On Joharipur road in north east Delhi there is a huge variety of transport options on offer. You could share an auto, a private car offering a taxi service, a tonga, a cycle or a tractor trolley or you could just walk.
The only thing you will hardly ever find is a bus. And when available, it is not for the children, women or old, who prefer the safety of the autos, taxis and trolleys as they are far more considerate about the passengers. For anyone wondering where this blessed road leads to there is an easy answer. It connects Delhi’s Loni border with towns on Ghaziabad.
Public transport means private transport doubling up as public for the people who surround Delhi’s border like this tract of densely built lanes. Since none of the available transport options offer a ride of more than four to five kilometers, people in these areas ply their trade or nurture skills concentrated in a tight geographical area limited by transport to how far they can venture.
The lack of public transport is often the reason why skills do not move even within the national capital region. Travel between Gurgaon, Ghaziabad, Noida and Delhi in the year 2015 is a difficult option if one has to do it on a daily basis. Yet this is India’s most sprawling urban region.
Plumbers, carpenters, painters, masons, tailors or cooks find it impossible to offer their services at any distance of more than five kilometers. Since a huge percentage of them even in the national capital region live on these border areas, the cost of their service in inner city is too high, erratic and mostly unavailable.
Just look at the statistics about the number of public buses Uttar Pradesh puts on the road. With those few, it is impossible for a worker living in Ghaziabad to hope for a decent paying job anywhere in Delhi. It is not the cost but the time that he would take to travel the distance which creates labour scarcity driving business to either price their wares high or else close down. Yet given the huge unemployment rate in states like Uttar Pradesh it should have pushed for flooding the Delhi borders with state buses to ferry workers to the city. The lack of buses is also complimented by the stiff rules enforced by state transport authorities for giving permissions to ply them across borders.
Within Uttar Pradesh, just 30 kilometers from Agra is Firozabad — the gateway to the Bulandshahr region. Because of the huge number of glass works in the town, (300 according to district industries office) at any time there is a rich harvest of skilled workers. But next door in Agra, industry owners are moving out of production of intermediate products used with the glass industry. One of the reasons is the shortage of workers. These workers who commute from their homes in the villages in the adjacent regions would spend a better part of the day just finding the transport to Agra. Wage rates rise.
The pattern is repeated in all the labour abundant state, none of which has realised the significance of inter-city public transport as a means to end poverty. Yet it needs little more investment than of buses plying at frequent intervals. The level of investment is far lower than creating elusive schemes for setting up manufacturing units. Once can argue that the reason why many industrial clusters fall out of favour in northern India is because of this limitation, even as attention is paid to more visible reasons like water and power shortage. For instance, in West Bengal the number of state buses that ply in the two regional transport hubs is dismal. Aggregate bus availability within the state rises only when you add the number of buses in Kolkata. The same is the case with Maharashtra.
The World Bank standard is at least 0.5 to 1.2 buses per 1,000 population. None of the states are even close to it. The number of state buses is so small compared with the population of each state that it is obvious that the population will have to make do with alternative transport options to commute.