Mumbai, the pioneer in the country in public transport, is now in a crisis mode, lagging behind Delhi in some respects. Our administrators should learn from this. During a visit to the nation’s capital last week, I noticed it has a far better bus network with highly subsidised fare, buses were visible all over all the time, you can see a continuous flow. In contrast it is difficult to even spot a bus for a long time on main arteries in Mumbai.
Delhi also has done an impressive job in enlivening the historic Chandani Chowk main area, barred it to motor vehicles kept it open only to cycle rickshaws and pedestrians. Just next to the Red Fort. It was a memorable experience. One can really enjoy street life, walk freely, eat tasty aloo chaat and other treats. Footpaths on the other side of Red Fort, Lal Killa, were full of people early morning at 7 , buying, trying out clothes and belts and all sorts of items.
Its Metro train network is also a big success, full most of the time, only the line from the airport to New Delhi station is not crowded, it is obviously running into losses, one hardly sees airline travellers, apparently they take to taxies or private transport.
On the negative side Delhi has almost disbanded much of its suburban train network, the good ring road circular service has stopped. Only services to a few places on the outskirts like Ghaziabad and Aligarh are running.
The maximum fare for air conditioned buses is only Rs. 25, the minimum is Rs. five. It is more economical and convenient to take the bus than a Metro on many routes as for example between Delhi railway station to ITO junction. If one takes a Metro one has to change at another station, travel a negative distance, then there are long walks inside the Metro stations. The bus gives a more convenient , cheaper ride. The conductor remains rooted to the seat, one has to go to him or her and buy a ticket, managing to balance oneself in the speedily driven bus. One female conductor was quite chirpy as her bus runs along a circular route which is not crowded. The conductors here are certainly less stressed than in Mumbai.
The bus stops are far more spacious and not a torture to sit down as in Mumbai. They also have much better signage, there are big charts at stops in prominent areas in Delhi showing various routes. This is a basic facility which the BEST needs to adopt in Mumbai, it is common sense, but our ruling class is extremely contemptuous of common people.
There is another lesson here for Mumbai. In Delhi buses keep running long distances, they are not used merely as feeder services to Metro station . One can comfortably take a ride from New Delhi station to Qutub Minar over a long distance past some lovely, green areas, there are even sizeable forests along Sardar Patel road.. There are very wide and beautiful footpaths with big rows of plants and grass and they are well aligned, not a pain to walk as in Mumbai.
Curiously, the BJP office on Deendayal Upadhyaya road, and the central government officers’ flats on the other side violate footpath space , making walking difficult. Then there is a much bigger BJP office on the same road with huge space for car parking. The footpath on the road has poor lighting which makes walking very difficult and almost risky at night as there is little pedestrian traffic in this are dominated by political parties and memorials to political leaders of the past.
On the whole the BJP gives the impression of being utterly pro-car and anti-poor. High speed, crazy, rash driving is the order of the day, vehicles take dangerous turns from one wide road to another. There is maddening, heavy roar of traffic, huge masses of cars speed along, some vehicles seem to think it is quite all right to knock down, kill a pedestrian. The traffic cops are taller, better built and without paunch compared to the men in Mumbai.
In the Manekshw Centre I saw a painting of a battle scene between Ram and Ravana accompanied by a script which says Ram was on foot while Ravana was in a more advantageous position in his Rath, chariot, so Indira provided a chariot to Ram and so that is how he overcame Ravana. One wishes common people at least get a decent public transport, people are not aspiring for cars. The government always talks of people’s aspiration for owning a motor car which is true for a small section, but what most people need are basic , reasonable, affordable public transport vehicles.They have simple aspirations but even basic amenities are denied to common people. The arrogance, ignorance of authorities is appalling. It has always been the case but I noticed this particularly during a three day international conference on urban mobility I attended there last month.
Vidyadhar Date is a senior journalist