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Decongesting Delhi

The lump sum will be reportedly used to develop seven pilot parking management districts, integrate 207 metro stations with other forms of public transit systems, construct cycling tracks and footpaths and remove points of heavy traffic congestion in the national capital.

 This announcement comes after a high-powered committee, which was set up last year to find ways to decongest the capital, submitted its recommendations to the Centre. The committee admitted that the "explosive growth" of automobiles in Delhi should be checked through increased use of public and non-motorised transport since private vehicles meet less than 20 percent of the city’s transport needs. 

It went on to add that the use of private vehicles should be discouraged through high parking fees and a congestion tax. While cities the world over have made parking prohibitively expensive to discourage car use, it remains free or very low in Delhi and in other Indian cities.

 About 21 percent of city's area is already under roads with limited scope for road network expansion, said the committee. Automobile-centric planning with a focus on road widening and construction of more flyovers "have only promoted increased use of private vehicles," it said.

 Delhi already has one of the world's highest proportions of road area – a fifth of its total area is given to roads. Its road network is 33,000 km long and the city has nearly 100 flyovers. A solution to the problem could be better traffic management. Studies have shown that Delhi has just 6,600 traffic police personnel to manage more than 9 million vehicles.

 In other words, institutions such as the traffic police should be strengthened. The committee also expressed "serious concern" over mushrooming of gated communities which "compel the local traffic to come onto main roads by preventing shortcuts".

 As a first step toward a people-friendly transport system, the Ministry will deploy a fleet of 2,000 buses in the coming months.  But a mere addition of 1,000-2,000 buses, which was earlier recommended by the Delhi government, will not do much to improve public transport.

 In fact, it could worsen the traffic situation in the capital. Besides broken seats and windows, minimal access for the disabled and no space to stow luggage, overcrowding in the Delhi Transport Corporation buses are major concerns. Those who do take the bus do it out of sheer necessity. 

 These basic features need to be repaired in existing buses. Moreover, commuters seek better punctuality and the implementation of enhanced safety measures. Improving the public bus system is probably the best way forward with a further expansion of the metro rail network proving to be cost ineffective.

 On the issue of decongestion, both the Centre and the Delhi government seem to be on the same page. Earlier this year, after the Delhi government had completed its second installment of the odd-even experiment, Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal had announced that public transport would be ramped up within one year. Moreover, the recent controversy over surge-pricing by app-based taxi aggregators pointed to the urgent need for alternative sources of public transport. 

The lack of adequate public transport poses the biggest hindrance to decongestion. Another option is the Delhi metro. During the second installment of the odd-even experiment, the Delhi Metro Rail Corporation had announced an additional 3,248 daily trips for 200 metro trains, a rise of about 56 trips over the existing arrangements. But yet again, this may not be enough to fulfill demands of last-mile connectivity. The Delhi government must deregulate autorickshaw licenses and put an end to the artificial scarcity of CNG autos in Delhi to improve last-mile connectivity for its citizens. 

MPost

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