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Death by Breath: Metro helps but

Expansion will still account for only 15% of commuter trips.

Written by Pritha Chatterjee , Sumegha Gulati | New Delhi |
Updated: April 9, 2015 9:20:36 am
death by breath, death by breath metro, delhi metro, metro rail, dmrc, delhi metro air pollution, air pollution, air pollution delhi, delhi pollution, mangu singh, indian express death by breath, indian express air pollution, delhi news The Delhi Metro has taken nearly 4 lakh vehicles off the roads. (Source: Express Photo by Oinam Anand)

In the seven years that Delhi frittered away the gains of the CNG order, the one major public transport intervention has been the Metro which, as it goes to newer areas in the National Capital Region (NCR), has helped reduce pollution levels by taking nearly 4 lakh vehicles off the roads, cut annual fuel consumption by 2.76 lakh tonne and reduced pollutants by 5.8 lakh tonne a year.

Yet this has not been good enough.

Because the Delhi Metro Rail Corporation (DMRC) will account for less than 15 per cent of commuter trips in the capital when phase III of its expansion is complete, the network covering 330 km. Issues of last-mile connectivity, of poor feeder bus services still remain and, as one survey shows, “the number of trips shifting from cars and two-wheelers to Metro is only 20-25 per cent”.

Read: Mumbai to Chennai: How Delhi could show the way

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DMRC chief Mangu Singh says the responsibility of air quality cannot be “the sole responsibility of the Metro” and the DMRC has made several attempts, during construction and operation, to ensure minimal impact on environment.


“The Metro cannot do anything without support from other agencies. The city’s entire transport system and its impact on air pollution cannot depend only on the Metro. What you see is in spite of the Metro. Imagine the situation had the Metro not been there”, Singh told The Indian Express.

READ: ‘Imagine how it would have been without Metro,’ says Delhi Metro CMD Mangu Singh

An assessment of the DMRC by the Central Road Research Institute (CRRI) found that Metro phases I and II, completed in 2006 and 2010 respectively, took off the roads 16,895 vehicles in 2007; 1,17,249 vehicles in 2011; and, 3,90,971 in 2014.

Read: ‘Imagine how it would have been without Metro’ says Delhi Metro CMD Mangu Singh

The corresponding annual reduction in fuel consumption was 24,691 tonne, 1,06,493 tonne and 2,76,000 tonne, saving time per trip by 31 minutes, 28 minutes and 32 minutes respectively. The annual reduction in pollutants was 31,520 tonne, 1,79,613 tonne and 5,77,148 tonne respectively.

In 2014 alone, the cost of time saved was assessed at Rs 4107 crore, cost of fuel savings Rs 1,972 crore, savings in cost and operation of vehicles Rs 2,617 crore, and cost of pollution saved Rs 489 crore.

“Since 2007, we have gained 2,20,591 CERs (certified emission reductions) of carbon credits, which means an equivalent amount of carbon dioxide has been saved from being emitted in the atmosphere. From 2004-07, taking our gains during construction into account, 3,10,595 tonne of CO2 (carbon dioxide) emissions have been avoided based on our regenerative braking system alone. All these have been vetted by the highest international agency, the UNFCC (United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change). Our phase II corridors will, on an average, reduce 5,29,043 tonne of CO2 annually,” Mangu Singh said.

A Delhi School of Economics (DSE) working paper, by Deepti Goel and Sonam Gupta, examined the impact of Metro line extensions on pollution around a major traffic intersection between 2004 and 2006. The impact on particulate matter levels could not be calculated due to 47 per cent missing observations in Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) data on hourly PM 2.5 levels but a 34 per cent reduction in localized carbon monoxide levels could be attributed to the Metro extensions.

Goel, assistant professor in economics at DSE, said: “We looked at three major vehicular pollutants — NO2, CO and PM 2.5 around ITO. Specifically, looking at CPCB data between 2004-2006, if it hadn’t been for the extension of the Yellow line from Kashmere Gate to Central Secretariat, the CO levels would have been 34 per cent higher at ITO than what they were. Due to several segments of missing data, we could not arrive at a definitive conclusion on impact on particulates.”

“While the Metro appears to be doing a good job in Delhi, its viability in smaller cities needs scrutiny as Metro systems need a lot of ridership in order to recoup high capital costs,” Goel said.

Experts on transport policy, including committees appointed by the government, have questioned the environmental sustainability and feasibility of the DMRC and similar Metro projects.

In June 2014, the National Transport Development Policy Committee (NTDPC) report on energy and environment compared Metro phase I, which cost Rs 191 billion and covered 65 km, to the Golden Quadrilateral highway that connects four cities with four-lane highways and cost approximately Rs 300 billion for 5,846 km.

“The Delhi Metro, including its three phases, will provide for less than 15 per cent of commuter trips in the city. The average Metro trip being longer than other trips will, however, account for a greater proportion of urban travel in terms of passenger km,” the NTDPC report noted.

