Transport Department in a fix
The Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) government announced free travel for senior citizens aboard all State-run buses in the Capital.
Replying to a question by a caller who identified herself as Kamla from Rohini, a senior citizen, Transport Minister Kailash Gahlot said “orders have been issued” for the implementation of free travel for senior citizens. He added that the scheme would be implemented soon.
The caller had said she had heard that senior citizens wouldn’t be charged on Delhi Transport Corporation (DTC) buses but she was still being charged. Later in the day, the Transport Minister said the DTC was “examining” the modalities related to the implementation of the scheme.
Currently, DTC issues passes to senior citizens on concession for both air-conditioned and non-AC low-floor buses. Senior citizens are issued passes worth ₹250 for travel aboard non-AC and ₹350 for AC buses. At present, there are around 3,800 buses operated by the DTC.
The announcement, however, left many in the Transport Department scratching their heads over the move which would, in addition to triggering a larger volume of ridership on public buses on a daily basis, also require what a source termed “a substantial financial investment” as a subsidy to the already ailing public transporter.
“The DTC is already a loss-making enterprise but that is not the only issue,” said a government official on condition of anonymity. “Even if the government is able to provide the financial subsidy to keep the scheme going, where will it create all the space required above buses given the limited number of buses available,” the official asked.
When contacted for comment, Mr. Gahlot told The Hindu, “The scheme will be implemented soon; the DTC has been asked to study the modalities required for the implementation of the scheme over the coming few days. As and when required, we will make the necessary financial allocations, too, for its implementation.”
In 2014-15, the DTC incurred its highest total as well as operational loss of the past five financial years, and
failed to add a single new bus to its fleet, as per the report of the Comptroller and Auditor General of India.
The CAG report found that the total loss for the DTC in 2014-2015 was ₹2,917.75 crore, the highest in the previous five financial years. From 2010-2011 till 2014-2015, the DTC racked up a whopping ₹11,962.09 crore in losses, while the operational losses in that period were ₹5,022.05 crore. The operational loss in 2014-2015 – ₹1,273.19 crore — was also the highest in the previous five financial years.
According to a report prepared by the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) and released in late December last year, the daily average ridership of the public transporter has declined by 36% in four years — dipping from 47 lakh in 2012-13 to 30 lakh by the end of 2016.
The report, which is based on data available till November 2016, claims that the ridership figure of 30 lakh is also an “overestimation”. According to the latest available DTC statistics, about 30 lakh passengers travel on its buses daily. Of them, only 14 lakh or 45% are ticketed passengers. The rest 16 lakh or 55% use passes.