‘Reclaiming The Bus’ is a campaign for Free, Safe, and Reliable Bus-based Public Transport in Delhi. The campaign is curating voices from the bus user community to strengthen the support for the ‘lifeline of Delhi’ which fulfills the mobility needs of millions of people daily. We aim to build a strong movement led by bus users to make state machinery recognize our demands and alter its planning and governance priorities in favor of ‘Public’ and its ‘transport’.
It has hardly skipped anyone’s notice how the urban environment, especially the ambient air and river water, became clean merely in a couple of weeks that followed after the first phase of national lockdown. The sudden drop in vehicular emissions has been a major factor contributing to this. One wonders how beautiful, healthy, and safe our cities can be if the automobiles are kept off the road. This will not only sustain the reduction in emissions but also lower the number of severe road traffic crashes and deaths. Since the risks of COVID-19 are found to be higher in polluted air, it is even more important to plan for a radical reduction in the number of automobiles right now.
Commitments to address the global climate crisis, ambient air pollution and noise pollution seem meaningless as urban transport planning in Delhi continues to be dominated by the development of harmful and exclusionary infrastructure such as flyovers and road widening projects which only provide for the demands of automobile users, encourage toxic emissions, and lower the quality of urban life for one and all.
In Delhi, the buses operated by DTC, DIMTS, and private operators carry about 5 million passengers every day. According to the latest available data from the Census of India (2011), more than 25 percent of work trips in Delhi is bus-based while more than one-third of trips are non-motorized. However, over the last few weeks, cars and motorized two-wheelers have already begun to regain their control over road space. With the bus transport services running at half of their capacity, people who are strictly dependent on buses are facing extreme difficulties in accessing essentials. This has exposed the urban mobility divide created by a transport system that focuses on rapid vehicular mobility rather than ensuring accessibility for all. It seems as if those having access to the personal automobile have the right to be mobile while others without access to the personal vehicle do not. If the measures to ensure equal access to mobility is not put in place, this divide will only grow sharper with COVID-related lockdown restrictions being eased.
Providing safe public transport during and after the Covid-19 is necessary to fight the extreme divide in people’s ability to move. As we collectively grapple with public health concerns, we need to resist the idea that traveling on the bus would be unsafe during COVID. It is important to emphasize at this moment that a bus-based public transport system integrated with a properly designed system for non-motorized transport is the only sustainable alternative for Indian cities. The crisis demands a thought-out response from state transport officials and operators.
To ensure equitable access to safe urban mobility during and after the pandemic, we state and demand the following:
Bus services must be considered essential services
The bus is a vehicle for exercising the right to accessibility which is an essential component of the broader right to the city. There is a huge gap between the required number of buses and the current fleet size. Therefore, more buses must be procured to bring the total effective fleet size to 15,000 and put into operation as soon as possible. A timeline for the same must be publicly announced. All bus stops must have well-designed shelter, lighting, seating, toilets (especially for women, transgender, and physically disabled people), facility to get sanitary napkins, designated space for street vendors, and clear information on major destinations connected from a particular stop. Car-free initiatives must be planned and the planned monopoly of personal automobiles must end.
Bus workers must be considered essential workers
The state government and bus operator should take responsibility for the well-being of workers running the bus services. Any increase in the bus fleet should be used as an opportunity to generate more meaningful employment, especially for women. There should be an arrangement to ensure gender and caste justice in fresh staff recruitments and illogical restrictions on the recruitment of women as bus drivers should be done away with. While workers take a life-threatening risk to run the service during COVID, their concerns must be addressed by the management on a priority basis.
Services should be made free, for all
Socially and economically marginalized people and vulnerable road users have historically been victims of mobility and environmental injustices. Public transport is a vehicle for mobility justice and must be made free for all. The political economy of bus-based public transport must consider the bus users as citizens rather than as consumers.
Safety should be paramount.
As the available data on road traffic fatalities suggests, bus-based public transport is by and large safe from severe road crashes. Necessary actions to ensure the onboard safety of female passengers must be urgently taken. Amid the COVID, take measures to ensure that buses are safe for the workers as well as for the users.
A bus should be one’s reliable companion in the city.
Despite the shortcomings and hardships, commuters love the bus. Urgent improvements are needed to bring down the waiting time. Provide separate bus lanes for a more seamless movement of buses. Set up an official channel for communicating with bus users as equal stakeholders in the planning and running of buses.