Friday, 27 July, 2007

Bus crisis a result of mismanaged mobility, says CSE

Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) is shocked and dismayed by the collapse of the public transport bus system in Delhi. The bus transport system has been one of Delhi's most effective strategies for combating pollution and congestion. But this has been grossly mismanaged as a mobility strategy.

"The current crisis is a symptom of a deeper malaise - a policy failure to recognise the role of buses in making cities clean and liveable", says Anumita Roychowdhury, coordinator of CSE's Right to Clean Air Campaign. The government's ongoing drive to discipline rogue Blueline buses is nothing but a knee-jerk reaction. CSE presents a range of figures to highlight the mismanagement and failure:

- While the growth in bus numbers has remained marginal over the last four years, there has been a more than 100 per cent growth in personal vehicles. In 2006, Delhi added about 1,000 new personal cars and two-wheelers to its fleet every day. In comparison, only 65 buses were added over the entire year.

- The total number of stage carriage buses, the spine of the city's public transport system, has stagnated. Bus numbers have increased slightly from 6,000 buses in 1998 to 6,500 in 2007. It is no wonder that we are seeing phenomenal rates of motorisation in the city.

- Each DTC bus transports roughly 1,000 people every day, while each private bus carries about 1,600 people per day. In comparison, a car or two-wheeler that can carry only 1 to 1.5 people each day have grown in numbers phenomenally -- "a recipe for pollution and congestion disaster," says Roychowdhury.

- Faced with the present crisis, the government now proposes to purchase 2,000 new buses. The city has not yet met the target of 10,000 standard stage carriage buses that was mandated by the Supreme Court in its order of July 98, 1998. The apex court had directed "augmentation of public transport (stage carriage) to 10,000 buses by April 1, 2001" while moving all buses to CNG.

The 10,000 buses were mandated in 1998, when the population of the city was lower -- the number would obviously be quite inadequate today. Number of passenger trips have increased manifold over the years, but pubic transport augmentation has not kept pace. At the same time, efficiency and quality of the present service has nose-dived. Conventional buses that are affordable for all income groups and flexible enough to reach all parts of the city, if upgraded with new technologies and conveniences, could have been the most effective alternative to personal vehicles in Delhi today.

The government still has no plans to suggest how Delhi will cope as daily vehicle trips are estimated to grow from 12 million to nearly 25 million by 2021. According to an estimate by RITES, even if all the public transport projects including the Metro are implemented fully, the city will still fall short of catering to nine million trips per day by 2021. In the face of this challenge, it is disastrous to allow the conventional bus system fall into decay.

A joint survey carried out in 2006 by RITES, Delhi-IIT and CSE in Ambedkar Nagar has confirmed that despite being in a dilapidated state, the present bus fleet meets as much as 60 per cent of Delhi's travel demand; cars, which occupy more than 75 per cent of the road space, transport less than 20 per cent of the people. The total number of passengers carried by all buses - DTC and private - each day in the city is approximately 8.7 million.

But instead of encouraging bus transport with fiscal measures, Delhi slaps higher taxes on buses compared to cars. The lifetime tax on a car in Delhi ranges between Rs 3,800 to Rs 7,000, but bus owners have to pay an annual tax of more than Rs 13,000 per bus each year. A 2004 World Bank study shows that the total tax burden per vehicle km is 2.6 times higher for public transport buses than cars in India. Clearly, this fiscal policy will need to be urgently reviewed and revised if transportation by buses and other mass transit systems, catering to large numbers of people, has to be encouraged.

Such a vital strategy for clean air cannot be held captive to mismanagement. Completely unplanned privatisation has, over time, attracted small time investors, who today run and operate the bulk of the city's bus service. Fifty-six per cent of the standard buses are owned and run by private bus owners -- approximately 80 per cent of who are single-bus owners. This presents a challenge for efficient and quality operations.

Yet current laws favour multiplicity of small owners as under the permit conditions, one person cannot own and operate more than five buses. This demands fundamental reforms, says Roychowdhury. The private-cooperative or private-corporation model could be developed by which the existing private players could be grouped into a cooperative or merged into larger corporations. This will also require rationalisation of routes so that each player is not competing within the route and creating chaos for commuters.

At the same time, as the single largest investor and owner of buses in the city, state owned DTC should be revitalised as it is expected to bear the responsibility of further augmenting Delhi's bus programme. The hybrid system of public and private enterprise should be strengthened. CSE presents the following five-point action plan to bring things back on track:

- Restructure the institutional and management systems of the bus service.

- Augment the bus numbers and phase in technologically advanced CNG buses with efficient emission control systems.

- As far as possible, provide dedicated bus-ways, which will increase their efficiency and speed.

- Review and rework current tax policies related to the transportation. Create an active disincentive for personal transport.

- Integrate buses effectively with other public and mass transportation systems like the metro, rail and proposed light rail systems.


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