Transport woes in Delhi and Karachi
Majid Alam, Ghada Mohammed, Hasan Akram & Hasan Haider
Buses and Metro in Delhi account for a total ridership of around 6 million a day. Inspite of a huge public transport system, the city struggles to cope up with the rising population. The buses in Delhi are run on Compressed Natural Gas, a less polluting fuel, and are owned by Delhi Transport Corporation (DTC), and under private owners. Delhi Metro is a system of modern train communication that started in 2002 and currently carries around 3 million people daily.
The transport facilities in Delhi is said to be under stress due to lack of buses, traffic problems and congested metro. Prof Usha Raghupati, an urban planner working for 33 years in Delhi, says “the population of the city has increased over the years as more people from interior areas are migrating to Delhi for employment. But the planning of Delhi has not been done accordingly. This leads to a strain on public facilities in Delhi including the transport system.” The population of Delhi has reached 18.6 million in 2016, and the National Capital Territory, a term given to cities developed around Delhi like Ghaizabad, Noida, Faridabad and Gurugram adds up another 5 million to the city’s population.
During the office hours in the morning and evening, the capital becomes an impenetrable maze of traffic. The DTC buses, cabs and taxis are the worst hit among other transport facilities. Ayush Gupta, a student and a daily traveller in the DTC buses says, “Traffic is a huge problem as the passengers have to suffer from it daily for 1-2 hours.” Delhi Traffic police mention around 50 areas of traffic congestion in Delhi. The areas are evenly spread throughout Delhi.
Prof Usha Raghupati, says “the problem of traffic does not lie in peak hours or rising private transport, but the urban planning of the city. The city was not designed to accommodate such a huge population, but today Delhi has excess population. There should be decongestion of Delhi by developing planned cities with similar opportunities like Delhi, so that people from throughout India does not have to migrate to the capital.”
Metro fare hike affects students and marginalised people
Delhi Metro fares were increased twice in May and October 2017. The minimum fares were raised from Rs 8 to Rs 10 and the maximum fairs almost doubled from Rs 30 to Rs 50 from the move. Due to the fare hike, the ridership dropped severely to 24.2 lakh from 27.4 lakh in September, a fall of 11%. Delhi Metro is a substitute for traffic jam, but the recent fare hike in the metro has prevented many people from travelling in the metro on a daily basis. Hemant Chaudhary, a student in a government school complains that it was very difficult for him to afford the high metro prices. He now travels by bus.
Women’s mobility and safety
In the past, there have been many incidents of violence against women in public transport like the 2012 Nirbhaya Gang Rape and the rape of a woman by Uber driver in 2014. Seema Solanki, a 35-year-old graduate from Delhi University works as a conductor in a DTC bus. She has been on the job for around eight years. She complains “for a woman to travel in a public transport is like going to a forest alone. I had witnessed many incidents of physical harassment and see female passengers facing similar problems. There should be awareness regarding the safety provisions for women.”Simran, a student who travels daily adds, “Women are safe in the metro to some extent, but buses are not safe. Moreover, it is very unsafe to use public transport in the late hours”.
Accessibility for differently abled
Public transport in Delhi still requires more steps to make it universally accessible. Metro has provisions for the differently abled, like elevators and special access. Though the DTC buses have seats reserved for the differently abled, the access for them is limited.
Prof Archana Dassi, who has been working with NGOs for differently abled in Delhi, says “Orhtopaedically disabled face problems while entering the buses as there is no ramp while the visually impaired can access the buses with assistance from the people”. She adds, “Deaf and mute as well as mentally challenged who also come under differently abled cannot avail the reserved seats as their impairments are not visible.”
Monis Raza, a student who is 60% handicapped and travels in Metro and the DTC buses says, “Entry in buses is difficult as the buses halt for a short moment. I don’t travel very often in Metro due to the high prices”. DTC provides free bus passes for the differently abled while the Delhi Metro does not provide any concession.
The Delhi government is planning to introduce electric buses to decrease the cost and to combat pollution. The plan is to introduce 200 buses in phases by the end of this year.
New Delhi Municipal Corporation is trying to develop 500 cycle stands to provide last mile connectivity to the public. It was observed during the Odd-even scheme that the use of bicycles has increased by 20% in 2016. The state government had implemented the Odd-Even scheme in 2016 under which, private vehicles are allowed to run based on the last number of their licence plates. Prof Usha Raghupati says “The use of cycle has a great potential in Delhi and it should be promoted and cycle lanes should be developed as an alternative to public transport to reduce burden on public transport”.
Experiences of women in Public Transport
Nikita Yadav is a Journalism student at Indraprastha College for Women and she lives in Pitamputra. She travels everyday to her college in Civil lines, a distance of 11 km by Metro. It is considered by many that the Metro is safer for the women. However, Nikita disagrees.
