense) ! Then along the path you will find pieces of paving missing or misalligned becaues the prep work was just so shoddy. These pieces soon disappear causing holes that are difficult to see at night
    Finally there is the cow dung and dog poop – everywhere !
    We claim to be a Socialist country, essentially. The great good of the greater masses and all that…well, hardly ! The greater good of the greater classes is more like it !
    Mr Sreedharan – the Metro Hero – was asked for his opinion on the suggestion that Public transport is for the lower SEC. He said that the upper middle classes would start taking the metro by 2015 !
    I think sooner. Classless solutions like the Metro are the answers. The next stage will be the Public bus system that has operated under the typical Govt Babu culture – corrupt, low-tech, lower quality, hence of low value to anyone who pays their taxes. A combination of these would be worthy of the name: Public transport system – something that the Public can actually use. This will then bring footpaths to life and reduce the tolerance towards shoddy jobs, banish those motorcyclists to the road and admonish cattle and pet owners who graze their pets on them

  5. Great Madhukar! Let’s hope more and more among us leave our cars behind to taste Delhi’s new public transport. And hopefully, we do it voluntarily and not because we are without our cars!
    Raj

  6. Hi Raj,
    Ab Dilli Door Nahin! BUT Mera Dilliwala Ghar Door hota Jaa Raha Hai….

    I sold my Qualis in Sept 2009 hoping to buy a new vehicle… I kept thinking what to buy what to buy!!!! I need a vehicle that could move on city roads as well as rough out with me in the rugged mountains beyond known hill stations and tarred roads.
    This past year without a personal vehicle I managed everything without my work being affected – used my brother’s car and “khachara” car parked at home, taken lift from friends, used cabs, bus and lately Delhi metro.

    After a lot of deliberation I have zeroed in on purchasing a Scorpio. If my pocket allows I would like to purchase Toyota Fortuner, Landcruiser, Land Rover etc – not because of brand but other better features that I need.

    But the fact of the matter is that I’m enjoying my Metro ride more than any other vehicle. When I see cluster of vehicles in traffic jam, moving inch by inch, I just smile with pride in comfort of my Metro. It maybe crowded at times but who cares!!!!

    Even if I buy my new vehicle sooner or later, I’ll keep enjoying my Metro rides to and fro Gurgaon & Delhi.

    Madhukar

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