I have a dream. That one day, Arvind Kejriwal will sell his Wagon R car and use public transport. Not a one-time gimmick Delhi Metro ride during elections, but every day, Mr Kejriwal would use public transport to get wherever he needs to in Delhi-NCR.
This is my challenge for a leader who says he represents the aam aadmi, the common man.
The aam aadmi does not have a car. The aam aadmi takes the Delhi Metro, takes buses and autos, and finds that living with public transport is a pain. The aam aadmi aspires to having a car not only as a matter of luxury, a symbol of wealth and prosperity, but more because of the ease and mobility that comes with it. No getting crushed between human bodies at the Rajiv Chowk Metro Station, no pleading with Dilli ka Raja autowallah to ply by the meter, no waiting for the DTC bus.
Only when Kejriwal sees what it is to be a real aam aadmi on the Ring Road, trying to get from point A to point B, will he start thinking about Delhi from the public transport point of view. Instead of celebrating reduction of traffic congestion and making car owners happy, he will start wondering why there’s a paucity of auto-rickshaws in Delhi.
If Kejriwal becomes a real non-car owning aam aadmi, he will call up his transport minister Gopal Rai and ask him to stop trying to ban app-based cab services like Uber and Ola, and instead have such great and cheap public transport on Delhi streets that Uber and Ola have to compete for business.
He will realise that the scarcity of auto-rickshaws is artificial, caused by his government’s license-quota raj, and that this scarcity is the reason why autowallahs behave badly with people. He will ask autowallahs why they don’t run by the meter, and begin to understand the auto-rickshaw economy whose only beneficiaries are the auto-mafia. He will realise that if he quadruples the number of auto-rickshaws on the road, a lot more people will get employment, creating a lot more propagandists for his next election, but also make a lot of people take autos rather than feel the need to buy a car.
After dinner parties when his car-owning friends patronizingly insist on dropping him home, he will realise the great need for the Delhi Metro to run a bit longer than 11:30 pm, and start consultations with them. He will also ask them why the Metro has to be so congested, on some routes even on non-peak hours. He will then make them increase the frequency of trains by 50% not just to supplement the odd-even scheme, but all the time. Over-capacity is key here, to attract people away from the roads. When people have other options, why will they choose to travel in an over-crowded Metro?
I fully understand that as chief minister of Delhi, his time is valuable. But even a daily wage labourer’s time is money. If Kejriwal starts taking public transport, he will see the urgent need to build public transport over-capacity. He will see why that is so important to improve productivity and efficiency, help people earn livelihoods, make Delhi a world class city not just for its car owners but every body else.
He will wonder why so many people take buses on routes where they could easily take the Metro. He will realise that they are the working class for whom the same distance on the Metro could cost double the bus ticket price. He will start thinking about how to make the Metro affordable to them, instead of seeing Delhi from the point of view of cars, car owners, car pollution. His priorities will change.
If he starts taking buses, he will understand that buses and cars and two-wheelers and autorickshaws all tend to travel at different speeds. He will wonder who has the first right to the road and the answer will be buses – the CNG buses carry so many people together, taking less road space per passenger and causing less pollution per passenger. That is why he will start building bus corridors across Delhi on a war footing.
He will then stop sounding like Sheila Dikshit and keep saying there is no land available for bus depots, and move heaven and hell to get a lot more buses.
There might be good weather days when Kejriwal might want to cycle around to get to work. Not as a PR gimmick for the cameras, not just on car free days, but on an ordinary day, just like that. He will fear for his life cycling in Delhi traffic, remember the terrible accident that his friend Sunita Narain of the Centre for Science and Environment suffered while cycling one morning.
He will then feel the urgent need to build dedicated cycle lanes and make sure motorcycles and scooters can’t enter it.
Thinking about transport in Delhi from a Delhi Metro user’s eyes, rather than that of a chauffeur driven Wagon R user’s eyes, will change how Kejriwal thinks of the world. He will really be able to solve the last mile connectivity problem from the Metro stations only when he faces the problem himself. It’s no rocket science: just stop being a miser with auto-licenses and you will solve half the problem of last mile connectivity. Similarly, he will find ways of encouraging battery operated rickshaws, which he has in the past, realizing that regulating them will only help.
If wishes were horses, Delhi would be like one of those cities in the west where only the super-rich drive cars on the road, and public transport is so good everyone takes it happily.
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