She says, “Two months ago, I landed up in deep trouble after a boy tried to grope me. I tried to raise an alarm but nobody helped me. So I got down the Metro and tried to register a complaint with the Officer there. Surprisingly, the Officer didn’t register a complaint. I called up my home and the case was registered against the boy. But the boy bribed the police and got away. But at least, I managed to register a complain against the boy.” She adds that “harassing, groping and making lewd comments against women is a common thing in the metro. The women’s coach is overcrowded and people have to resort to general coaches.”Talking about the comparison between the Metro and the bus service Nikita says, “I prefer buses than metro as the passengers in buses are more cooperative in offering seats to female passengers.”
Laveena Pahuja, a graduate in the Mathematics Department at Jamia Millia Islamia travels from Gurugram to Okhla daily. She prefers using public transport rather than her personal car.
She says, “It takes around 40 minutes to reach a distance of Okhla from Gurugram (30kms) using a car, but during traffic it takes around 2 hours. Therefore I avoid using car and instead go to the nearest metro station. I travel by metro to Hauz Khas Metro Station and then use bus to reach Jamia. Metro is not feasible to reach every location, as the route is sometimes longer by metro. Therefore, people have to often change between buses and metro.”
Talking about the safety of women in public transport she says, “I prefer the women’s coach while travelling in metro and in buses I avail the women’s seats.”
Kusum, who isin her 40s, works as a sweeper in Okhla. She travels everyday from Faridabad by bus. She starts her day at six by travelling to Delhi and returns by four in the evening to Faridabad. She says, “It’s affordable to travel by bus rather than choosing other transport facilities”. Talking about women’s security in public transport she says that women get frequently harassed in bus. She adds, “But one has to be strong enough to retaliate against the harassment. I avoid travelling at night due to safety concerns like these.”
Meena is a housewife in her 30s who lives in Ishwar Nagar. She has been dropping her children to school by bus for a long while. She says that “travelling for women in a bus is unsafe as it is very common to hear lewd comments and physical harassment by male passengers.” But, Meena is different from other passengers. The regular attack on women safety had made her retaliate. She says, “I have slapped many men in the past when they tried to misbehave with me. I don’t tolerate anti-social elements like them.”
Karachi’s Public Transport Experience
Qaiser, 36, is a time keeper for the Shiraz mini buses. Carrying a stack of small white cards with scribbled digits in blue and a bunch of cash, he talks about his experience through the years of his working as a driver, conductor and now a time keeper. He talked about his experience with government bus services in the past which he said eventually crumbled away due to administrative issues and lack of adequate funding for operations.
He said, since 2003, the private bus owners have been barred from buying new buses which has made a lot of people move away from the the transport business in to the goods transport. A lot of bus owners converted their buses into lorries and trucks.
A regular mini bus according to Qaiser costs around Rs.8000 to Rs.9000 to run and he says that the regular profit which they make is around Rs.1200. He talks about all the formalities (route permit, fitness certificate, Clearance certificate) a mini bus has to go through and they are forced to keep working with the buses that they have been running for years, which cost Rs1,500,000 – Rs.1,600,000.
Qaiser also talked about the threat of the Qunqi rickshaws and CNG Rickshaws, which he says are unsafe, cost a fraction of the cost of the mini bus (Rs. 200,000 – Rs. 250,000) and earn as much as the mini buses. He said that these other modes of transport should not be allowed on the routes that the mini buses run on so that their business does not affected. He said that the rickshaws pay the police so that they can run on alternative routes.
When asked about the solutions, Qaiser said that the government should let bus owners buy new buses and let private contractors run their government buses, since the people who work in the transport sector currently are more experienced and will be able to run government projects with better profitability. The new Hino Buses, he said, cost around Rs. 4,500,000 and so difference in the price of the mini bus and bigger 72 seat buses is too high for buy for private owners, but they would prefer the new buses due to more capacity and less maintenance cost than that of a mini bus which currently run in the city.
The largest and rapidly growing city in the Pakistan has faced public transport challenges for a number of years. In spite of the importance of the city, the transport related problems seem to be increasing. At the time of independence in 1947, Karachi had an estimated population of 450,000. There was a network of trams and some buses which were good enough for the city. The network of trams was laid out in such a way that it served all of the city well, and commuters would not be more than 2 kilometers away from it. In 1962, the circular railway was introduced for carrying goods from one commercial area to another, but was later used as a service for commuters to which was quite successful. Since this entire infrastructure was not maintained over time, these assets of the city disappeared from the roads of the city.
Lack of regulation has made public transport sector of Karachi chaotic and messy, resulting in immense problems for the millions of commuters of this mega city and the inept bureaucracy still has no clue about how to tackle this serious urban social issue. This causes crowds of commuters waiting at bus stops and dangerously overcrowded minibuses with commuters even sitting on their rooftops. These roof racks stay despite the instructions of the Supreme Court of Pakistan to dismantle them. The government should have cancelled the route permits of transporters who are not interested to play their vehicles on these routes and invite other transporter to obtain these routes, but this practice is yet to be started.
“A large number of private vehicles have been added every year but the number of public transport registered buses have declined from around 22,313 in 2011 to 12,399 in 2014, of which only 9,527 are operative,” states a July 2015 report by Institute of Environment and Development (IIED). The report is titled ‘Responding to the Transport Crisis in Karachi’.
