Late next year, the Delhi Metro will be wrapping up the 3rd phase of its city-rail project. The salient feature of this phase is the large number of interchange stations--18--proposed to be added, which according to railway officials, will add a million more users to the system. The Metro network now has nine interchange stations, or nodes through which people can hop on and off to cross across the system's six lines. These new link stations then, could according to the Economic Times, "change the way Delhi travels."
For a rail network that, when it began in 2002, was almost single-mindedly focussed on spreading out and connecting the ends of Delhi to its centre, Phase-3 is when the Metro will start to ring itself in.
The dotted lines in the image below, which indicates the development of the third phase, shows that the phase 3 extension loops in and frequently meets the existing network even as it spreads and reaches out to new places in Delhi
Anuj Dayal, Communications Director, Delhi Metro Rail Corporation says that the increased interconnections will bring in more people for which a 100 more trains will be added to the system. Indeed, the increase in the no of people who've been using the metro has accelerated in recent years. For instance, it took six years for the Metro to acquire a million riders, two and half for the next million and two for the third million.
Still that's a long way to go for India's capital city, that has 17 million. The London Underground, only the 11th busiest rail transport system in the world, carried about 1.2 billion people in 2013/2014 alone, which works out to significantly more than 100 times the city's population.
Moreover, the ridership that Delhi-metro officials claim today, was to have been achieved in 2009, according to an evaluation of the the railway system by the United Nations Environmental Programme. A key concern, according to the report, was that the railway system has only been able to attract a fourth of its projected users since its inception.
With 200-odd trains servicing roughly 1600 trips a day, the regular commuter already finds the Delhi metro a suffocating, jostling experience with a frequent clamour to increase the number of coaches and frequency of trains.
Experts also caution that a metro, cannot by itself, be a one-stop solution to Delhi's polluted, traffic-bloated woes.
Central Road Research Institute director S Gangopadhyay told the Times of India, " Whatever ridership the Delhi Metro Rail Corporation forecast has not been achieved because the train routes the company chose are not correct. The core area should have been developed first. People don't know how to reach the Metro."
Delhi has had a controversial tryst with the Bus Rapid Transport System that has supposedly occupied sparse space and squeezed traffic. Dinesh Mohan, a professor at IIT Delhi and credited with pushing for the Bus system has written that the BRTS' failure is the result of "powerful lobbies and a headline-hungry press."
What is unequivocal is that irrespective of the length of rail track added or the breadth of the public transport system, the experience of commuting--for the next few years--will continue to be an uncomfortable experience. That is largely due to the the sheer amount of people and the paucity of infrastructure to cater to their commuting needs.
Swati Madan and Shreekant Gupta say that Delhi's traffic woes are in fact only just beginning and the Metro is far from an ideal solution. Saliently, it's because
"...Motor vehicle ownership grows slowly at low levels of income, shoots up at middle income levels ($3,000 to $10,000 per capita) before tapering off at higher incomes, the so-called 'saturation' level. For India, the saturation level will be at around 683 vehicles per 1,000 people, versus 807 for China and 853 for the US. We now have only 117 vehicles per 1,000 people! More worrying, car ownership rates are even lower, at 13 per 1,000 people..."