The para-transit service started to serve people in Delhi's poor public tranport accessibility areas is deteoriorating; given its importance, it has to be salvaged
The success of a public transport service depends on the experience of a traveller at every leg of a journey. Delhi has been experiencing a paradigm shift in its mobility patterns due to the expansion of the built-up area.
A target to achieve 80 per cent of public transport share has been envisaged in the Delhi Master Plan of 2021. But, it cannot be achieved solely by scaling up the public transport fleet and neglecting the overall mobility ecosystem, including first and last-mile connectivity.
According to the Delhi Urban Environment and Infrastructure Improvement Project (DUEIIP), more than 75 per cent of Delhi’s population lives in unplanned colonies such as JJ Clusters, urban and rural villages, unauthorised colonies, etc, where public transport service is limited. Therefore, a para-transit service named as 'Gramin Seva' was initiated in the year 2011 by the Transport Department, Government of National Capital Territory Delhi (GNCTD), to improve first and last-mile connectivity in the unplanned colonies.
According to the information provided by the Transport Department, a total of 6,153 Gramin Seva vehicles are operating on 166 routes authorised by Regional Transport Authority (RTA). The average daily ridership of the service is 80,000 approximately.
Traffic Police and Regional Transport Offices are the main authorities responsible for regulatory issues. The minimum fare for Gramin Seva is Rs 5 per person (for the first 3 km), Rs 10 for up to 7 km and Rs 15 above 7 km.
The vehicle permit is issued at the taxi unit of the Transport Department in Burari after payment of Rs 2,000 which is valid for five years. The vehicles also need to undergo fitness tests every year and after the approval, a fitness certificate is provided.
According to the GNCTD regulations, the Gramin Seva owner shall adhere to conditions such as maximum seating capacity of six excluding the driver, compliance with Bharat Stage III fuel norms, ply only on specific allowed routes, shall be equipped with Global Positioning System (GPS), first-aid box and fire extinguisher, painted with white colour, 75 mm light blue and green color strips in the middle of the vehicle, inscription of ‘Gramin Sewa’ in between the horizontal stripes, inscription of name, address and telephone number of permit holder on the rear exterior of the body and, helpline number of the Transport Department, GNCTD, on both inside and outside of the vehicle.
In addition to it, the vehicle design is approved by the Automotive Research Association of India or any other agency as approved by the Government of India (GoI). However, due to the laxity in enforcement of the regulations and proper service planning, the service is deteriorating.
As reported by Delhi Traffic Police along with ground verification carried out by the sustainable mobility team of New Delhi-based non-profit Centre for Science and Environment (CSE), the vehicles usually carry 10-12 passengers, excluding the driver which is double than the allowed limit.
In some vehicles, the seat structure is modified so as to accommodate 15-16 passengers excluding the driver. It makes the vehicles unstable and poses a threat to other road users as well. The vehicles lack basic amenities such as first-aid boxes, fire extinguisher, head and tail lights, etc.
The majority of vehicles are rusted due to which, the inscribed details are not usually visible properly. Though the Gramin Seva usually is confined to specific routes, violations are rampant.
To understand the other facet of the situation, the mobility team also interviewed ten Gramin Seva drivers who have been driving the vehicles since 2010. The key issues highlighted by the drivers are discussed below:
When questioned about exceeding the allowed passenger limit, the drivers reply that the government has not raised the fare structure since 2011 irrespective of the rise in CNG prices every year. Auto fares have been increased three times in the last nine years but they are completely neglected.
Moreover, the upfront cost of the vehicle comes to Rs 3.5 lakh approximately, with no incentive provided by the government unlike subsidies on electric rickshaws. Assuming an average 10 trips in a day, the monthly income comes around Rs 15,000 which is not sufficient to sustain in a city like Delhi.
As the vehicles are almost nine-years-old, sometimes they have to make four visits for its servicing which costs around Rs 700 at once, which again cuts down the monthly income. Therefore, carrying more passengers per trip is the only option left to maintain their monthly income.
The service drivers pay fines for stopping the vehicle near junctions and on the roadside. But the government has not provided even adequate halt and go points, the drivers said. The surrounding area of available halt and go points are either encroached or proper signages are not available.
Due to this, the drivers stop randomly as the passengers do not get to know about the halt and go point or prefer to stay away from the encroached area.
The government has not allocated any demarcated parking land and designated Gramin Seva stands for the service vehicles in the city. The on-street parking spaces are fully occupied by private cars, leaving very little space for them to park. Many times, the vehicles are found in damaged conditions as they get hit by night traffic which increases monthly maintenance charges.
The drivers have to face the insolent behavior of the traffic police regularly, especially regarding issuing of challans. In order to avoid such situations, the drivers pay a certain fixed amount monthly to traffic police as bribes. The bribe is never demanded directly by the traffic cops; there are hints thrown in and the driver has to haggle over the bribe amount.
The ground verification carried out by the mobility team shows that there are flaws in both the parties, viz. regulatory authorities and the vehicle permit holders; hence, blaming only Gramin Seva for creating menace on roads is completely unfair.
The drivers claim the vehicles undergo a fitness test every year. During the test, the vehicle needs to be in good condition along with all the amenities listed in the permit regulations present in it.
But contrary to this, around 3,000 Gramin Seva vehicles have been running without GPS devices since 2011, according to media reports. Thus, it raises questions over the quality of fitness tests carried out by the RTA.
The travel demand study for Gramin Seva was carried out in the year 2011 by Delhi Integrated Multimodal Transit System (DIMTS) based on the projected population for the year 2011. Although Census 2011 data has already been released, no further study has been done to ensure proper demand-based allocation of routes and fleet.
Due to the Motor Vehicle Act, 2019, the compliance with traffic rules among the public, especially in Delhi has improved a lot; however, the trend of carrying extra passengers in the Gramin Seva continues. The service has been criticised several times but considering the continuing trend of carrying extra passengers means that either there is a lack of enforcement by the traffic police or matters are resolved by bribes.
What are the solutions?
Although there are several faults in the service, it has already become part of the city's public transport scene and has become a source of livelihood. The Gramin Seva has become indispensable for people living in poor public transport accessibility areas.
Therefore, improvement of the service is critical to limit the increase in private vehicles on roads. Otherwise, the service would continue to further tangle the traffic situation. To improve the service, the government can take actions as discussed below:
1. The transport department shall consider a revision in fare structure.
2. Delhi Development Authority (DDA) shall provide dedicated parking facilities for the vehicles.
3. DDA shall provide land for the development of Gramin Seva stands.
4. The transport department shall conduct a travel demand study for the service to update routes and fleet.
5. The transport department, along with traffic police, shall take strict actions against the vehicles found defying the permit regulations.
6. The transport department shall provide incentives to the permit holder in terms of availing discounts in the purchase of a new vehicle provided the old vehicle is scrapped properly.
7. All the road-owning agencies, MCDs/PWD shall ensure halt and go points for the vehicles are encroachment-free and properly visible.
8. Provision of incentives in the form of discount for purchase of a new Gramin Seva vehicle, provided the permit holder gets the older vehicle scrapped properly.
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