“I don’t see any hope for public transport, for the time being, because establishing a public transport system, managing it, maintaining it and getting subsidy for it, these things can not happen without effective institutions,” said Arif Hasan, an urban planner and architect who has authored numerous books and reports on Karachi city and the challenges it faces. “I don’t see any institution being made currently,” he added.
Different types of transport available for public include car taxis, auto rickshaws, big buses, mini buses and Qingqi motorcycles. Big buses and mini buses charge per passenger while taxis and auto rickshaws are privately hired and charge per trip. Ride hailing apps became popular in the city in the past three years which offer cars and motorcycles for private hiring who charge per trip as well. The city has become less pedestrian friendly with the developmental projects in the last decade and the design of the city has been changed in favor of privately owned vehicles. Signal free corridors which have been built across the city make our roads very dangerous to cross and the pedestrian bridges are not enough. The pedestrians can be seen crossing the roads while vehicles driving past them at high speeds.
“The public transport system in Karachi cannot improve till only wide-bodied buses are allowed to ply on its streets and all narrow-bodied minibuses and coaches are phased out from the city,” said Arif Hasan. This needs a strong political will and vision on the part of government. Karachi public transporter is immensely profitable sector and if the government announces giving bus routes only to wide-bodied buses many new investors would jump into arena for making quick money.
The shortage of public transport widens the gap between the public demand and the availability of buses on the roads. Most of Karachi’s citizens rely on buses and coaches as a mode of transport as many of them do not own cars or bikes and the fares of taxis and rickshaws are also unaffordable for them. Commuting by bus is a relatively cheaper mode of transportation and caters to the needs of varied social classes from a laborer to a middle-class white-collar worker.
However, keeping in mind that the current transport route system makes people change several buses to reach their destination, the buses which move around the city are unreliable, poorly maintained, worn-out with zero-safety standards, like emergency exits, etc. They have limited seating capacity. Hence, most of the time, the buses are overloaded, accommodating more passengers than their capacity, who are then forced to cling to the doors or perch on the roofs of the buses to take a ride.
Adnan Warsi, 30, Production Department in charge in a food industry. He has been travelling in the A-3 mini bus for the past 8 to 9 years. He says he doesn’t have to wait long for the buses, and is satisfied with the buses on this route. He prefers taking a rickshaw or a taxi in the rush hours since he has to wait for buses too long. Where as, Anwar, 31, commutes daily for an hour, one way, to work in a mini bus. He talked about his clothes getting dirty when he travels in the bus and he complains about not being able to find a bus on his way back from work at night.
Syed Qasim Shah, 65, retired public officer, MA Economics, volunteers at CHIPPA Ambulance Branch at NIPA intersection. He believes that a ‘mix economy’, meaning public private partnership, is the only solution to the public transport problem in Karachi. He said that the government department responsible for public transport did not hand down the money allotted to them to recruit new buses, drivers and update their buses. He gave examples of systems of transport in Japan, Maldives and Netherlands, the countries he has visited in the past.
He also pointed out that ’30 years ago’ it was written on buses what their routes are, the drivers and conductors were well behaved and the token system did not exist. Karachi had trams and Circular Railway which helped take people around in a civilised manner.
He said the token system, which is used as a time keeping mechanism, should be abolished since for people like him, the bus drivers who are always in a hurry, do not stop and cause distress to people who get on and off from buses while they are moving. He talked about the less space for pedestrians to walk and the difficulty which people would face in case they are disabled or are in their old age.
“The authorities need to decide on a suitable bus for Karachi, and ensure that everybody buys it – whether it is an independent operator or a company. There is also a need to establish an institute for the training of drivers, conductors and managers,” said Hasan.
Arif Hasan also added “Only those who are trained should be allowed to run these buses and there should be a monitoring system in place to oversee it. Along with this, there will be a need of bus depots, workshops and terminals. I believe this is the real solution to resolve Karachi’s transport-related problems, to make it affordable, to lower investment costs and to have a larger expanse than just the BRTS.”
“Looking at the state of traffic, the concept of building fast roads is not really the way to go about it. Fast roads are only beneficial during non-rush hours, where one could move fast through the city,” said Hasan. “This is the reason that the city’s entry and exit points are mostly choked. The solution to this would be that traffic be stopped at different points through signals, synchronized traffic lights, so that the flow of traffic could be controlled” he added.
As far as the recent developments in this regard are concerned, Nasir Hussain Shah, Minister for Transport for Sindh, said in January 2018 that the transport department had received a proposal from the Daewoo Express Ltd which envisaged inducting 288 vehicles on five routes with an average fleet of 50 vehicles per route. The routes are Qayyumabad to Qasba Colony, Baldia to Quaidabad, Shah Faisal Colony to Fisheries, Landhi to Surjani and Landhi to Baldia. The chief minister directed the provincial minister to start 32 Daewoo buses on long routes of Sharea Faisal and then extend the service to other routes. Sindh Chief Minister Sindh, Syed Murad Ali Shah, approved the release of Rs195 million for this project which is to be called ‘Intra-City Bus Project’, but there is no current progress on the project according the sources inside the transport department, who gave their comment on the basis of anonymity.