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Moving with the times

E. Sreedharan | Print Edition: Jan 8, 2012

Urbanisation should be encouraged. That is one way of benefits reaching larger sections of the people. China is encouraging urbanisation, so that a larger part of its population can be covered with limited resources. Having said that, we have to tackle the many problems of urbanisation such as adequate civic amenities, housing, water supply, drainage, lighting and so forth, too.

Public transport, on which a city's economic activity and social life depends, is one such problem. Recently the Planning Commission set up a Committee on Urban Transport - of which I was Chairman - for the 12th Five Year Plan. We have recommended that in every city with a population of more than two million, we should start planning a metro service in two years. Metro has a large carrying capacity and is very energy efficient.

The cost per kilometre of carrying a passenger is only one-sixth or one-fifth that of a road transport system. And a rail-based system is fast, viable, safe and comfortable.

We have also recommended that the cities with a population of more than five million should immediately have a metro system. Fortunately, all of them have already started work, except Ahmedabad, which is still in the detailed project report stage. Cities with a population of three million must also have a metro system immediately. In cities with a population of 500,000 to one million, we have proposed only a large number of public buses, which the government should subsidise. In all cities, the metro or rail-based system will be the backbone of public transport. But we will still need a bus system.

The biggest problem today is that road-based public transport systems are running at huge losses in most cities. The Delhi Transport Corporation's, or DTC's, subsidy from the government is Rs 3 crore a day - more than Rs 900 crore a year. I am sure that is what the DTC will ask for this year. It has bought a lot of big buses, which are not always packed to capacity. There is heavy taxation - 30 to 33 per cent of the cost of running a bus system is taxes. When you purchase a bus, you are taxed; when you register the bus, you are taxed; fuel is taxed, everything is taxed.

The government thinks it is getting revenue, but it is like killing the goose that is laying golden eggs. Today, a city like Delhi must have 25,000 buses in addition to the metro. It is essential to bring down the number of private vehicles, with lots of disincentives. But before you place a disincentive, you must provide an alternative.

We have to bring huge investments into urban transport. A non-fungible urban transit fund, which also does not lapse, can be created by the state governments and the central government. Out of this, allocations can be made for metro, road transport, road improvement, etc. It is very easy to raise this money, provided there is political will. We have estimated that metro systems in all the cities would require Rs 1.5 trillion (one trillion equals 100,000 crore), and we have suggested ways to raise nearly Rs 2.5 trillion. Our basic approach is to tax polluters - cars, autos, etc. We have also suggested a green tax on vehicles currently on roads.

We can also plan light or medium metro systems in other cities. The capacity of Delhi Metro, a heavy metro, is 90,000 PHPDT, or peak hour, peakdirection traffic. Light metro has a capacity of 25,000 PHPDT. Medium metro - with a 45,000 to 50,000 PHPDT capacity - is being planned in cities such as Chennai and Bangalore. And we need to keep provisions for expansion. If a line gets congested, build another parallel line and siphon away the traffic. That is how every city in the world has done it. As the city grows, the network should expand. The Delhi Metro Rail Corporation, or DMRC, is also bringing Maglev technology to Delhi. Its carrying capacity is the same as that of a light metro, but the operating cost is 30 per cent less. We want to try it on the six-km Najafgarh to Dwarka line first, and perfect it there so that it can be used in other areas.

Cities planning a metro should first choose the route correctly: go first where there is maximum traffic demand. Second, they should judiciously decide whether it is to be elevated, underground or both. Remember, underground metro costs three times as much as an elevated system, the operating cost is 50 per cent more, and security risk is five-fold. Third, the metro should be completed in time, without cost overruns, otherwise it will be financially unviable. Finally, it should operate economically.

The author is Managing Director of Delhi Metro Rail Corporation (as told to Alokesh Bhattacharyya and Anand J


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