56-year-old Vasu and her friends, who travel from their jhuggi in West Delhi’s Janakpuri to industrial regions like Noida, Okhla and Bawana every morning to sell cheap factory-made watches, have recently shifted to commuting via buses.
The reason for the switch was the spike in Delhi Metro fares last week. The hike appalled the women, all migrants from Madhya Pradesh, while buying Metro tokens at the Janakpuri West station last Thursday.
The Delhi Metro fare hike has discouraged long-distance travellers like Vasu because the pocket pinch is higher for them compared to those travelling over a shorter distance. For instance, a commuter travelling 2 km is now paying 25 per cent higher than what he used to before the hike. However, a commuter travelling the same distance had to pay 33.33 per cent higher after the fare hike in 2009.
Things change when a commuter travels longer distances. For instance, a commuter travelling 32 km is now paying 48 per cent more after last week’s hike. After the 2009 revision, however, the fare change for the same commuter was 42 per cent.
The difference between the fare for a short-distance and a long-distance commute was smaller in 2009, but has now increased after last week’s revision.
The burden of the hike is higher for long-distance commuters like Vasu. On the other hand, the short-distance traveller is being encouraged more which is a departure from Delhi Metro’s founding principles.
The DMRC, under former managing director E Sreedharan, had intended to “encourage long-distance travel on the Metro”. In 2009, the third fare fixation committee kept to the policy principle by increasing the distance of the long-distance slabs while limiting the maximum fare increase to only Rs 8. For instance, the slab of ‘more than 39 km’ was changed to ‘more than 44 km’ and the fare for the slab was increased from Rs 22 to Rs 30 in 2009.
In comparison, the fourth fare fixation committee has now shrunk slabs from 15 to only six, thus forcing a long- and short-distance commuter (falling in a fare slab) to pay the same fare. And this time around, the ‘more than 44 km’ was cut back to ‘more than 32 km’.
However, Anuj Dayal, executive director, corporate communications, DMRC refused to comment on whether the new fare structure is a departure from the policies of Sreedharan. He told The Indian Express: “The third fare fixation committee comprised a different set of people. The fourth fare fixation committee comprises a completely different set of people. The committee independently decided and recommended fare structures independent of the DMRC. The DMRC is only implementing the revision in fares. Public opinion was also solicited on our website and in the three-month window we got 71 per cent respondents agreeing to a fare hike.”
Dayal further said: “With the expansion of the Delhi Metro on the completion of its third phase, long distances will be drastically cut short by half or more than half. For someone from east Delhi who is forced to travel to interchange stations like Rajiv Chowk to travel down to south Delhi, the third phase will cut down distances by around 15 to 25 kilometres.”
However, the Delhi government expressed its reservations. On May 8 a Delhi government spokesperson said, “We are opposing the Delhi Metro fair hike. It is a wrong decision. This will adversely impact regular passengers, particularly women and students. Moreover, this will force many commuters to shift to personal vehicles. Fares should be reduced, not increased.”
Organisations like the Delhi Metro Commuters’ Association protested against the fare hike and called for a one-day boycott against the fare hike which “will cause enormous problems for the people of Delhi.”
Vasu, who makes around Rs 5,000 per month selling watches for Rs 100 a piece in jhuggi clusters and industrial pockets across the NCR, said a Rs 10 increase in fares will make it impossible for her to continue via the Metro. “I did not know about the fare increase till today (last Thursday). I will take the bus from now on. I cannot afford to lose Rs 500 every month when a bus can get me through for much less. I will miss the AC’s comfort but I cannot lose money like this.”
Public transport systems, especially rail systems, across the world tend to follow a telescopic fare structure wherein the fare for long-distance travel is compensated by higher per-unit fare for shorter distances.
Town planners say the initial idea behind the Delhi Metro was decongesting Delhi and to make travel affordable for people commuting from satellite towns like Noida and Faridabad.
However, P K Sarkar, head of transport planning at the School of Planning and Architecture, said, “The Delhi Metro needs to be financially viable. Most of transport systems abroad are subsidised by respective governments unlike the Delhi Metro which has huge debt. The Delhi Metro can instead introduce discounts for the EWS (economically weaker section) category.”
The DMRC on May 8 stated that, “The revision in fares was necessitated because of the increase in the cost of inputs like staff salaries, the cost of energy and the cost of repair & maintenance.” It cited increases in its industrial dearness allowance by 95.5 per cent, central dearness allowance by 103 per cent among other factors since the last fare revision in 2009.
Dayal said: “We have a loan of Rs 24,829 crore due to Japan International Cooperation Agency and we have re-paid only Rs 2,982 crore. We also have to cover depreciation costs as well”