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Tuesday, 18 February, 2003, 16:43 GMT
Delhi's transport: Dream or nightmare?
Connaught Place under redevelopment
Delhi: Once clear views are now a building site

The heart of the Indian capital, New Delhi, is Connaught Place, a circular complex of roads and shops with a central park.

Usually it is a major tourist attraction.

But now, much of it is a building site - and it will stay that way for some time.

Instead of a clear view across the park, all you can see are hoardings, temporary fences, 'Work in Progress' signs, bulldozers and cranes - all to build the city's new underground train system.

Metro system
High-capacity buses
Trolley buses
And the building work goes on and on, for kilometres and kilometres.

The pain for Delhi's long-suffering commuters is even more traffic misery.

The promised gain is an integrated public transport system by 2,007 that will be so good, drivers will happily leave their private cars at home.

'Just glad'

The 14 million residents of Delhi got a glimpse of the promised land with the opening of an eight kilometre stretch of the metro last December.

Vani Kabra - commuter
Vani Kabra looks forward to an alternative to buses
And that has generated optimism among some.

"I'm just glad that the metro is coming along, because once the metro starts we can stop taking the buses which are a nightmare," says 20-year-old student Vani Kabra.

Buses "take forever and are dirty. Even if I have a car I'll be using the metro because it reduces the conveyance time."

Those last words will be music to the ears of Delhi's state transport minister, Ajay Maken.

"The onus is on the integration of the transport system," he told the Times of India newspaper. He says too much attention has been paid to the needs of private motorists.

So now the attention is on anything that can carry lots of people. As well as the metro, Delhi will have trams in the old city, electric trolley buses, and more high-capacity buses with their own bus lanes.

Public transport "will be cheaper than autos or taxis," Mr Maken says.

But there are doubters.

Population fears

VK Mahajan is a Delhi banker. He praises the metro as a "good effort" by the government, but does not think it is enough.

Delhi Metro
Will short term misery lead to transport success?
"Improvements to transport will take seven to 10 years. In that time the population of Delhi will also grow." So any extra capacity in public transport, he fears, will be quickly soaked up.

The predictions for population growth in Delhi are staggering.

The city's transport department estimates that the current figure of 14 million will have rocketed to 23 million by 2021, less than 20 years away.

Some transport experts have other reasons to be sceptical.

Anumita Roychowdhury, of Delhi's Centre for Science and Environment, points out that lots of cities in Europe and the United States have already got much better public transport than Delhi. But that doesn't stop more and more people wanting to use their own cars.

The Delhi authorities, she says, think the solutions to the city's traffic pressure are purely technological - better vehicles for public transport.

"In Delhi, where we have more than three million vehicles on the road, the situation is unsustainable. Any transport plan must not only improve public transport but also discourage private transport."

In other words, people should be taxed more for using their cars.

Waiting for the fruits

For student Rakhi Khetan there is no alternative but to trust that the Delhi government will deliver on its promises.
VK Mahajan, a Delhi banker
VK Mahajan: "A good effort"

For that, she's prepared to put up with the disruption caused by the metro building works.

"In the short run it has certainly made things worse because we have to take longer routes for the same trip - it takes more time, but then I guess we have to wait for the fruits in the future, so it's worth it.

"As citizens we have got to have confidence [in the authorities]. Ultimately it's we who could lose out - so we have to keep pressurising them to complete the work fast.

See also:

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