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Why the metro matters
The cost of building metro systems and factoring in demand for 20 years is vital
Amidst a tussle between the Delhi Government and the Union Ministry of Urban Development over the metro rail fare hike, commuters in the national capital faced the reality on Tuesday morning as the Delhi Metro Rail Corporation (DMRC) fare hike came into effect. Whether or not the metro fare hike is justified is a matter that can be debated endlessly, and there are arguments to be made on both sides. But an important aspect seems to have skipped the attention of the anti-fare hike brigade which is that the Delhi Metro has been under severe financial stress directly impacting expansion and enhanced infrastructure plans. There is no free lunch and before DMRC is pushed down the path of other ailing public sector mass transport undertakings due to competitive populism, a note of caution is necessary. Surely, our collective memory is not so short that we have forgotten the bad old days of DTC?
This unseemly politicisation of the fare hike does not bode well for the Delhi metro which, with its remarkable construction schedule and in the main timely implementation led to a rush among other Indian cities to build their own rapid transit systems. The sleek Delhi Metro has changed the way we travel — it is one of the fastest, safest and most convenient modes of public transport and women have been especially empowered by its operations. Female commuters feel much safer in metro compartments than on the streets of the Capital. Office-goers, and students have access to mobility like never before and an economy of scale is now a reality to which the metro too has contributed. It is indeed remarkable that starting off with the launch of Phases I and II in 2002, the metro is now in Phase IV, which will further help connectivity to and from some of the most poorly connected and far-flung areas of the NCR. It’s distressing that despite making massive strides, the metro is struggling to make money — it is running under a severe debt crisis, its infrastructure is showing signs of serious wear and tear and has failed to keep pace with requirements. The cost of building metro systems in expansion mode and factoring in demand over the next 20 years is also immense. It is here that the fare price matters. Yes, it should be a fair price but the monies earned from tickets come as a boon for the DMRC as it helps them with net revenues. Naturally, the flip side is that such hikes hurt commuters. But the metro is not and arguably cannot be a free ride. The present hike, which ranges from a minimum of two rupees to Rs 20 at the maximum, will almost double the passenger fare, which is a blow to commuters' budgets. Also, there are charges of the arbitrary manner in which the fare hike has been implemented. Between 2009 and 2016, for example, there was no revision of fares. And now this whopper. Surely, the need is to have a rational fare hike system that can, perhaps, be effected efficiently and transparently on an yearly basis so that the burden does not fall on commuters at one go.
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