Public Transport in Delhi

By Abhijit Menon-Sen <ams@toroid.org>

2009-12-19

Thanks to the recent increase in bus fares, we calculated that it would cost about the same to drive twelve kilometres to and from Ammu's doctor as it would for the three of us to take a bus both ways—and that is only if we walked from our home to the bus stop, and from the bus stop to the doctor's and back, for a total of about three kilometres (as opposed to taking, say, a cycle rickshaw, which would more than double the fare).

Combine that with the fact that the doctor sees patients in the evening, and that it's difficult to find a bus with any space going towards home afterwards (and the auto-rickshaw fare would be at least twice the bus fare, assuming we could find one willing to take us home at all), and we have a powerful argument to brave the evening traffic in the car.

(There's a Delhi Metro station about 3km from our house, but there's no convenient way to get to it, and the Metro doesn't extend towards Ammu's doctor's office anyway. If it did, the fare would be a little less than twice the bus fare each way, and auto-rickshaw fare to and from the station would be half as much again.)

Before the bus fare hike at the end of October (followed soon afterwards by a Metro fare hike), the maximum fare in a public bus (one operated by the Delhi Transport Corporation) was INR10. Private buses (the so-called "blue line" buses, although they are no longer blue) ply the same routes and charge the same fare as DTC buses, but some charge extra to take less-congested toll roads. Fake "chartered buses", which pretend to be reserved by some company for the exclusive use of its employees, but which anyone can get into in practice, have even higher fares.

The maximum fare is now INR15, and fares for smaller distances have also increased by a few rupees. For people who commute long distances to work and have to change buses once (which is quite normal), that represents an increase of about INR500 per month; considering that many people earn between INR3000–5000 per month, that's a substantial chunk of a family's monthly income, especially given the increases in food prices this year.

I suppose all the money needed to prepare for the Commonwealth games had to come from somewhere.

Update (2010-01-08): Arnt points out that it makes no sense to compare the price of bus tickets with the cost of fuel needed to drive the same distance in a car (and thus to treat the car as being free to purchase and maintain). I wanted to say that the fare hike has made bus travel very expensive for many people in Delhi, but that's not related to the cost of travelling by car. I messed up while trying to say that people who want to use their car less often have to think twice about taking the bus (because they're as slow and inconvenient as before, but no longer much cheaper); the comparison isn't valid.