Millennium Post

History on carts and wheels

Our capital city has always risen to the changing aspirations of its people. From Electric Trams to the Delhi Metro, the Indian national capital's transport modes have transformed and transcended several technological advancements, but haven’t always severed the umbilical cord with the past. Presently, more than 22 lakh people travel through Delhi Metro on a daily basis. Let us have a quick look at some of the travelling options, which the people of Delhi got periodically accustomed to over the last 65 years since Independence. While some of the companions on carts and wheels have managed to stay on the road till date, others have bid us goodbye though one can still look them up in the pages of history books.


Considered to be a relic of the British era, the trams started plying on the city’s roads in 1908 and were seen till 1963 when they were phased out. Hundreds of eco-friendly trams linked important points in Old and New Delhi. They meandered smoothly through the maddening crowds of areas like Sadar Bazaar, Fountain or Hauz Qazi, the lush greens of the Town Hall and the jammed roads of Lal Kuan. They had bells to warn the pedestrians and were mechanised enough to alert passengers on board to get-off at their stops. Moving both ways, the trams would cover a distance of almost 50-60 km within Delhi. The main stations included Esplanade Road, Queen’s Way, Minto Road, Connaught Circus, Fatehpuri, Chandni Chowk, Katra Neel, Khari Baoli, Bara Hindu Rao, etc. The tram was considered as one aspect which has given Delhi the label of a vintage city. Today, the more advanced Delhi Metro may have outperformed the trams, but down the memory lane, trams have their own charm for Delhi’s ‘Raj era’ past. Jai Rani, an 86-year-old woman who came to Delhi with her husband from Multan (now in Pakistan) after Partition, recalls her innumerable journeys on board all the transport modes that have ever plied on Delhi. A resident of Lajpat Nagar in south Delhi, she says, ‘The electric trams were majestic. There used to be tracks in the middle of the road and they used to leisurely move at a speed of about 10-15 km per hour. I don’t remember it correctly, but one ride would cost 5 paise or thereabout. Besides, I used to travel in the Harley-Davidson
too with my husband when we had to go to Connaught Place for shopping. They used to make this annoying sound but still it was fun to ride on.’


A rarity now, especially since its ban by the Delhi Municipal Corporation in 2010, the tangas came into existence during the reign of the Mughal ruler Muhammad Shah (1717-1748). Initially in the pre-independence era, the tangas primarily served to the rich and lower middle classes, but after independence, it turned out to be most used means of transport for the lower and middle classes instead. There have been several Hindi movies in 1970s and 80s, where
have been portrayed as the means of transport. Som Dutt Sharma, 76, a retired schoolteacher, who stays in Shahdara area of northeast Delhi, recalls his days of travelling in tangas. ‘I remember I sometimes used to go in a tanga with my wife, four daughters and two sons and head to Chandni Chowk for shopping. Tanga was used extensively in areas where there was middle-class and lower-class population. It used to be cheap and a wonderful ride.’Perhaps, the cycle rickshaw has replaced tanga in Delhi to cover short-distances, but this majestic two-wheeled wagon still remains one of the most fascinating rides in the history of this city. It is still a subject of attraction for many foreign tourists.


The Harley-Davidsons used to ply between Connaught Place and Chandni Chowk between 1960s and 1980s. It was the standard Harley with a trailer on the back where six-eight people could sit. Now in oblivion because of pollution issues, this vehicle was often referred to as ‘phat-phati’ for its characteristic sound. The phat-phatis, though not the Harley-Davidsons, are still active on Chandni Chowk-Seelam Pur routes, but in very small and controlled numbers. The stately charisma of the Harley, however, is missed by many.


When the cycle-rickshaw first appeared in Delhi in 1940s, it was considered an improvement from the earlier hand-pulled version in which the rickshaw-wallah would run and pull the passengers along, while using their feet as brakes. Today, there are more than seven lakh rickshaws in Delhi, easily the most used transport for short distances in every part of the city. Cycle-rickshaws provide a much-needed and valuable public service, especially for the low-income groups in our cities. A kilometre-long ride in a cycle-rickshaw costs no more than ten rupees, while an autorickshaw charges Rs 30 for covering the same distance. In the old city areas and in some of the congested colonies meant for the poor, where the lanes and by-lanes are too narrow for motorised vehicles to pass through, cycle-rickshaws are the only available means of transport.


