Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Major Overhaul needed for Delhi Public Transport System

Metro has changed the way Delhi travels but a lot needs to be done to revamp the capital’s public transport, especially buses, before Games

The capital has often been riled for not overhauling its rickety, unreliable and, at times, killer public transport (read Bluelines). Even though Metro brought about a much-needed image makeover, Delhi has a lot of ground to cover. And Commonwealth Games 2010 came as a godsend opportunity for city government to revamp the public transport. An integrated plan with Delhi Metro as the backbone, along with buses, taxis, LRT and monorail as supplementary modes, was envisaged for transforming the way city moves.

Even as Metro projects are largely on schedule, the bus service may need special attention, especially after a Supreme Court mandate that Delhi needs no less than 11,000 buses. The state transport department’s plan to augment the DTC fleet is in fast lane and the city already has 625 new buses, including 25 AC ones. Orders for another 3,500 buses have been placed and they may start rolling in by next month. DTC will get over 6,000 buses by next year. The routes are being redone with the total number of bus routes being increased from existing 357 to 670.

But DTC fleet will account for only 60% of the total buses. For the remaining, the transport department has planned replacing Blueline buses with private bus fleet run by corporate. For this, the city has been divided into 17 clusters, each comprising a bunch of overlapping bus routes, to be run by one entity. The new system is aimed at eradicating competition between different bus operators running on the same route, as this was seen as the main problem with the Blueline fleet. The new timetables for the fleet will be made using a new technology to ensure that no trips go wasted.

But more than a year after the scheme was finalized; the government is yet to award an operator to run the first cluster. As per the first deadlines set by the transport department, the first lot of over 200 buses should have been operational by July this year. But far from that, even the contract has not been awarded. According to sources, the plan has run into rough weather because the government was unable to estimate the huge cost.

The lowest bidder for the first cluster, Star Bus Ltd, has quoted a rate of Rs 47.50 per km per bus. The government will have to pay Rs 85 crore per annum to the operator for 230 buses plying 200 km daily. It is a 10-year commitment to pay and the fares will need to be revised from time to time. This, sources say, is going to put a huge burden on the government.

The tenders for the remaining 16 clusters have also been put on hold till the fate of the first one is decided. Now, it seems unlikely that the clusters will get operational before the Games as the awardees of the clusters will need time to procure new buses, get staff and set up control rooms. The transport department has set a time of about 6 months from the day the tender is awarded for these formalities.

The other project which has gone off track is the controversial Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system, which received a major setback when trial runs on the pilot corridor between Ambedkar Nagar and Moolchand resulted in a major public outcry. Now, Pilot B, the second design for BRT with bus lanes on the extreme left, will get operational on the remaining part of the pilot stretch — Moolchand to Delhi Gate in September. Till then, six more BRT corridors planned have been put on hold till the working of Pilot B is seen.

Transport Department’s SPV Delhi Integrated Multi-Modal Transit System (DIMTS) is also working on an integration plan to connect all the modes of transport by means of integrated terminals and a common ticketing system. But not much has progressed.

With all the projects in place, the government had envisaged a reduction in private vehicles on Delhi roads — almost 1,000 vehicles are added to the existing 51 lakh-odd vehicles. Over 70 flyovers are coming up and important road projects like an east-west road link between the Games Village and Lodhi Road and strengthening of the Ring Road are expected to ease the situation further.