A self-evident truth: Delhi needs more public transport

The recent report by the Environment Pollution (Prevention and Control) Authority to the Supreme Court highlighting the crucial need for more public transport in Delhi has stated what is plainly visible

By Gaurav Dubey
Published: Tuesday 09 July 2019
Hand rails in a bus. Photo: Getty Images

In a recent report by the Environment Pollution (Prevention and Control) Authority (EPCA) to the Supreme Court, it has been highlighted that air quality targets cannot be met unless public transport supply is urgently increased. This includes approving Phase IV of the Delhi Metro as well as expediting the process for augmenting the bus supply.

The expansion of Phase IV remains crucial towards completing the Delhi Metro network so that the system can cater to a wider set of travel needs in the megacity, while ensuring a higher ridership for the system overall.

Any additional line not only brings ridership to itself from areas that it connects, but by linking itself to the larger Metro network at strategic interchange points, helps in bringing in additional ridership for other lines too.

The matter of augmentation of bus supply, on the other hand, cannot be stressed enough. In the case of buses particularly, the linkage between public transport provision and air pollution remains fairly straightforward given the underlying economics of transportation.

In terms of the economics of commuting, the cost of travelling by a bus remains closest to using a two-Wheeler. According to the analysis of Delhi-based non-profit Centre for Science and Environment (CSE), a two-wheeler remains more economical than an Air Conditioned (AC) Delhi Transport Corporation (DTC) bus for trips up to 7.5 kilometres (km).

Even for non-AC buses, the cost remains fairly comparable for short to medium trips that are less than 10 km.

Now, let us combine this fact with the societal dimension of personal vehicular ownership in an increasingly aspirational India, whereby owning a personal vehicle is considered a critical milestone towards climbing up the ladder of social mobility, and a two-wheeler remains the first personal vehicle one owns.

Essentially, this means that while economically, it may not make a significant difference to an individual to move from buses to a two-wheeler, socially, it means increased freedom and an increased amount of prestige.

And therefore, the unavailability of bus services brought upon by inadequate bus fleet size, remains a key trigger towards ownership of two-wheelers.

Delhi remains a classical example. In 2013-14, DTC had a total fleet of 5,223 that operated on 579 routes within the city and carried an average of 43.47 lakh passengers every day. By 2016-17, the fleet size had come down to 4,027 (a reduction of 22 per cent) while the number of operated routes had come down to 474 (a reduction of 18 per cent).

Most importantly, the number of passengers carried daily had dropped to 31.55 passengers daily — a reduction of 27 per cent (DTC’s operational statistics for March, 2016 and April, 2018). In comparison, the number of registered two-wheelers in Delhi increased from 52.97 lakh in 2013-14 to 67.07 lakh — an increase of 26 per cent (Delhi Statistical Handbook, 2017).

Remarkably, a loss of almost 12 lakh passengers by DTC during the period (2013-14 to 2016-17) corresponded to an almost equivalent increase of almost 14 lakh two-wheelers.

It is worthwhile stating the impact on the environment due to this. According to CSE analysis, a person doing a 10 km trip on a two-wheeler contributes 16 times the amount of cancer-causing particulate matter to the city’s air than a person doing the same trip on a bus in Delhi.

Once we scale it up for tens of lakhs of two-wheelers that are being added to the roads of Delhi every decade, and the implication of that on air quality, and understand its linkage with supply of buses, we can begin to appreciate the urgency of scaling up bus supply in Delhi.

Gaurav Dubey is Programme Manager, Sustainable Mobility, Centre for Science and Environment, New Delhi

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