New Delhi: Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal has promised to ensure free bus travel for women in the national capital but the Delhi Transport Corporation (DTC) fears it will be left with too few buses for any passenger to use.
DTC officials told ThePrint on the condition of anonymity that at the current rate of attrition, where at least 318 buses on an average are being scrapped annually, the transport body will be left with only 204 functional buses by 2025 from the current 3,849, as of March this year.
The problem has been compounded by the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) government not adding a single bus to DTC’s fleet in the last five years.
Experts have pegged the number of buses that the national capital requires at 11,000.
“The original AMC (annual maintenance contract) for most of the buses will expire by 2025 — they will either have been functional for over 12 years or have travelled the mandated 7.5 lakh km,” a DTC official told ThePrint.
“Once the original AMC expires, buses in poor condition are sent to scrap while others are held up till their AMCs are renewed. This is rarely done as the maintenance cost becomes way too high.”
The DTC officials told ThePrint that they have already sent a monthly break-up of the number of buses that will become non-functional in the coming years to Delhi’s Transport Minister Kailash Gahlot.
“After the free passes decision was made, the government asked us for our statistics,” a second DTC official said. “We thought it was best we let them know how severe the crisis is and how many buses we will lose each month.”
Gahlot remained unavailable for a comment despite multiple attempts to reach him through email, telephone and text and WhatsApp messages. This report will be updated when he responds.
DTC staring at a bleak future
At its peak, ahead of the Commonwealth Games in 2010, the DTC’s fleet consisted of 6,204 buses.
That has nearly halved in the nine years since due to a combination of AMCs expiring, accidents, breakdown of buses and the government not adding a single bus to the DTC fleet.
According to DTC officials, as of March 2019, the transport body had 3,849 functional buses. Of these, nearly 10 to 15 per cent are under maintenance, in effect, leaving just 3,112 DTC buses on the road every day.
What’s worse is that the Corporation only sees darker days ahead. “The last time we added buses to our fleet was in 2011-12, only 32 of them,” the second official said. “At this rate, there will be no buses left, forget being granted free passes for.”
To meet the 11,000-bus requirement, aside from the DTC, the Delhi Integrated Multi-Modal Transit System (DIMTS) monitors cluster buses, run by private contractors under the aegis of the Delhi government. There are, however, just around 1,600 of these buses.
The number of buses has only fallen, despite the AAP’s 2014 manifesto promise to increase the number of buses to 10,000. “11,000 is itself a five-year-old estimate and a modest one at that,” the first DTC official said.
The lack of buses is expected to also take a toll on commuters. According to the Delhi Economic Survey, between 2010-11 and 2016-17, DTC buses catered to on an average 27.05 lakh passengers every day.
The survey showed that ridership rose and peaked in 2013-14 before falling.
“Bus ridership depends on two factors — their numbers and ability to make trips,” Geetam Tewari, a professor in the IIT-Delhi’s Transportation Research department told thePrint. “The number of buses can only be augmented by the government, while their ability to make trips depends on the traffic,” Tewari added.
“Increased numbers obviously increased ridership. But in the long run, the government has to increase the number and quality and comfort of buses,” she added.
AAP’s efforts stuck in legal woes
The AAP government’s efforts to strengthen the DTC fleet have been stuck in legal troubles.
In September 2017, the Delhi government issued tenders for 2,000 standard-floor-height buses — 1,000 each for cluster and DTC operations. A PIL challenging the move was filed by activist Nipun Malhotra, who wanted low-floor buses on the grounds that the standard-floor ones discriminate against the disabled.
In March 2018, the AAP government floated tenders once more. Yet again, these tenders were challenged in the Delhi High Court on account of them being inconvenient for the disabled. The Delhi HC slammed the government. “Procuring buses which are inaccessible to the disabled infracts the mandate of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act, 2016 (sic),” it said.
The game of bureaucratic football continued over the procurement process, with the point of disagreement being the floor height of the buses. Earlier this week, the AAP government announced it will be adding 2,000 buses to the cluster fleet and 1,000 electric buses to DTC’s.
“We have repeatedly been promised new buses. But then tenders are issued, sometimes the court intervenes, or tenders don’t go through — it’s a vicious cycle of never-ending pilot projects,” the second DTC official said. “Inevitably, we won’t get the 1,000 buses the government has promised.”