‘Free metro, bus travel may not improve safety, but stress public transport system’

If the proposal gets implemented, it is expected to cost the Delhi government Rs 700 crore on an annual basis

By Shagun Kapil
Last Updated: Thursday 06 June 2019
‘Free metro, bus travel may not improve safety, but stress public transport system’ Photo: Getty Images

Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal's recent proposal to make metro and bus travel free for women in the national capital will not help improve safety of women, rather burden the already stressed public transport system, say experts.

On June 3, 2019, Kejriwal announced the proposal, during a press conference, and said that it would encourage women to use public transport systems and ensure their safety.

“There is no component of safety in this. There is no link between ensuring higher degree of safety and payment. All DTC buses do not have CCTV cameras and GPS installed,” said PK Sarkar, director of transportation at the Asian Institute of Transport Development.

“As such metro rides are inconvenient for most women during peak hours. And in some cases, there are availability issues. We first have to make our systems self sustainable. Even if this had to be done, they could have identified economically weaker sections of women,” added Sarkar, who was involved in a project with the Delhi government to revive and restructure the Delhi Transport Corporation (DTC) bus system two years ago.

Moreover, the DTC has been a loss making body for many years now. According to Delhi's Economic Survey 2018-19 report, DTC’s working losses jumped to Rs 1750.37 crore.

“Its running cost is not being taken care by the revenue being generated and it is incurring losses every year. Plus, there is a huge deficit of number of buses. To run successfully, Delhi needs around 15,000 buses immediately. That should have been the priority first,” Sarkar said.

However, the Delhi government has been maintaining that it is a surplus economy as its revenues have doubled in last four years. It also said that it has enough money to spend on making transport free for women.

If the proposal gets implemented, it is expected to cost the government Rs 700 crore on an annual basis. Earlier in February this year, the Kejriwal government had presented Rs 60,000 crore budget for 2019-20 and the cost to implement this will be a little over one per cent.

As per reports, the estimated capacity of the Delhi Metro after phase three stands at 40 lakh, but the current ridership is just 25 lakh. However, this is not applicable for the entire metro system as there is overcrowding, especially during peak hours, on most stretches but less footfall in some stations.

“To address this, the government could have added more compartments for women instead. If the plan gets implemented, it can result in more overcrowding in some stretches, thereby resulting in some people, who can afford, switch to other modes of transport or their own cars,” Sarkar said.

“It is important to invest in a robust system first, incentivising public transport, and then come out with such plans,” argued Sarkar.

On the other hand, SP Singh, senior fellow and coordinator at the Indian Foundation of Transport Research and Training (IFTRT), said the move will increase women mobility and will bring large number of women out of their homes.

However, he also denied the government's claim of promoting women's safety.

“It is not a question of safety but convenience. The efficiency of a household and society will improve if the woman is able to travel more for any kind of work, say household or otherwise. It will make women a more active part of society. Also, more women will be a part of the labour force if we incentivise their travel,” Singh said.

There are global case studies where governments have given free transport a shot successfully irrespective of gender. But any out of the box ideas have to come with an understanding of ground reality of a city, the experts noted.

Meanwhile, the Delhi government has sought people's suggestion on the proposed scheme and has asked them to submit till June 15. The initiative is expected to be implemented within 2-3 months.

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