Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Delhi Metro - A Transport Planner's Perspective

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Associate editor Faizan Jawed reports from Delhi:  At a time when the Delhi Government, politicos, media and the middle-class is raving about Metro Rail as a panacea to all traffic woes in Delhi (traffic congestion included), an objective assessment of its performance and appropriateness is highly warranted. Built at a cost that could provide free bus-based public transport and high quality non-motorized transport facilities for years, or feed millions of destitute malnourished Indian citizens, the Delhi Metro, now in operations since 2002, seems to not be living up to its promise. Ravi Gadepalli brings us a unique insight in to the planning and workings of the Delhi Metro. [* * * See Comments here.]

Delhi Metro - A Transport Planner's Perspective

- Ravi Gadepalli

The need to travel is a derived demand i.e. people do not travel just for the sake of it but do so only when the need to move exists. The need to move is dictated by user requirements like work, education, recreation, health care, etc. In the context of limited urban space, global warming, increasing incomes and the consequent motorization, it is commonly agreed among urban planners and city building professionals that safe and efficient public transport is the best way ahead to make cities more sustainable. With these objectives in mind, the Delhi Metro was envisaged in the city of New Delhi, India. It started operations in 2002.

Even with the Delhi Metro being in operations for eight years, the efficacy of Metro in New Delhi (and other typical Indian cities, with mixed land-use and short trip lengths) is widely debated and a consensus still looks distant, Despite this a total of 180 km of network is already built until Phase-2 of the Delhi Metro, which cost the exchequer a total of Rs.105.7 billion Indian Rupees (USD 2.3 billion). In addition to this, Phase-3 is also approved on the drawing board and construction is likely to start shortly. In the process, Delhi Metro has become a model metro for the country. Many other cities in India like Mumbai, Chennai, Hyderabad and Bangalore are following suit.

Basic Transport Functionality

This warrants a review of the system as it exists now and assess its efficiency from the perspective of basic necessities of commuters i.e. 1) whether it is providing the best possible connection between their origins and destinations and 2) whether it helps them reach their destinations in the shortest possible time i.e. it should provide them with travel time savings as compared to the other modes. Even though cars and two-wheelers might still provide better end-to-end trip times, at least on the arterial roads, mass rapid transit systems need to have higher speeds than private modes to enable people to shift away from private modes. The best way to assess this is through travel demand modeling of the city and determining the alignment. In the case of Delhi metro this was not done transparently. An attempt is made in this article to make a qualititative assessment of the aforementioned functional traits.

Travel Time Savings for Passengers

Delhi Metro broadly follows a radial pattern. It connects the city centre to peripheral areas through direct lines without many transfers. The Delhi Metro network map shows most of the important locations in the city being covered and thereby providing citywide connectivity for its users. However, a closer look gives a more interesting perspective. For example, the Yellow line, between HUDA City Centre and Jahangirpuri, connecting the North and South of the city region, is mostly underground and runs parallel to the major arterial roads along its alignment.

Commuters travelling south to Gurgaon have the alternative of an inviting expressway parallel to the Delhi Metro route. Even the Blue-line between Dwarka and Noida City Centre runs parallel to major arterial roads along the line. It is the same case with the Red line. In other words, people travelling along these metro lines have the option of travelling on arterial roads which are designed for 50 kmph whereas the Metro provides an average commute speed of 30-32 kmph (not taking into account the access and egress trips made walking or by bus, with much lesser speeds compared to the same distance travelled in a car or a motorized two wheeler).

Co-ordination with Other Local Bodies

Ideally, the development of these roads for higher vehicular speeds should not be taken up given that now people have the same connectivity by Metro. Their development in this way will result in induced traffic. Ironically, in Delhi this scenario (of not developing roads) is completely ruled out primarily because it involves co-ordination between various government agencies like Municipal Corporation of Delhi (MCD), the Public Works Department (PWD), Delhi Transport Corporation (DTC), etc.

To worsen affairs, Delhi Metro Rail Corporation (DMRC), the principal Delhi Metro authority, is known for never collaborating with other public agencies. Whether it was with the DTC for feeder services, PWD or MCD for proving proper pedestrian facilities to its passengers, DMRC never worked in tandem with others. A classic case in point is the current road-widening work along the Mehrauli-Gurgaon (M-G) road, which is right along the Yellow line, from a four lane to six-lane road to facilitate car users, irrespective of the mobility provided by the Metro. These factors result in no travel time savings for people shifting from cars or two-wheelers to Metro.

Connectivity by Metro

The second basic functionality is end-to-end connectivity. The rush hour in Delhi, like in most other cities, coincides with morning and evening work trip timings – 9-11 AM and 6-8 PM. During this time, the metro should provide connectivity from various residential areas to commercial areas in the city. The widespread bus network in the city has been doing this for many years (although buses move slower compared to the metro).

