Yesterday's boon, today's bane
A recent RTI conducted on the metro rail services in Delhi shed light on the dwindling number of daily passengers commuting by the metro in the month of October, since the fare hike was brought into place. The revised fares of the October hike increased cost of travelling each way by at least Rs 10. Coming after five months of another hike this resulted in almost a 100 per cent increase in fares of travelling by the metro. These numbers spell ill for the daily passenger who relies on the metro for their quick commute avoiding the congestion on Delhi streets while also refraining from contributing to the increasing pollution levels in the city. Since October, through November, Delhi witnessed a terrible increase on the Air Quality Index which had declared the city unsafe for inhabiting.
Amidst this exigency to battle growing pollution, increasing metro fares does little to contribute to the sustenance of the city. The number of passengers travelling daily by the metro, ranges anywhere between 27 and 28 lakh. Since the fare hike in October, the number of daily passengers dropped to 24.2 lakh, a sharp decrease not witnessed in the previous months. The Delhi metro has been a boon to the residents of the city, providing a dependable public commute system that is effective and also time-saving. This sudden increase in fares has deterred several from commuting via the metro as fares are becoming cumbersome for the pocket. At a time when Delhi is battling the critical problem of air pollution and the lack of public buses has been brought under the scanner, the increasing fares not only causes distress to the people of the city but additionally, it plagues the environment which is already gasping for breath.
The Delhi government and the Pollution Control Board have both repeatedly emphasised on reducing metro fares, but no action has yet been brought into play. Studies comparing daily income and percentage spent on metro fares shows that Delhi metro is indeed costlier to the pocket than services in Beijing, Paris and New York City. Where in Paris 4.5 per cent of the minimum daily wage is spent on travel, in Delhi the rate is as high as 23.39 per cent—undoubtedly then reducing the relevance of the public transportation system which is expected to cater to the citizen's need rather than effectively add more distress. The third phase of the Delhi metro construction was expected to ease congestion in the streets of the national capital by taking one lakh cars off the roads. However, this process of completing the construction has been significantly delayed. The initial time of ending the project, approximated to be December 2016, has now been pushed to April 2018.
Authorities say that issues of land acquisition and prohibition of construction due to growing air pollution have contributed to this delay. Nevertheless, if pollution is to be tackled, then a speedy completion of the third phase of the Delhi metro is essential. The quick elevation of Delhi metro as a boon has been swiftly transformed into it becoming a cause of growing concern among citizens. To pave the way ahead, authorities must set aside differences and look for a method that can be actively adopted to reduce the burden on citizens. Studying the models of developed countries could be the first step in the right direction. In New York and Singapore, the metro system is not an independent transport system governing lives, its infrastructure has been fully integrated with other modes of commute to provide travellers the easiest access to their locations by avoiding additional pollution to the environment that is contributed by individual vehicles. They also have an active subsidy system in place that provides regular concessions to children, students, and the elderly.
Since in India the quota system prevails across most dominions, the possibility of applying it to the public transport system could be enhanced. To cater to those belonging to BPL families, the government could actively adopt concessions that would relieve their pocket. In Beijing further, the government offers subsidies on capital expenditure and operating costs that are borne by the cities and central government. There is no doubt that the functioning of a metro involves humongous costs that must be retrieved by the concerned authorities. However, burdening citizens with this payback is hardly fair to them or to the idea of putting in place a robust public transport system. To battle this exigency, Hong Kong has adopted an alternative method of retrieving costs; 37 per cent of revenue for Hong Kong metro is accrued from advertisements, which significantly relieves the burden on the citizen's pocket. With several options at its hands, the governments of our country must deliberate and bring an end to this crisis. Delhi is being camouflaged in smoke and pollution—battling this today requires an efficient public transport system, among other initiatives, to control the growing the level of pollutants. The Delhi metro as a boon, becoming a burden, depicts the sharp failure of policy implementation.