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From 6,342 buses to 3,910 in 12 yrs, Delhi commuters suffer with old fleet, depleting further

By 2025, 83 per cent of the DTC bus fleet will be phased out upon completion of their operational life. Transport minister Kailash Gahlot hopeful of reviving the corporation

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New Delhi: For those in the national capital who rely on buses for daily commute, the road ahead seems far from smooth. According to government records, 83 per cent of the buses that make up Delhi Transport Corporation’s (DTC) existing fleet will be phased out by 2025, upon completion of their operational life of 15 years.

The DTC — after inducting 150 new electric buses in May, the first such expansion of its fleet in 11 years — now has a total strength of 3,910 buses.

Of the remaining 3,760 buses, as many as 3,246 (83 per cent) will be phased out by September 2025. These numbers, sources told ThePrint, were discussed in the DTC’s previous board meeting on 6 June.

What will be left of the DTC’s fleet after September 2025? “Roughly some 2,314 buses or so,” said a senior official.

Giving a breakdown of numbers, the official said: “According to current estimates, 514 low-floor buses should sustain till 2025-end, 150 electric buses that were recently pressed into service and as many that are scheduled to become operational in a few months, and another 1,500 electric buses for which work order has been issued recently.”

“DTC is also supposed to get some 1,500 more buses under a central government scheme in the time to come, but the deadline, in terms of when those buses will hit the roads, is still uncertain,” the official added.

Covering a total distance of 6.41 lakh km with over 450 bus routes, DTC buses cater to around 33 lakh commuters on an average each day.

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How many buses does Delhi need

According to a 2018 affidavit filed by the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) government in the Delhi High Court, a copy of which ThePrint has seen, the capital — given its present quantum of daily bus commuters — needs at least 11,000 buses of which 5,500 should ideally be owned by the DTC.

It effectively means that in September 2025, with 2,314 buses, DTC is likely to have only 42 per cent of its requisite fleet size.

“…based on past experience, it seems difficult for the transport body which took 11 years to induct new buses in its fleet,” the official said.

With 3,910 buses, DTC is currently operating with 71 per cent of its ideal fleet size.

Improving the condition of the DTC remains one of the few areas where the AAP government has found itself struggling ever since it came to power in 2015.

The AAP government, however, says that reviving DTC remains one of its priorities and more buses will be inducted to its fleet over the next few years.

“Reviving the DTC has been a priority of the AAP government since it came to power in 2015. DTC is now getting 300 electric buses in its fleet,” Delhi Transport minister Kailash Gahlot told ThePrint.

“Over and above that, a work order for 1,500 more electric buses has been issued to Tata Motors. Delivery of those buses too, should start by January 2023.  And in the coming time, the government plans to procure more buses,” he added.

The operational life of low-floor CNG buses used to be 12 years or 7,50,000 km, whichever comes later. But in September 2021, considering DTC’s precarious position, the Delhi government increased the duration to 15 years, said a senior officer in the Corporation.

‘Overaged buses’, high maintenance costs

With a reduction in the size of its fleet, the number of DTC routes has also gone down. This has resulted in large parts of Delhi, which is expanding both in size and in population, being deprived of DTC coverage.

According to government records, DTC bus routes have dipped from 556 in 2010-11 to 450 in 2018-19, and continue to decline.

With the sole exception of the new 150 electric buses, the remaining 3,760 buses, were officially declared “overaged” in 2021 — as many as 3,072 buses were aged between 10-12 years and 656 were found to be more than 12 years old.

The result is that maintenance costs have gone up by more than 98 per cent from Rs 412.33 crore in 2010-11 to Rs 817.27 crore in 2019-20, adding to year-on-year losses incurred by the DTC.

The DTC’s net worth was found to be in the red in a report by the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) tabled in the Delhi Assembly on 5 July.

According to the report, DTC accounted for a staggering 99.7 per cent of the total loss of Rs 5,294.16 crore incurred collectively by Delhi government’s seven loss-incurring state public sector enterprises (SPSE) in 2019-20.

“As on 31 March 2020, net worth of Delhi Power Company Limited and Delhi Transport Corporation was (-) Rs 37,124.89 crore which was completely eroded by accumulated loss of these SPSEs,” the report said.

In this context, it is pertinent to note that the cash-strapped DTC’s fares were last revised in 2009. For four years now, the DTC board — chaired by the transport minister — has been mulling fare revision but a decision is still awaited.

“Fare is the main source of revenue. So, to revive (itself), DTC has to go for fare revision, keeping all politics aside, and fine-tune some of its expenses,” said P.K. Sarkar, a former professor of the transport planning department at Delhi-based School of Planning and Architecture.

“While the DTC incurs a cost of some Rs 50 per km, its revenues have dropped from Rs 42 per km to Rs 12 per km in the last 12 years. It also has to be more flexible with annual maintenance contracts. They cannot afford to induct no buses in their fleet for such long gaps. It is otherwise a body that is virtually dying,” he added.

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Tracking DTC’s decline

In 2010-11, the DTC fleet comprised 6,342 buses. This number dropped to 3,760 in 2021-22. It was only after the induction of 150 electric buses this year that the fleet size rose to 3,910, government records show.

According to the records, the previous purchase of new buses was undertaken in 2008. The last bus part of that order was inducted in 2011. Between 2011 and 2022, no buses were added to the DTC fleet.

The Blueline private buses were completely phased out in 2010. And orange cluster buses – privately-owned but engaged by the government under a Public-Private-Partnership (PPP) model – hit Delhi’s roads.

Since then, new buses have only been inducted to the Corporation’s orange cluster service, which now has some 3,240 buses.

Overall, the total number of public buses plying on Delhi’s roads, including both DTC (3,910) and private clusters (3,240), stands at 7,150 against the requisite number of 11,000.

As trends clearly suggest, the number of DTC buses is dropping with hardly any fresh inductions and more old buses are being phased out each year. On the other hand, an annual increase is being seen in the size of the cluster service fleet.

Cluster buses, which are smaller in size than DTC’s, cater to some 18 lakh commuters every day, as per government estimates.

Why is Delhi govt struggling with DTC

“It is not that the government has not floated tenders. But most of them failed to yield an outcome,” a senior Delhi government official told ThePrint.

According to government records, between 2013 and 2019, the Delhi government floated six specific tenders for bulk purchase of buses but none materialised.

According to Supreme Court orders, the senior official said, the Delhi government can procure only CNG-propelled low-floor buses that have facilities such as ramps for convenience of persons with disabilities.

“So, such buses often have to be manufactured against specific orders. The same models are not purchased by other states. So, in terms of options, there are not more than 2-3 manufacturers available at any given point of time,” the official said.

However, that is not the only reason for the decline in DTC’s fleet, another senior official pointed out. “Several tenders failed to find bidders because the terms of the annual maintenance contract were found to be unreasonable by manufacturers.”

It was only in 2020 that a tender for 1,000 air-conditioned low-floor CNG buses was finalised with two bidders getting the contract in 70:30 ratio.

But the process was eventually put on hold after the then lieutenant governor Anil Baijal set up an inquiry into the deal after a complaint from a BJP legislator who alleged irregularities in the process.

In 2020, the Delhi government also floated another tender for 300 electric buses, of which 150 are already operational.

“For several years, new inductions could not happen because of several technical factors,” said Gahlot. “If the BJP had not levelled baseless allegations, the government’s plan to buy 1,000 more buses for the DTC would have yielded favourable results and buses would have been arriving by now. However, as a government, we are still confident about reviving the DTC,” he added.

(Edited by Amrtansh Arora)

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