A well-integrated mix of public transport is key, says Delhi Metro MD

At the recently-held BW Urban Conclave, Dr. Mangu Singh – MD DMRC – talked about the Delhi Metro, its hits & misses and questions he has to answer everywhere he goes. Here are the excerpts from a panel discussion on “The Challenge of Building Rapid Transport Networks”


The figures are well known: India’s urbanisation rate is very rapid even though the figures of 40 percent (of urban population) by 2030 and 50 percent by 2050, percentage-wise, we may not be as high as any developed country but in sheer numbers – 600 million by 2030 and 800 million by 2050 – this is highly significant. The volume is so big that it is a great challenge to take care of so many people in urban areas. Over and above that, we have lagged in adding urban infrastructure in past years. This was mainly because we lived under that impression that India is primarily a country that lives in rural areas and both policy makers decision makers had, for years, worked with a rural mindset. There was no focus with regard to these urban areas. This allowed the uncontrolled growth and uncontrolled development of cities as well as migration from rural areas. It created a huge gap between infrastructure development and requirement, with the result that most of our big and medium-sized cities are characterized by heavy congestion, high levels of pollution and poor city records. Most importantly, average speed on major roads in most cities is in single digits! It is really a very pathetic situation. The solution lies in the public transport system When I say public transport system, I don’t only mean metro. It has to be a well-thought-out, well-integrated mix of all possible means of public transport and everything that works should be done. Another factor is the number of cars in the city. The availability of easy finance and the prestige attached to owning a car in our country has led to a large number of cars on the road. We face many problems and even though planning can take care of some of them, there are issues like financing and the execution of huge projects in already congested areas and cities, without degrading the environment that need to be addressed – without causing any inconvenience to the public. The fact that Delhi Metro has been very successful is illustrated by a CRRI study that looked at all its benefits like saving time, saving greenhouse gas emissions, improving safety on road and quality of life, and worked them out in terms of money. The return is as high as 23 percent, which means the entire investment is back to the society in just four and a half years’ time. This is a very positive thing and, with this success, many more cities in the country – about eight or nine – are already constructing a metro network and many more are planning to do the same. Delhi Metro: Hits & Misses? Most of the things the Delhi Metro did were right! However, there are certain things that can be improved upon. One aspect is that of unified transport. You can’t have a very efficient transportation system in a city like Delhi unless all other modes of transport are integrated, with planning also done in the same way. For example, there are many bus routes, DTC bus routes, running parallel to the metro. If there had been one (integrated/single) authority this would probably not have been possible. Though there has been a rationalisation of routes, I think more could have been done. Also, this debate of Metro versus BRT could have also been avoided. So I think this is certainly one area that we could have done more with. Metro means ‘metro’ Another is that the concept of urban transport is slightly misunderstood. People talk of extending the metro to Sonepat, Meerut, Aligarh etc., including people who are in the decision-making process. I think this concept needs to be clearly understood. Metro means ‘metro’. All the talk about connecting villages and rural areas is moot because a metro is there to take care of the intra-urban transport. Satellite towns should have their own intra-urban transport system, which can – in turn- be connected with a rapid system. I think this concept is not fully understood, with the result that it is a question have to answer everywhere I go! People also raise issues like having a separate, premium class for metro travellers. To our knowledge no metro in the world, with perhaps the exception of Dubai, has this type of segmentation. Not only is it very difficult to enforce, it also reduces the overall capacity of the system. There may be a demand but it is very difficult manage. On integrating despite constraints… An important aspect of the metro is integrating it with other modes of transport. In Phase I and II of the Delhi Metro, probably not much attention was paid to this but what we have recently done, in the existing stations of phase I and phase II and wherever it is possible, is drawn lands where we can have dedicated space for autos or rickshaws. This has been done for some 30-35 stations of Phase I and II. In Phase III stations, which we are now constructing, our emphasis is on providing other modes of transport, with dedicated spaces for autos, taxis and rickshaws and even DTC buses in some parking spaces. The shift in thinking is that instead of providing car parking, which is not a solution that urban planners also agree on, you have to facilitate more and more public transport and integrate it with various modes. By facilitating more and more car parking we are basically avoiding public transport to that extent. We are planning our new phases with that in mind. Yes, there is a problem in cities – they often don’t have land, which is either occupied by a park, a green space or is government land. You can’t acquire private property either. So, within these constraints we have shifted our policy to acknowledge and deal with this pattern and probably Phase III stations will be better than before.