Even though the metro is not supposed to provide end-to-end connectivity to its passengers it should at least be planned in a way that access and egress trips are minimized. In its current format, the Delhi Metro provides direct connectivity to commercial areas only from select residential areas. For example, the Blue line between Dwarka and Connaught place just grazes Karol-Bagh, a traditionally important commercial centre, but does not pass through the core area of the market. Karol Bagh metro station is at one end, about 2 km away from the centre of the market.

The Purple line between Central Secretariat and Badarpur (from the Central to the South-east of the city) connects Central Secretariat, Khan Market, Lajpat Nagar and Nehru Place, which are all commercial and institutional areas without any connectivity to major residential areas like East of Kailash, Greater Kailash and Kalkaji, which are in close proximity to the existing alignment.

Oddly enough, the Purple line overlaps with the BRT corridor in some stretches thereby adding more public transport capacity where it is already available. Even the stations along the yellow line are placed at locations not close to residential areas either within Delhi or in Gurgaon, but are mostly at commercial locations. This commercial-to-commercial connectivity does not cater to peak hour trips, which are made predominantly from residential to commercial areas, but instead induces more access trips for people still wanting to use public transport. In both of the above cases, travel requirements seem to take the backseat.

In summary, the Delhi Metro in its current form and alignment seems fundamentally flawed. It fails to provide proper connectivity to people between major residential and commercial areas. Even for the places it provides connectivity, its travel time is much higher than that of a car or two-wheeler. This makes the shift from cars and two-wheelers to the metro not advantageous for many. This seems to be one of the main reasons why the current 180 km-long network of metro rail in Delhi carries only about 1.6 million passengers per day (as of 2010). It is worth noting that Phase-I of the metro (65 km in length) was supposed to carry 2.3 million in 2006 as per the very own predictions of DMRC.

Lessons from the Delhi Metro

In deciding alignment, ease of construction seems to have overridden the usability of the metro. These figures make the metro a failure going by pure transport planning principles, not at all taking in to regard the huge economic burden on the society, displacement it has caused to many urban poor in slums, land-use changes caused to develop commercial areas near its stations for revenue generation and also the damage to urban aesthetics caused by elevated metro throughout the city. We are still in the “first decade of the Metro”. After about 20 years of its operation, the burden of maintenance of structures will begin, which is proving to be hard to bear even for a high-income country like Germany.

In spite of all negatives, the Delhi Metro has provided a boost to the image of public transport in the city. It provides clear information about routes, stations and frequencies to its users. It also promises reliability in service. If these positive points can be incorporated into bus-based systems the public transport demands in Delhi, as well as other Indian cities can be met at a much lower cost and also in a more sustainable manner.


Two major issues arise in this article – whether Metro rail is appropriate and should be taken up in Indian cities given their socio-economic makeup and, and if it is to be taken up, how do we make sure that it work in co-ordination with other local bodies.

To provide high capacity public transport sustainably and at a low cost, road-based systems like Bus Rapid Transport (BRT) are more appropriate than metro rails systems in most Indian cities. While the BRT involves less infrastructure cost, it requires a redistribution of road-space in the favor of pedestrians, cyclists and buses. To enable this, nothing short of a paradigm shift in transport policy is required.

The task of a paradigm shift in transportation policy and practice is exacerbated when there is great pressure on the government from powerful lobbies that benefit from capital intensive projects like metro and monorail. Also, underground or overground rail based systems do not necessitate any restructuring of road space, thereby making them easier political choices, even if it is not the best one. One solution to this “conflict of interest” problem is to leave decision making on various projects in the hands of an independent body which in no way benefits from the project going ahead or being dropped. This might help in keeping biased decision making in check.

If the socio-economic-temporal make up of a city warrants a metro, it should be part of the larger public infrastructure in the city. The project should be put under the highest decision making transport authority in the city like the Unified Metropolitan Transport Authorities (UMTA), which are being set up in many Indian cities with the aim of fostering co-ordination with other Urban Local Bodies like Municipal Corporation, Public Works Department and the local City Bus services. Such organizational structure would, by definition necessitate co-ordination between various organizations and will help in resolving local problems more efficiently.

To conclude, people’s travel needs and available resources should determine the choice of transport system rather than specific transport systems dictating the resources required and travel patterns in our cities.


About the Author

Ravi Gadepalli works in the field of Urban Transport Planning and Traffic Engineering. He holds a Masters in Transportation Engineering from the Indian Institute of Technology Delhi and Bachelor in Civil Engineering from Andhra University. His core area of expertise is travel demand forecasting, macroscopic and microscopic modelling softwares, public transport ridership predictions and operational planning. Ravi also spends a significant amount of his time convincing, fighting and bullying people in trying to implement appropriate low-cost transport solutions in Indian cities.

[This article first appeared in India Streets on 7 January 2011.

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