Public transport takes a Covid hit as commuters switch to private vehicles: Study

Public transport in Delhi has been running with a reduced capacity since a nationwide lockdown was imposed to slow the spread of the coronavirus disease (Covid-19) and authorities introduced several curbs on travel, according to an analysis by the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE).

The capacity has dipped by 73% on average since March, said the analysis, which added that the people were still wary of using mass transit mode commute. This has, in turn, led to big drop in the ridership of buses and the Metro.

The number is borne out by specifics provided by the Delhi Metro Rail Corp. and the Delhi Transport Corp. and also reflected in an increase in the use of private vehicles (simply because most people believe public transport is unsafe at a time when a viral disease is raging through the Union territory).

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The CSE analysis warned of a worrying trend of commuters shifting to private vehicles after Covid-19, which could undo years of work in the city to promote public transport, and as a result increase traffic snarls.

CSE also used Google mobility data to show that the movement of people around public transport hubs such as bus stops and metro stations had fallen sharply. This is primarily because people are still apprehensive of contracting Covid-19 and prefer private vehicles over public transport, the analysis concluded.

“Public transport has been functioning at a very low capacity during the pandemic. Service capacity of the fleet reduced on an average by 73%, with variations across different phases of the Covid lockdown and post-lockdown period,” the analysis found.

The analysis also found that average speeds on Delhi’s roads had almost returned to what they were before the lockdown. According to it, the mean speed increased from 24 kmph pre-lockdown to 46 kmph during the lockdown, but has since slowed to 29 kmph with the end of the lockdown.

CSE carried out its road speed analysis on 12 arterial roads, MG Road, NH-44, Sardar Patel Marg, Outer Ring Road, Dr KB Hegdewar Marg, Sri Aurobindo Marg, NH-9, Mehrauli-Badarpur Road, GT Karnal Rd, Lal Bahadur Shastri Marg, Dwarka Marg and Najafgarh Marg.

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Slowing speeds also reflect congestion. Anumita Roychowdhury, executive director (research and advocacy), CSE, said that traffic congestion was happening because the demand for public transport in Delhi is still low.

That can be attributed to the fact that the Union territory, which has seen 623,415 coronavirus disease cases and suffered 10,474 deaths on account of it to date, has also witnessed three distinct waves of the pandemic, perhaps the only region in India to have done so.

“The analysis shows that those who own a car and used to travel by public transport before the pandemic, have now moved away from it and prefer using their private vehicle. The transport modes that have resumed are also operating with limited capacity because of the requirement of social distancing norms. So, these are no longer fulfilling the role that public transport used to,” said Roychowdhury.

In an earlier analysis carried out by CSE, which HT reported onMay 29, experts said that before the nationwide lockdown came into effect on March 25, as much as 37% of Delhi’s commuter traffic was carried by the Metro, 28% by personal vehicles and 7% by public buses. Researchers predicted then that these choices were likely to shift.

“In the next six months, the ridership of Delhi Metro is expected to fall by over from 37% to 16%. Commuter traffic in public buses is expected to fall from 7% to just 1%. The dependence on private vehicles, on the other hand, will increase significantly, from 28% to as much as 38%,” that report stated.

Delhi government data shows that the Capital has 11 million registered vehicles, of which 3.3 million are cars. Latest data provided by the Delhi Metro Rail Corporation (DMRC) shows that ridership is now around 900,000 a day, as opposed to around 2.7 million pre-lockdown.

Similarly, ridership of Delhi Transport Corporation (DTC) buses has gone down by 59% since March this year.

“The rebound of congestion post-lockdown indicates Delhi is not prepared for transformational changes to cut down the volume of traffic. The pandemic has also derailed the targets of public transport ridership that the city had set for itself,” the analysis said.

It added: “For instance, The Delhi Master Plan 2020-21 set a target of 80% public transport ridership by 2020, which could not be attained. The Delhi Decongestion Plan of the union ministry of housing and urban affairs has also provided a roadmap for increasing the share of public transport ridership that provides for strategies including more buses, protected bus lanes, metro network and parking policy and parking charges. But these have not been implemented at a scale.”

The report also pointed out that the city is also falling behind on maintaining the number and frequency of public buses. CSE experts said that if these targets are not met in the coming months, it would lead to the undoing of all the work done towards promoting public transport over the last few years.

“As far as bus procurement is concerned , against the 2019-20 target of 4,000 new buses, 733 buses were added, taking the total number of buses to 6,261. According to different estimates and directives, the city requires between 10,000 and 15,000 buses,” said Roychowdhury.

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