Delhi is a city of 7 million registered motor vehicles, more than the number of vehicles in India’s three other major cities–Mumbai, Kolkata and Chennai–combined. The city grapples with the all-too-familiar urban problems of traffic congestion, pollution and crashes.
In order to tackle these challenges, the government of Delhi came up with an ambitious plan to construct nearly 300 kilometers of bus rapid transit (BRT) in the city. As a first step, a 5.8-kilometer bus corridor became operational in 2008, attracting a lot of negative press because of its shortcomings, namely, a lack of design elements that constitute a full BRT system. This resulted in the length of the corridor being only 5.8 kilometers, which made little sense for such a big city.
Little or no efforts were made subsequently to improve the situation, which led to several more problems, such as road crashes, ad hoc steps in installing speed breakers in the bus lane, rampant encroachment of the sidewalk, and a cycle track, which further deteriorated the performance of the corridor.
This led the Chief Minister of Delhi to review the implementation of all other planned corridors in the city. Many people started voicing their opinion against the corridor. Some people even suggested disbanding the BRT altogether, while others suggested permitting cars, two-wheelers and all other modes to share the bus lanes. The Delhi High Court ordered an eminent agency to conduct a study on the corridor and submit its findings, based on which a judgment would be passed to determine the fate of the BRT.
The modal share of public transport in Delhi has decreased from 62 percent to 43 percent in the span of 10 years. This trend needs to be slowed immediately to avert a major traffic mess. The Delhi Transport Corporation (DTC) operates on a load factor of 70 percent and has an abysmal vehicle productivity of 525 passengers per bus per day, which translates into an annual loss of US$440 million, according to the recent “Review of Performance of State Road Transport Undertakings” by the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways.
Delhi had approximately 6,000 buses operated by a number of private companies owning small fleets, under the name of Blue Line buses. Unfortunately, because of the high number of traffic crashes, the company earned itself the reputation of being “Killer Buses” by the local press.
CREATING NEW CLUSTERS
The city’s economic growth coupled with the deteriorating quality of public transport led the government to come up with a so-called “Cluster Scheme,” launched in May and modeled on the public transport service of Paris.
The Government of National Capital Territory of Delhi (GNCTD) introduced a new scheme for the “Operation of Private Stage Carriage Services” to replace the existing private stage carriage service. Existing routes were classified into “clusters” as part of the new plan. The scheme envisages the concurrent operation of the Delhi Transport Corporation (DTC) and private operators in each cluster under a unified time-table, subject to terms and conditions set out in the agreements to be signed for each cluster. All clusters shall be part of a network for providing stage carriage services for Delhi , and the scheme shall provide an optimized solution for the deployment of resources in planning, scheduling of routes, utilization of assets through information-sharing, while providing safe, comfortable and convenient services to commuters. Star Bus was awarded the first cluster, which currently operates 100 buses on five routes.
The steps undertaken by the authorities in the form of opting for BRT is a step in the right direction, provided it is planned and implemented in a way that incorporates all the elements that go into making a full BRT. Contract framing is a major issue that can either make or break such an institutional arrangement of bus operations. Nonetheless, to improve the quality and performance of public transport, the cluster scheme can go a long way in relieving the situation of pollution, congestion and unsafe roads.