Friday, 22 March 2013

Feel like getting intimate with strangers in Delhi? There's no place like a public bus.

By Amitabh Kumar: Head, Media and Communication- Centre for Social Research
The Delhi Transport Cooperation (DTC) is one of the main arteries that helps Delhi run on time. Or at least attempt to run on some concept of "time". Its buses zigzag over a thousand different bus routes across this maze of a city, serving an area of 1484 square/km. (Just imagine, that's twice the size of Bahrain). The DTC also caters to 33% of Delhi’s population with roughly 5,383,896 ticket holders jumping on and off every year. Now that's just about the population of Singapore. You know where I'm going with this, serving such a large customer-base over such a densely-populated area, the DTC is a behemoth, which needs to be handled properly.

The spread and outreach of the network is as grand as they come and serviced at the cheapest rate one can think of. Let me start out by saying that the price per kilometer ratio is something DTC can really be proud of. However, an aspect DTC seems to have overlooked is the number of people who can and should be able to travel on a DTC bus on any given journey.

The figure above is the structure of the DTC bus currently gracing Delhi's roads. As one can see there are 41 seats allocated, by design, for passengers. Yes, yes 2 seats are technically occupied by a ticket collector so that brings us down to 39 seats for us to choose from. Barring this provision, according to the manufacturers of this fleet of buses (the one and only Tata Motors) there is a standing area of 13 square meters (140 sq/feet) in the event we choose to stand.

Now let's get real about these numbers (and stick with me!). Trust me. Lay out some newspaper on the floor, pick up a regular large ruler (12 inches) and draw a square ( 36 inches each side) and you are left with exactly 3 square feet. Now stand in your square and you'll quickly come to the realization that this represents the minimum amount of space one requires to stand comfortably (also putting into consideration, this bus is moving through Delhi traffic, being driven by people who live by the slogans of Fast & the Furious ). So as per my human (and admittedly homemade calculation), I am of the view that roughly 47 healthy Delhiites can and should be able to stand happily on a DTC bus as they navigate around Delhi.

Nevertheless, if we were to go by the Australian standard for a sheep yard (again stick with me) only 32 sheep could stand and be merry in an area of 13 sq/m . Then again this is India and we are faced with the uphill battle of battling poverty and excessively high population density which goes unchecked on a daily basis. Alas, although we can happily compete with Australia when it comes to wicket keeping and scoring centuries on the cricket pitch, when it comes to notions of personal space, we can't even dream of competing with their sheep. Certainly very pampered sheep indeed.

97. No I'm not referring to the congressional district in Florida or even the first two digits when calling Bhutan. The magical number of ‘97’ represents the ‘crush passenger-carrying capacity’ according to Tata Motors. I'm not entirely sure what the detailed implications are of breaching this threshold, but the name lives up to it. If 97 commuters manage to pack themselves in a DTC bus they will find themselves crushing one another and getting quite intimate.

Undoubtedly, the reality of riding a DTC bus is certainly more ruthless than the theoretical estimates provided as the number of people standing in a bus easily exceeds the one referred to by Tata Motors in terms of ‘crush passenger-carrying capacity’.

Just the sheer discomfort of being enclosed in a limited space, with less than ideal smells engulfing the available fresh air, and being pushed and shoved from one direction to another inevitably leads to certain people opting out of this otherwise amazing form of public transport. Even if each and every individual was well-mannered (and the majority of us are) there is no way of managing a DTC route without rubbing your body against at least 50 other strangers. What presents itself is an amazing opportunity for pleasure for the city's perverts and a climate of torture for the rest of us.

Women are groped and molested on a regular basis, pickpockets are given free rein to make their earnings resulting in most of us shying away towards our ever-polluting private vehicles. As much as I love my car, is it not time we look into creating proper guidelines to regulate these numbers? We need to define the number of passengers who can safely travel in a public bus and make it an enforceable requirement. Yes, yes, I can hear your eyes roll from here. Enforce a law you say? Yes! India has precise laws for governing the exact badge and uniform to be worn by the bus conductor as well as the number of people who can seatbelt themselves into a private vehicle. And yet, no regulations with regards to the maximum number of passengers who can travel on a government-run public transport bus? I think I need to step back into my newspaper square on the floor for a moment.

For all of you eye rollers who are probably already thinking "it'll never happen!", well I have some news for you. We called the DTC, the Delhi Traffic Police, even Tata Motors and not a single person had any clue about bus capacity. Many hours were spent on Google in the search of an official number and in the end we filed a PIL (about a month back and are awaiting a reply). Just yesterday we were in a meeting with the Lt. Governor of Delhi Tejendra Khanna, were I raised this issue, he asked for details. Where I posted to him in a hard copy marked( Special Commisioner Traffic Police Sudhir Yadav Ji, Minister of Transport Shri RamaKanth Goswami Ji & Chief Minister of Delhi Shri Shiela Dixit ji ) right before I posted this blog online. I never said it was great news. A few honest, well-planned steps and I believe we could bring about a major change in Delhi's public transport system. Now back to my newspaper square…

No comments:

Post a Comment