A ticket to ride
On Monday, while proposing a subsidy scheme for women travellers in the Metro and DTC buses, Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal alluded to the links between urban mobility and gender equality. “Women will have a choice to travel free in the Delhi metro and DTC buses,” he said and reasoned that the measure would cater to their mobility needs. “Women feel unsafe in Delhi and… public transport is considered to be the safest mode of travel,” he said. The AAP government’s move is significant given that at a little more than 11 per cent, the participation of women in Delhi’s labour force is way below the national average of about 26 per cent. The free rides could lead to more women stepping out of their homes for employment. They would also ensure safe travel for the capital’s growing number of women students.
The subsidy scheme will inevitably invite questions about financial viability. The free bus and metro travel proposal for women is expected to cost the Delhi government Rs 700 crore approximately on an annual basis. This is a high figure. However, there are compelling reasons, including the global experience with public transit facilities, for the government to subsidise such services. The metro connects the heart of Delhi and most of the NCR’s commercial centres with the city’s fringes, where a large section of its working class lives. Around 24 lakh people use the metro everyday. But the railway system’s ridership has fallen by about three lakh commuters after prices were hiked in 2017, even though it added new routes in these two years. The discourse on the metro’s fare structure also needs to be mindful of the Airport Express Metroline’s (AMEL) early experiences. Launched in 2011, AMEL operated at less than 5 per cent capacity in its first two years. Reduced fares since 2013, helped to increase ridership and the AMEL broke even in 2016.
The Delhi government has said it will reimburse the ticket revenue lost by the Metro. However, the Delhi government will need to sit with the Delhi Metro Rail Corporation (DMRC), the agency responsible for running the metro, and work out the details of the scheme. The Delhi government’s track record on dealing with tricky issues, especially its innovative interventions in urban politics and welfare schemes, has been mixed. While its initiatives on the Mohalla clinics and school education have been exemplary, the AAP government has come a cropper in confronting Delhi’s pollution problem — a matter in which it has been called upon to coordinate with more than one agency. It would be best served in taking the DMRC on board while executing its new subsidy scheme.