Milk has fare lessons for the Delhi metro

Re­vi­sions in fares should be im­ple­mented in small doses, at reg­u­lar in­ter­vals. Only this will help the com­muter cope

The Hindu Business Line - - THINK - TINA ED­WIN

Delhi Metro fares have risen sharply since May, even dou­bling for some com­muters. That’s up­set many house­hold bud­gets. The fares re­vi­sion was im­ple­mented in two phases, the first ef­fec­tive from May 10 and the sec­ond from Oc­to­ber 10, but the stag­gered in­crease pro­vided cold com­fort.

Fare re­vi­sion was long over­due, and there was ab­so­lutely no doubt that the in­crease was un­avoid­able. The last in­crease was im­ple­mented in Nov 2009, when the UPA was in power at the Cen­tre and the Congress was in power in Delhi. The length of the metro was about 90 km then.

Since then the net­work has ex­panded to many more ar­eas of the NCR and peo­ple are trav­el­ling longer dis­tances. Its cur­rently op­er­a­tional length is over 200 km, not count­ing the length of the Air­port Ex­press line which any­way has a dif­fer­ent fare struc­ture. For the record, fares for that line were slashed to in­crease its rid­er­ship. And rid­er­ship did rise, not be­cause many more peo­ple are us­ing it to travel to the air­port from cen­tral Delhi, but be­cause the of­fice-go­ing crowd uses it for a faster com­mute. Peo­ple from parts of West Delhi can get to Con­naught Place Cen­tral Busi­ness District in less than half-an-hour if they board the train at Sec­tor 22 of Dwarka — all for ₹60. If they trav­elled by the reg­u­lar metro, the com­mute would take about an hour.

While a sec­tion of Delhi will hap­pily pay more, that doesn’t hold good for the en­tire pop­u­la­tion that uses the metro daily. The two in­creases in fare to­gether can set a house­hold back by ₹2,500-3,000 a month, where four peo­ple use the net­work to get to work or ed­u­ca­tional in­sti­tu­tions. For fam­i­lies run­ning their house­holds on a tight bud­get, that is a big bur­den.

Late re­ac­tion

The in­crease in fares, although un­avoid­able, has come very late. The sharp in­crease could have been eas­ily avoided if the Gov­ern­ment had acted in time to set up a fare fix­a­tion com­mit­tee to rec­om­mend re­vi­sion of fares. The Delhi Metro rules re­quires the ur­ban de­vel­op­ment min­istry, now re­named the min­istry of hous­ing and ur­ban af­fairs, to set up the com­mit­tee un­der the chair­man­ship of a re­tired judge and send its rec­om­men­da­tion for clear­ance by the Ap­point­ments Com­mit­tee of Cab­i­net.

The Delhi Metro Rail Cor­po­ra­tion led by its man­ag­ing di­rec­tor Mangu Singh had pe­ti­tioned the min­istry sev­eral times be­gin­ning 2012 to set up such a com­mit­tee; the min­istry sent its rec­om­men­da­tions to the depart­ment of per­son­nel and train­ing to ob­tain ACC clear­ance. How­ever, the ACC re­jected the ur­ban de­vel­op­ment min­istry’s rec­om­men­da­tion four times be­tween De­cem­ber 2012 and March 2014. That was dur­ing the term of the UPA gov­ern­ment.

The Jus­tice ML Me­hta com­mit­tee which rec­om­mended the re­cent in­creases was con­sti­tuted only in May 2016. It sub­mit­ted its rec­om­men­da­tions in end Septem­ber 2016 after the min­istry de­clined to ex­tend it term to fi­nalise the re­port. How­ever, a de­ci­sion on im­ple­ment­ing the rec­om­men­da­tions was taken only on May 8, 2017 a fort­night after the Delhi Mu­nic­i­pal elec­tions. Could the de­ci­sions not have been partly im­ple­mented last year? The poor com­muter

A bet­ter process

Stag­gered in­creases in fares with a gap longer than five months re­duces the pain for metro users. A small an­nual re­vi­sion of fares is likely to be more ac­cept­able. Take for ex­am­ple milk prices — they move only up­wards. Milk prices in Delhi have al­most dou­bled since Novem­ber 2009 which was when metro fares were re­vised be­fore the cur­rent round of re­vi­sion. At that time, a litre of toned milk re­tailed at ₹22. It now re­tails at ₹42 a litre. The price of dou­ble-toned milk has sim­i­larly in­creased.

Milk prices are usu­ally raised by about a ru­pee. Some­times there has been more than one in­crease. The lat­est in­crease, a few months ago, was a steep ₹3, after prices re­mained un­changed through most of 2015 and 2016.

Yet, one did not hear of or­gan­ised protests. This in­crease is nec­es­sary to en­sure farm­ers earn enough. The jump in re­tail prices hurts the poor but most oth­ers re­mained rel­a­tively un­af­fected.

Sim­i­larly, metro fares need to rise pe­ri­od­i­cally to en­sure suf­fi­cient earn­ings from the core op­er­a­tion to pay for ris­ing ex­penses on staff, elec­tric­ity and main­te­nance. It needs to be run like a com­mer­cial or­gan­i­sa­tion, in­de­pen­dent of how its own­ers per­form in the in elec­tions. The Cen­tre and the Delhi gov­ern­ment have equal eq­uity hold­ing in DMRC.

Shaken up


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