Delhi's perpetual commuting lifeline — the DTC — was incorporated in May 1948 for local bus services. Soon after independence, the Indian Government found out that the incumbent service provider — Gawalior and Northern India Transport Company Ltd. — was inadequate in serving the purpose by itself and the DTC was constituted to take care of the gap. It came under the ambit of Municipal Corporation of Delhi till 1971, and thereafter,the Delhi Transport Corporation was put under administrative control of the Government of National Capital Territory. The DTC has flourished to heights where no other public transport has reached so far. Today, it operates on hundreds of routes, including the
(the Ring Road Service) and bahri mudrika (the Outer Ring Road Service). It is one of the largest CNG-powered bus service operators in the world.

The DTC also operates Interstate Bus Services in six states — Punjab, Haryana, Jammu and Kashmir, Uttar Pradesh, Uttrakhand and Rajasthan. It is functional on about 81 Interstate Routes. Replacing the old fleet of DTC buses, new low-floor DTC bus was introduced in Delhi in 2008. As Delhi government promises to replace the entire rotten lot, the number of low-floor buses will reach as high as 4,400 soon.


Winner of the infamous tag ‘killer’, the Blueline for years plied on the city’s roads along with the DTC buses, until in 2007 when the government decided to phase them out in the wake of increasing deaths caused by them through accidents. Delhites, in 2007, were up in arms against these buses after hundreds of deaths were reported in the city every year. The Blueline buses catered to thousands of Delhi residents daily, due to inadequate number of DTC buses at that time. But in view of the protests, the government decided to invest more in the DTC public transport to bid adieu to the killer Blueline buses. Today, the Blueline has completely gone off Delhi roads, though recently,the transport department had chalked out a plan to reinstate about 1,500 Blueline buses on some routes in outer Delhi. However, the court has opined otherwise on the issue and has asked the department not to allow the Blueline buses make a comeback.


This is undoubtedly Delhi’s landmark achievement in changing the perception of public transport in the city. Operational from 2002, some 200 trains of the Delhi Metro cover 70,000 km of ground everyday on 190-km-long Metro corridors in Delhi. And the number of daily passengers has increased from 45,000 in 2003 to more than 2 million today. In other words, the number of users of the Delhi Metro daily is comparable to the entire population of countries like Slovenia. The numbers can only increase once another 140 km of new lines are added by 2016. According to a report by the Central Road Research Institute (CRRI), as many as 1.2 lakh vehicles are off the road every day because of the Metro. Roughly Rs 523 crore is saved annually in fuel costs, whereas the cost in terms of time of passengers saved per year works out to a whopping Rs 2,978 crore, according to the study. Though Delhi Metro caters to all age groups, it has turned out to be a divinesolution for students across Delhi. With their headphones on, tuned in to one f the several FM radio stations, hundreds of college-goers could easily be spotted aboard the Delhi Metro.

For a student Maneesh Singh who stays in Mayur Vihar, East Delhi and studies in IP College in Rohini, Delhi Metro is a boon. ‘I wouldn’t have joined the college had the Metro not been there. The distance from my home to college is more than 45 kilometers. If metro hadn’t been around, it would have been impossible to cover such a distance in a day’s time (laughs) considering traffic in Delhi.’

Office-goers have also been highly benefited by the emergence of the Delhi Metro. As a resident of Ghaziabad, Vibhor Gaur who has to go to Gurgaon thrice a week, puts it, ‘The Delhi Metro is progressing and inter-state connectivity has helped people a lot. There are no houses to buy in Delhi now, so people are moving towards neighbouring localities. Vaishali is one such area and we have Metro till here. Earlier, I used to be stuck in traffic jams for hours while on the road to Gurgaon. Now, when I see snarled roads from inside an air-conditioned Delhi Metro train, it’s such a relief that I am no longer a part of the life-draining gridlock!’
Next Story
Share it