A 1995 report by RITES, which provides consultancy on urban transport, the DMRC initially projected a daily ridership of 3.1 million passengers by 2005.

The NTDPC quoted three different studies — the RITES report, an analysis of the Kolkata Metro by Y P Singh, former chief engineer of the Mass Rapid Transit System of the Northern Railway, and a 2012 analysis in the Journal of Public Transportation by S K Singh, professor of economics at IIM Lucknow — and stated: “The original feasibility study for developing a Metro system for Delhi justified its economic feasibility by projecting a daily ridership of 3.1 million passengers by 2005. This was later reduced to 2.18 million passengers on the first three corridors (65.8 km when completed in December 2005 as stated by the DMRC CMD, and then in 2005 further reduced to 1.5 million a day. The system was actually operating at around 0.6 million passengers per day at the end of 2007, (and in 2012, on a festive day, it recorded a historic peak of 2.2 million passengers on both the phases together close to 200 km length) less than 20 percent of projected capacity.”

Geetam Tiwari, from the Transport Research and Injury Prevention Programme (TRIPP) at IIT Delhi, said: “The Metro still accounts for just 4 per cent of total trips in Delhi. TRIPP surveys show the number of trips shifting from cars and two-wheelers to metro is only 20-25 percent.”

According to Tiwari’s analysis, 40 per cent trips made in the city are less than 5 km. And 70 per cent trips are less than 10 km. Metro is mainly used for longer trips, with an average trip length of 16 km. “How many people in the city make trips which are over 16 km? What the Metro has done is encourage these long trips, while not providing real benefits to shorter, intra-city transport needs,” Tiwari said.

Experts say environmental gains from the Metro are being negated by the failure to meet footfall targets and a “skewed presentation of ridership”.

Professor Dinesh Mohan of IIT Delhi, who was a member of the NTDPC, said: “Before the launch of the Metro, DMRC had claimed the ridership would be 30 lakh people. Now, it has built over 200 km, and still has not managed to reach 30 lakh.” He said crowding in trains needs to be assessed with the interval and carriages in every train.

“The ridership numbers are skewed. Claims of overcrowding are justified only when the Metro is running to its capacity — trains every two minutes or less with 8-12 carriages per train. If trains are running at five-minute intervals with six carriages, it is already running 1/4th its capacity. During rush hours, trains may appear overcrowded, but theoretically the Metro is running to 20 per cent of its overall capacity. So, you are not converting as many people to the Metro from vehicular transport as the ridership figures seem to suggest.”

The Metro design, Mohan said, has been done on the lines of countries in Europe and North America but is not suited to Delhi which has affected its benefits.

“All cities in the world cannot be the same. These mature global cities which became commercial and technological hubs by 1990s are so built that people can come to work in the city centre. Commercial hubs were fed to the centre, so their rail systems were designed accordingly. In Delhi, the radial system of design which the DMRC followed has not converted many vehicle-bound people because very few come to the centre of the city to work. Most people travel to NCR areas like Gurgaon or Noida which have emerged as commercial centres and have headquarters of multinational companies. Travel to the city centre in Delhi is only restricted to reasons like tourism,” he said.

But E Sreedharan, former DMRC chief who introduced Delhi to the Metro, disagrees. “We never adopted the model of any other nation. While building Delhi Metro, our main focus was to build it along corridors where they were needed the most. And the crowded trains justify that our choices were correct. There is so much traffic everyday.”

Asked whether DMRC did not foresee the NCR growing into a commercial hub, Sreedharan said: “Phase I brought Metro to areas where it was most urgently needed. The system has to grow in phases. Now, we have reached phase III where a lot of expansion is in NCR. Then there will be phase IV and so forth.”

The NTDPC report also pointed out that Metro rail had significant cost of infrastructure construction and maintenance due to energy consumed and carbon dioxide emitted. Comparing Lifetime Cost Analysis (LCA) of different modes of transport, the committee stated that Metro projects have the highest construction costs, which add to the environmental burden. It said “concepts and analytical skills” for conducting LCA “do not exist in ministries, government agencies and in most cities”.

Partha Mukhopadhyay of the Centre for Policy Research (CPR) said: “The carbon footprint of Metro is higher than buses because these run on electricity, which is generated by coal. So even though Delhi Metro may not cause pollution where it is running, pollution will be generated at the location where electricity is being generated for its purpose. So the costs to environment are just transferred from one location to the next.”

Experts say as the Metro expands into the NCR, attempts should be made to provide last-mile connectivity and make short travels more comfortable to ensure more people take the Metro.

“Road structures should be improved to make the Metro more accessible — if a 2-km wide road narrows after 5 km, obviously there will be ballooning of traffic, making access to stations more difficult. Make stations more accessible with better road design and last-mile connectivity,” Dinesh Mohan said.

Deepti Goel said: “In a country with surplus manpower, we should perhaps look at cycle rickshaws as an environmentally sustainable method of providing the last-mile connectivity to Metro stations.”

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