To catch a Delhi bus

Read a daily commuter’s hilarious (and serious) take on how millions like her struggle to access the commonest mode of transport in India’s capital and the reasons behind it

By Ananya Choudhury
Published: Monday 18 March 2019
Delhi bus
Credit: CSE Credit: CSE

My colleague often argues that cycling is the best way to workout. But I can totally bet on the matter that, catching a bus in Delhi can help you reduce 5 kg a day. I did the mental math and the calculation before coming to this conclusion. So, here’s the breakdown:

One kg for mental exertion — “Why is my bus not here at its scheduled time?”, “Did I miss it?”, “Is it delayed?”, “Why is my Google bus locator showing that the bus just passed my location?”, “Have I missed it again?”

Three kg for the Usain Bolt stage — you have to run as fast as possible, just like Bolt. And despite all your efforts, your bus is moving way faster than the speed you can catch it and it is standing almost half a mile away from its designated stop.

One kg for the Wrestling stage — yes, you read it right. You have to wrestle your way through the same door that several other human beings are also attempting to throw themselves inside the bus. A gentle elbow to someone’s ribs and a hearty yank on the door frame should victoriously pull you inside of this marvellous moving vehicle.

Disclaimer to the people or rather “the contestants”: you might get “the seat” or the medal in the end or not.

Another disclaimer, if it is summer: You may lose an additional three kg to this calculation to account for bodily fluids via sweat.

How, you may ask, was I able to develop this genius, science-proven formula? From a set of very lively personal experiences, I have extrapolated and analysed key data points to see what overall trends arise in the great sport of Bus-Catching in Delhi.

So without further delay, let us count down the favourites, shall we?

A sport yet to be introduced to much of the world, the activity of tracking down and sprinting after buses requires Olympic-level athleticism. 

My colleague, Shambhavi and I sit patiently at the Batra Hospital bus stand, which is situated on one of the most congested roads in Delhi, Mehrauli-Badarpur; waiting for our bus to take us home (hopefully).

Google shows us that our designated bus just passed out current location and the next bus is in 15 minutes. But guess what? We failed to see that too. Now, the bus is almost 45 minutes late. We start to think about how cursed we are bus-wise.

But, this is the scenario in most parts of Delhi, if you are waiting to catch a bus. To lift the curse, I start to investigate what exactly goes wrong in the whole system that we are not able to catch a bus. Meanwhile, we book an Uber shared cab to go home. 

The investigation reveals a court order dated to 1998, directing the Delhi Government to augment the bus system by adding 10,000 more buses by 2001. In 2001, the Delhi Government submitted a status, saying this could not be implemented, initially due to change of fuel of buses from diesel to CNG during the period of 2001 and onwards.

The Government of National Capital Territory of Delhi (GNCTD)’s report on route rationalisation also estimated that the Delhi bus system had a shortfall of 11,000 buses in 2007.

A 2017 report by Delhi-based think-tank, Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) suggested that the existing bus fleet was well short of the target of 10,000 buses that had been recommended in 1998.

The number of buses (by the Supreme Court order of 1998) is less than half of what the city may need to have a public transport modal share of 80 per cent (as the city targeted to achieve by 2021 according to the Delhi Master Plan). The situation becomes graver with the ageing fleet, as no successful order for the procurement of new buses has been placed by the Delhi Transport Corporation (DTC) since 2008, though in 2018-2019, DTC had floated 4 (failed) tenders to procure buses.

Initially, the renewal process of the Delhi bus fleet was largely triggered by the CNG programme and subsequently by the 2010 Commonwealth Games. The fleet size of DTC was at its peak at the time of the Commonwealth Games and since then, the fleet size is constantly declining. Currently, the city bus fleet consists of 5,561 buses (3,382 DTC buses + 1,679 Cluster buses). In comparison to other mega cities, Delhi has the minimum number of buses per million population.

Now, the most debated question: how many buses does a city need? To be honest, there is no hard-and-fast rule to decide this.

Service Level Benchmarks (SLBs) adopted for buses by the Union Ministry of Urban Development (now Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs) considers 60 buses per lakh of population as appropriate.

In 2010, the Union Ministry of Finance and the Asian Development Bank developed a toolkit Public Private Partnership in urban bus transport for Maharashtra, and flagged off a set of criteria for deciding bus numbers for cities. Apart from the SLB criteria, the toolkit also introduced a number of other criteria — such as trip efficiency, kilometre efficiency, punctuality etc. So, Delhi will have to decide the numbers based on these range of criteria.

As the investigation goes on and on, more disappointing facts come to notice. Apart from less number of buses, the service headway (basically the waiting time) statistics are also not giving much hope. Very few routes run by the DTC have less than 5 minutes of headway during peak hours. Further, the absence of a passenger information system makes the system more unreliable for the passengers and push them to ‘book a cab’.

But, there is still hope left. In September 2017, the Government of Delhi decided to procure 3,000 buses under the Cluster scheme. Further, the Government of the National Capital Territory of Delhi has also carried out a comprehensive Route Rationalisation study of all existing bus routes and last mile connectivity requirements after determining the present travel demand in the city in a scientific manner. Its objective is to maximise service quality and public transport access.

So we are hoping that soon, we will ‘catch a bus’ rather ‘book a cab’.

The author is Senior Research Associate, Sustainable Mobility, Centre for Science and Environment, New Delhi

Subscribe to Daily Newsletter :

India Environment Portal Resources :

Comments are moderated and will be published only after the site moderator’s approval. Please use a genuine email ID and provide your name. Selected comments may also be used in the ‘Letters’ section of the Down To Earth print edition.