Delhi’s public bus transport system has been in Intensive Care Unit (ICU) for quite some time, if not in the comatose condition. In December 2019, Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal had announced induction of 400 new low-floor AC buses. This expansion in the city’s fleet of AC buses came after almost a decade with the last batch being inducted during the 2010 Commonwealth Games. The scenario could not have been grimmer, with bureaucratic lethargy and policy makers skewed emphasis on Delhi Metro resulting in acute apathy towards putting in place an effective bus system in the city.
Despite this minuscule expansion in the fleet, the city will continue to face a massive shortage of 11000 buses in its public transport system. Currently, 5,930 buses, including 3,762 DTC and 2,204 cluster buses, are plying across the city. However, the bus transport system is not just about numbers, it needs complete overhaul at various levels to make bus transport attractive for commuters.
Citizen groups and public transport experts argue that merely inducting new buses would not be a sufficient move to improve the overall bus transport system in the city. “We need to leverage the inherent advantages of a bus transport system over other modes of transport like the Delhi Metro. A bus system is more flexible in terms of route rationalisation as per the passenger demand, affordable and serves more people. At a time when Metro has become largely unaffordable to poor and lower-middle class people, a robust bus system is the only way to provide a commuter-friendly and responsive public transport system. It’s part of a democratically elected government’s social commitment towards its people,” said Rajendra Ravi, Director, Institute for Democracy and Sustainability (IDS).
Experts are of the view that due to complex governance system in Delhi, with Centre and State on loggerheads on several issues, there has been no long-term bus transport policy in place. “Delhi needs more than 11000 buses, but no manufacturer has the capacity to provide so many buses in one-go, it will take several years or decades to bring so many buses on road. The situation could have been avoided had a comprehensive bus policy been prepared a decade back. Also, Delhi government doesn’t have any land available in their depots to park these buses and the existing laws prohibit developing any permanent structures in depots as the land has been leased by DDA,” said Dr. Sandeep Gandhi, an urban transport expert.
To make bus transport system attractive, it has to be promoted as a safe and reliable mode of transport which saves time and money. A dedicated bus lane, something on the lines of the recent experiment in Bengaluru, where a lane has been earmarked for buses in one of the busiest areas – the Outer Ring Road, should be developed in Delhi. Passenger safety, capacity building of drivers and conductors to improve the operation quality of buses has to be part of the overall policy to improve the bus transport system in the next one decade.