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Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Why is Centre insisting on hiking Delhi Metro fares?

The first fare hike has shown that daily ridership has fallen by 2 lakhs. With the second hike, it can be safely assumed that ridership will see another substantial hit. For many passengers, it will become more financially viable to take a shared Uber or Ola cab.

Written by Atishi Marlena | Published: October 9, 2017 10:50:52 am
Delhi metro, Blue line, metro delayed, Blue line snag Delhi Metro is seeing a second hike in fares, less than 6 months after a major fare hike took place in May 2017. (Representational)

As a woman who has lived in Delhi for most of her life, and who has never owned or driven a car, the Delhi Metro was a life changing experience. For the first time it was possible to travel across the length and breadth of the city without having to worry about availability of auto-rickshaws or buses, to have a women’s compartment where one didn’t have to experience the indignity of the ogling and groping of DTC buses, to know that one could reach one’s destination in a time bound manner.

The Delhi Metro has become the lifeline of the city and lakhs of people depend upon it to reach their places of work and study. I’m sure that many of my fellow citizens of Delhi share my belief and experience of how the Metro changed their lives. Unfortunately, those who are making decisions about the Metro fares, themselves travel in air-conditioned, chauffeur-driven cars. And this maybe the reason why they do not realise the consequences of the 100% fare hike.

Providing safe and convenient public transport, is one of the prime responsibilities of any government. Not only is it essential to provide comfort to the citizens, but also to fuel economic growth and opportunity. Good public transport also reduces the number of vehicles on the road, leading to lower pollution, as well as less repair and maintenance of roads.

While public transport needs to be economically viable for the government, it is essential that government’s don’t forget that the core purpose of public transport is – for the public! And this is what needs to be kept in mind by the Delhi Metro as well.

Delhi Metro is seeing a second hike in fares, less than 6 months after a major fare hike took place in May 2017. The impact of the fare hike can be seen in the fall in the ridership of the Metro, with the number of passengers falling from 27 lakhs per day in June 2016 to 25 lakhs per day in June 2017. With one single fare hike two lakh citizens of Delhi were unable to afford travelling on the metro.

What is the going to happen if the fares are hiked once again in October? This would effectively double the metro fares.

We are told by the union Urban Development Minister that doubling the fares of the metro is essential to keep it financially viable and pay back the Japanese loan. This argument has several gaping holes in it. Firstly, if there was crisis of financial viability, why was there no revision of fares between 2009 and 2016?

Not increasing fares for 7 years, and doubling fares in a single year has put immense pressure on commuters. The inability of those in power to create a financially viable model in this entire period effectively means that the entire burden has been shifted onto the shoulders of ordinary commuters.

Secondly, the recommendations of the Fare Revision Committee (FRC) were submitted in September 2016, with the recommendation that the fare hike should be staggered, with one hike in October 2016 and another in October 2017. For the recommendations to be accepted, they have to be placed before the DMRC Board.

But despite the Board meeting on two occasions (December 2016 and March 2017), the recommendations of the FRC were not placed before the Board. They were placed before the DMRC Board only on May 8, 2017 and the minutes of the meeting clearly state that it was not apprised of the recommendations before that.

If the fare hike was such an immediate and essential financial need, then why did it take 8 months to place the FRC recommendations before the Board? In fact, increasing the fare twice in one year is in violation of Section 37 of the Metro Act, which clearly states that the fare cannot be increased more than once a year.

Thirdly and finally, any fare hike assumes that the ridership will remain constant and therefore the increase in fares will increase the revenue. The first fare hike has shown that daily ridership has fallen by 2 lakhs. With the second hike in fares, it can be safely assumed that ridership will see another substantial hit. For many passengers, it will become more financially viable to take a shared Uber or Ola cab, than to take the metro and pay for last mile transport. This also has implications for the city in terms of greater pollution, as well as costs of road repairs and maintenance.

There is a need to fundamentally rethink the financial model of the Delhi Metro – a task neglected by successive governments. Lessons can be taken from cities like Bogota, Singapore and Hong Kong, who have developed their own unique models for financial sustainability of their metros, while ensuring that the commuters – and especially those coming from weakest economic strata who travel the longest distances – do not end of up bearing the greatest cost of public transport.

Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal has offered to foot 50% of the financial losses faced by the Metro, if the Centre foots the bill for the remaining half. He has even offered to take over and run DMRC so that it can be run efficiently without hiking fares. It remains to be seen whether the Central Government will accept this offer or whether it will brazenly increase fares with little concern for lakhs of commuters?

Atishi Marlena is a leader of Aam Aadmi Party and works as an Advisor to the Government of NCT of Delhi. She tweets @AtishiMarlena

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