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Last Updated: Tuesday, 14 October, 2003, 00:53 GMT 01:53 UK
Delhi's bold plans for traffic-free streets
Sanjoy Majumder
By Sanjoy Majumder
BBC News Online correspondent in Delhi

Metro construction sites now litter the city
Will the Metro be the answer to Delhi's problems?

It's 6pm and at the end of a long working day Ashwini Srivastava is ready to go home.

A bank teller, his office is in the heart of the Indian capital, Delhi.

But he lives in the satellite town of Ghaziabad and spends over two hours commuting every day, using the city's decaying public transport system.

All that could change by the year 2007.

Then Mr Srivastava could catch a fast train from Ghaziabad to Delhi, switch to an underground metro and then catch a electric trolley to work.

Apart from saving him a sweaty, uncomfortable ride, it would cut his travel time by half.

With a population of 14 million the Indian capital is one of the world's largest cities.

Once an imperial capital with leafy boulevards and grand mansions, today's visitor is more likely to be confronted with traffic-choked streets and polluted air.

Growing population

Rising incomes and a burgeoning middle class has seen an increase in private vehicles in the past two decades, particularly because the public transport system has not kept pace.

Map of proposed metro system
Proposed metro system in Delhi

Delhi has nearly four million vehicles, which is more than that in the three other major Indian cities of Bombay, Calcutta and Madras put together.

"Nobody was quite prepared for the massive growth in population," says SP Singh of the Indian Foundation of Transport Research.

"But that's been compounded by a complete lack of planning."

The growth in the number of vehicles has had a knock on effect on the state of the city.

Traffic congestion, longer travel times and high levels of air pollution are just some of the problems faced by the city's residents.

Delhi's population is estimated to reach a staggering 23 million by 2021 and the consequences on commuter traffic appear to be overwhelming.

But the city's authorities are more than confident they have the plans in place for a better future.

Key to their plan is to convince Delhi residents to give up their private cars and use public transport.

Ashwini Srivastava
Aswini faces a two hour commute every day

"There is a need to wean people way from private vehicles and persuade them to use public transport," says Delhi Chief Minister Shiela Dixit.

"The only way this could be done is by introducing a good public transport system."

And the foundations of that are already being laid.

All across Delhi, hectic construction is on to build the city's state-of-the-art Metro system.

Part of the first phase is already complete and the next segment - a 5km stretch of Line 1 - opened last week.

When completed in 2005, it will cover 60 km with some 40 stations.

Seamless journey

Part of the line will be underground while the rest will be elevated.

But that's not all that is being planned.

As part of an integrated transport system, the city authorities are trying to coordinate bus and train services to provide a seamless commuter ride.

"A commuter rail and bus transit system is being taken up in partnership with neighbouring states," according to the plan released by the Delhi transport department.

People should learn to car pool, to think of others and not just themselves
Ashwini Srivastava

"High capacity bus systems on selected corridors of 100 km is planned.

"In addition, on 32 km of selected corridors, electric trolley buses will be introduced to reduce congestion and pollution," the department says.

Dedicated bus lanes are being planned on major roads to ease traffic congestion.

All this is music to the ears of commuters like Ashwini Srivastava.

"I am waiting for the metro system to be fully operational," he says as he waits for his bus.

Discouraging car use

"It will make such a difference."

But some experts believe the government is only looking for an expensive, technical solution without resolving major issues.

Delhi's busy traffic
Delhi's air is polluted by the huge amount of traffic

"The transport plan must discourage private transport rather than only improve public transport," Anumita Roy Chowdhury of the Centre for Science and Environment says.

Others believe that the authorities should also develop transport network in the capital region rather than Delhi alone.

"Any plan should look at the national capital region as a whole, including the towns neighbouring Delhi," says SP Singh.

"You cannot just look at transport in isolation - you have to look at the economy and social reality as a whole," he adds.

As Ashwini Srivastava climbs on board his bus, he nods his head in agreement.

"The only way forward is compromise by everyone.

"People should learn to car pool, to think of others and not just themselves.

"Then we can safeguard our future."


SEE ALSO:
Delhi's transport: Dream or nightmare?
18 Feb 03  |  South Asia
Delhi's cure for jumbo traffic problem
27 Mar 03  |  South Asia


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