Odd-even system and bus transport
It is shocking how bus transport that carries double the number of passengers than the Delhi Metro is degenerating.
In the course of the odd-even number formula programme, if the existing Delhi Transport Corporation (DTC) fleet and the hired bus fleet are operated at maximum operational efficiency, at least 2.5 million additional commuters can be carried. This, along with an intensified metro system, auto and taxi systems and carpooling can help the city create a good commuting system that is not dependent on polluting cars.
A recent analysis of the performance of DTC buses in the city by the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) has exposed that with immediate attention, passenger carrying capacity of the existing bus fleet can be augmented considerably to meet the expected additional demand during the odd-even system trial run starting on January 1, 2016. Half of the cars in Delhi will go off the road during this trial run and that will continue till January 15, 2016.
Public bus service in Delhi is provided by the state-owned DTC and the privately run cluster bus services under the aegis of the Delhi Integrated Multimodal Transport Systems (DIMTS). While operational statistics of DTC is available, the details of cluster buses are not. But limited information shows that there is an enormous scope of improving services of 4,712 DTC buses and 1,500 cluster buses with improved operational efficiency. While DTC buses carry 4.35 million passengers daily, cluster buses carry an additional 1 to 1.2 million passengers per day.
It is strange that a number of passengers using DTC buses remain stagnant despite the growing travel demand in the city. The available bus fleet is grossly underutilised. A large number of scheduled trips are missed daily due to traffic congestion. Add to it the poor maintenance of buses that lead to frequent breakdowns, thus, further curtailing services. Fixing these problems will result in DTC buses serving additional 0.5 million passengers a day.
CSE’s analysis further shows that during the implementation of the odd-even formula, if the operational efficiency of DTC buses along with that of the specifically hired 2000 buses for the trial run and cluster buses is improved, the public bus transport system will serve an additional 2.5 million passengers daily.
The odd and even formula is an opportunity for Delhi to put in place the plan to improve public transport services to meet the additional commuting demand from the halving of personal cars on roads that can be sustained and carried forward even after the trial is over.
How DTC can carry more passengers with the same number of buses
The Bus fleet is grossly underutilised. DTC has about 4712 buses. But its utilisation during 2014-15 has been only 83.99 percent against 85.5 percent in 2013-14. This is dismal and much worse compared to what other state transport undertakings in different cities have achieved – 95 percent in Bengaluru and Chandigarh. At any given point of time at least 400 to 500 buses stand in depots unutilised due to poor maintenance or missed trips which are equal to the total bus fleet in smaller cities. This is unacceptable.
Buses cannot complete their daily scheduled trips due to congestion and poor maintenance. It is unacceptable that the buses cannot even complete the number of trips that are officially scheduled daily. Only 79.65 percent of the daily scheduled trips is operational. This has come down from 85.76 percent in 2011-12. This reduces passenger carrying capacity of the system. Delhi government will have to initiate preventive maintenance immediately to ensure all buses are fully utilized. Expert assessment also shows that during odd and even number formula fortnight with less congestion on roads and bus lanes the average journey speed of buses will improve by at least 25 percent.
Buses in Delhi ply less in a day than their counterparts in other cities. During 2014-15, DTC buses have done an average of 188 km a day against an average of 270 kilometers that buses of Bengaluru Metropolitan Transport Corporation traverse. In fact, Delhi buses completed only 78.8 percent of the scheduled kilometers a day. This reduces the geographical coverage by the buses. The odd-even trial can address these concerns.
It is very disturbing to note that the total number of passengers carried by the DTC has started to stagnate. While in 2012-13 DTC carried 4.7 million passengers a day, it had actually declined to 4.3 million a day in 2013-14. There was some improvement from 2011 to 2013 but that could not be maintained. But DTC buses are still carrying 1.7 times more passengers than the Delhi Metro which serves 2.4 million passengers a day. DTC and cluster buses together are carrying double this number. If this decline is not arrested and reversed Delhi’s public transport will be weakened seriously. Expectedly, it will increase pollution in the city. Already, the bus modal share has declined drastically from 60 percent to 40 percent.
If adequate steps are taken immediately to ensure at least 95 percent fleet utilisation and eliminate all missed trips then same DTC fleet can carry an additional 0.5 million commuters. If another 2000 buses are added and utilised, the public bus service can cater to an additional 1.9 million commuters. Thus, overall capacity can be created to carry at least 2.4 million additional passengers during this fortnight.
Congested roads in Delhi have slowed down the bus and journey speed for bus commuters. The odd and even number programme can address that: Two cars occupy same road space as one bus but carry just two persons on an average. Whereas one bus carries at least 60 persons -- 30 times the number of passengers in cars.
A bus can displace anywhere between 5 and 50 other vehicles. As a matter of public policy, roads will have to be designed to allow priority to buses. Delhi government has started painting the bus lanes. But the sanctity of bus lanes will have to be protected with strong enforcement. Otherwise, the investment that Delhi will make to fulfill the Supreme Court mandate of 10,000 buses will be wasteful as buses will not meet the objective of improving bus transport service. It is appalling that bus services have been curtailed from Delhi’s neighbourhoods due to congestion.
Like in the case of the Delhi Metro, taxes on buses can be removed to make it more affordable. It is ironical that for providing public transport services buses are saddled with a huge tax burden. The Delhi Metro enjoys a wide range of tax exemption that includes property tax, sales tax, capital gains tax, custom, excise, income tax etc. But buses pay property tax, octroi, excise, entry tax, VAT, central excise, customs duty, excise duty on consumption, excise and VAT on spare parts, motor vehicle tax and advertisement tax.
Public transport is for the public good
Apart from this, buses in Delhi pay more road tax than cars. Bus transport has become more expensive than using a two wheeler on a kilometer basis.
There is barely any tax on personal vehicle usage. The Master Plan of Delhi 2021 has set a target of 80 percent public transport share by 2020. The RITES has estimated that buses can help to meet at least 73 percent of the target. Buses allow greater flexibility, geographical coverage, cost effectiveness, and space efficiency. They can flexibly and easily meet the needs of changes in demography and land use. It can cover areas with lower travel demand.
The odd-even number trial is an opportunity for Delhi to make the existing public transport services more efficient and reliable. The systems created for this programme should could lay the foundation for a lasting impact on air quality.
The Delhi government needs an immediate strategy to improve operations of DTC, DIMTS, cluster buses and hired buses:
- It must ensure at least 95 percent fleet utilisation to augment the number of passengers.
- Government must also enforce bus lanes to ensure improvement in journey speed of buses to provide reliable and frequent bus service.
- Announce and monitor bus timetables and provide public information.
- Intensify metro service, and facilitate organized deployment of taxis, autos and e-rickshaws with other para-transit systems.
- Protect bus commuters from over charging. Encourage institutions to organise car pooling.
The government should also provide for safe and barrier free walking and cycling in the city. All concerned government agencies should implement traffic calming methods and protective measures for walkers and cyclists to help them access their destination safely and conveniently:
- Simultaneously enforce parking restraints on pavements and penalise illegal parking during this programme.
- Limit legal parking areas across the city and demarcate them on the ground.
- Impose a high penalty for illegal parking on public space.
- Charge high parking charges and also price residential parking in public spaces to curb the tendency towards multiple ownership of cars.