The new state budget of Delhi promises upscaling of public transport and bus fleet electrification. But the new Economic Survey warns about plummeting bus ridership

The new budget proposal tabled by the Government of National Capital Territory of Delhi makes promises of upscaling the bus transport system and augmenting electric bus fleet. 

This has set aside Rs 28,556 crore to induct electric buses; Rs 3500 crore to improve Delhi’s public transport system; Rs 1,500 crore for electrification of 57 bus depots; 1,600 new electric buses; 900 EV charging points; 1,400 bus queue shelters; and Mohalla bus scheme for last mile connectivity. 

While this has ignited optimism about the much needed reinvention of the bus transport in the city, the dire reality of the state of bus transport as was highlighted yesterday by the Economic Survey, 2022-23, dampens expectations. 

The contradictory trends reported in the Survey are worrying. 

First the positive trend. The overall combined bus fleet of Delhi Transport Corporation (DTC) and the cluster buses have increased from 5,695 in 2017-18 to 7,072 in 2021-22. This is expected to increase even further if the budget promises are kept.  

The disturbing fact is that despite the increase in the bus numbers the bus ridership has plummeted sharply over the years.

Key performance indicators are awry. Passenger carried per bus daily is down from 878 to 487 in DTC buses, and, from 753 to 351 in cluster buses — a sharp drop of 44 per cent and 53 per cent, respectively since 2017-18.

There is only a minor improvement compared to the pandemic year of 2020-21.

In fact, daily average passengers have declined from 2.98 million to 1.56 million in DTC buses and from 1.16 million to 0.98 million in cluster buses during the same time. This is a combined drop of 39 per cent despite the increase in the number of buses.

Also the load factor or the passenger carrying capacity of buses has fallen sharply from 83.83 per cent to 22.30 per cent in DTC buses and from 81 per cent to 68 per cent in cluster buses. 

Performance of DTC and Cluster buses



 DTCCluster busesDTCCluster buses
Fleet (In numbers)3,9511,7443,7623,310
Fleet utilisation(in %)85.6997.1685.2799.01
Vehicle Utilization (Km/ Bus/Day)191205.15201.00217.10
Load factor (in %)83.838122.3068
Passenger Carried per bus daily(In numbers)878753487351
Daily Average Passengers (In Lakh)29.8611.6515.629.87
Source: Economic Survey, 2022-23, Government of NCT Delhi

The worrying incongruity is that while the passenger numbers are down, the number of kilometres completed by buses each day has increased. Vehicle utilisation in terms of kilometre per bus per day has increased from 191 km to 201 km for DTC buses and from 205.15 km to 217.10 km for cluster buses since 2017-18.

Thus, more kilometres are being driven but with lesser passengers. It is notable that as per the contract with the cluster bus system, the government has to bear the requirement of viability gap funding to bridge the gap between earning and cost per kilometre. Clearly, the incentive is to run more kilometres without paying attention to the supportive strategies needed to increase ridership.

It is not just buses. Even the metro ridership has not gained back its pre-pandemic mark. In 2019-20, the Metro had carried 2,780,000 passengers daily, (including Rapid Rail which does not fully reflect the Delhi ridership).

Even though the metro ridership has recovered from the dip during the pandemic year of 2020-21 and reached the level of 2,516,068 passengers per day in 2021-22, it still falls short of 2019-20 level. 

Average daily ridership passenger journey and rolling stock (with Rapid Metro)
2020-21** (07.09.2020-31.03.2021)8,78,000***359.2302,280
** Including Rapid Metro. DMRC has taken over the operation on 22.10.2019
*** Passenger Journey (Passenger Journey calculates a Metro journey in terms of the number of corridors used by a passenger.)
Source: Economic Survey, 2022-23, Government of NCT Delhi

Even when the travel demand is exploding in the city, public transport systems are in deep trouble — inciting greater dependence on personal vehicles and choking congestion.

Investing in public transport without enablers

While it is encouraging to see the investments in bus fleet augmentation, electrification of the bus fleet and depot infrastructure growing, there are no enablers for buses to provide reliable services on congested roads and connect all neighbourhoods efficiently and to have more manoeuvring space to move in the choked roads.

The purpose of augmenting bus fleet including electric bus fleet gets defeated without a strategy to restrain automobility to reduce personal vehicle usage. It is now quite a common place to find sparsely occupied buses, including electric buses during peak hours on several stretches of the key corridors that have high travel demand.

The paradox

Thus the new fiscal year begins with a paradox. The Economic Survey has reported a 35 per cent drop in vehicle stock due to old vehicle phase out that can reduce exposure to toxic emissions and also create opportunity for cleaner and zero emissions vehicles. But a dramatic drop in public transport ridership can lock in more pollution. 

About 12.2 million vehicles were registered in 2020-21. This number dropped to 7,917,898 in 2021-22. This excludes the old vehicles that were deregistered and scrapped. About 4,877,646 vehicles were deregistered. 

The buzz around this sharp drop in vehicle stock this year due to old vehicle phase out is only temporary and transient. The numbers can easily bounce back in a city that has until now maintained a steady growth in vehicle numbers especially in cars and two wheelers.

Even during the pandemic year the personal vehicle segments could sustain their even pace of growth. Each new vehicle may be cleaner than the older lot, but the sheer volume will overwhelm and negate the benefits.

Even though the Delhi government is taking steps to augment bus numbers and service and enforce flexible bus lanes, there is no strategy to prevent cars and two wheelers from crowding out the buses or tame the car bulge with parking strategy and pricing, congestion pricing and low emissions zones.

The inevitability of these decisions and strategies cannot be ignored anymore and delayed infinitely. Vehicular pollution is one of the biggest contributors to air pollution and energy guzzling in the city.

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