Aided by fare cuts and a rapid network expansion partly due to the 2008 Olympics, the Beijing Metro’s ridership rose exponentially over the years, while the impact of a fare hike pushed lakhs out of the fold of the Delhi Metro even as it touched newer areas.
The ridership pattern of the two public transporters — cumulatively carrying over 1.50 crore passengers daily in two of the most populated world capitals — seen against their evolving fare structures and growth in network makes for a study in contrast.
In January 1971, Beijing Metro started on a 10.7-km stretch with 10 stations and a single ride fare of 0.10 yuan (1 yuan converts roughly to Rs 10). Today, it has 22 lines stretching across 640 km, with 391 stations and 59 interchange stations.
Delhi Metro currently spans 373 km across Delhi-NCR.
On an average, 22,600 commuters rode on the Beijing subway daily in 1971, and the network transports nearly 13.5 million (1.35 crore) commuters in 2019, with “safe crowd management” the biggest challenge. During peak hours, passengers are allowed entry into stations in batches.
“Beijing was the first city in China to have a subway system,” a Beijing Rail Transit Network spokesperson told The Indian Express. The planning began in the mid-1950s. “They considered passenger flow in Beijing and since it was the capital, they wanted to plan ahead.”
Data with Beijing Metro shows that a combination of fare rationalisation and rapid expansion ahead of the 2008 Olympics in Beijing led to a spike in commuter traffic over the last decade. In 2007, average daily ridership was 1.7 million (17 lakh); in 2008 the figure nearly doubled to 3.2 million (32 lakh); from 2009 to 2019 it went from 3.9 million (39 lakh) to 13.5 million (1.35 crore).
This sudden spike in 2008 can be explained by a flat fare schedule of 2 yuan per person for the entire network except the Airport Line (25 yuan), which came into effect in October 2007. Before this move, fares ranged from 3 yuan to 7 yuan based on the line and number of transfers, said Beijing Metro officials. “Beginning October 2007, Beijing Rail Transit dramatically reduced ticket prices and implemented a single ticket system with a reduction of more than 50%,” said the spokesperson.
In the years leading to this, Beijing Metro saw an adjustment of fares in 1996 from 0.5 yuan to 2 yuan, after which it rose again to 3 yuan in 2000. Ridership meanwhile fell from a record high of nearly 500 million (in 1995) to 444 million (in 1996) and to 434 million (in 2000).
The slash in fares also coincided with the opening of three new lines ahead of the 2008 Olympic Games. “In July 2001, Beijing successfully applied for the Olympics. By the eve of the opening of the 2008 Games, Beijing Rail Transit has added six new lines and 146 km,” said the spokesperson, adding that the government simultaneously “encouraged passengers to take public transport as a green initiative”.
On December 28, 2014, ticket price was adjusted to a “time-limited” ticket system — “3 yuan for 6 km; 4 yuan for 6-12 km; 5 yuan for 12-22 km; 6 yuan for 22-32 km; and 1 yuan for every additional 20 km”, the spokesperson said.
In contrast, the Delhi Metro, launched in 2002, saw a steady rise in the number of commuters till 2017. With the launch of newer corridors and a marginal rise in fares in three phases over the years, ridership showed a healthy growth. But a double-phased steep hike of up to 100% in 2017 triggered a slide in ridership, which even the launch of new corridors could not arrest.
Delhi Metro lost around 2.23 lakh commuters daily in 2017-18 as compared to the previous year, according to the Delhi Metro’s annual report. According to the report, the Metro’s daily average ridership was 25.38 lakh in 2017-18, against 27.61 lakh in 2016-17. It has risen to around 27 lakh now, when all lines are considered.
The current fare structure of the Delhi Metro is Rs 10 up to 2 km; Rs 20 for 2-5 km; Rs 30 for 5-12 km; Rs 40 for 12-21 km, Rs 50 for 21-32 km; and Rs 60 for journeys beyond 32 km.
‘1,000-km network by 2021’
The Beijing Metro network grew slowly initially. After a personal go-ahead from PRC’s founder Mao Zedong in February 1965 — pictures of his approval letters are on display at the Beijing Rail Transit Command Center — construction began in mid-1965. Between 1981 and 2000, the Metro operated two lines, which got a boost in the early 2000s ahead of the Olympics. The city planned to achieve 19 lines by 2015, which now stands at 22 lines, four years later. A 2015 report by the National Development and Reform Committee says that by 2021, public transport will comprise 60% of all trips in Beijing, of which the subway will comprise 62%. “It is estimated that by 2021, Beijing would have built nearly 30 lines and nearly 1,000 km of urban rail transit network,” said the spokesperson.
(With inputs from Sourav Roy Barman in New Delhi)