The Delhi Development Authority has published draft development plan 2041 for suggestions and objections. By 2030, the Delhi urban region is expected to become the largest metropolitan region in the world with a projected population of 39 million residents.

The National Capital Territory of Delhi is infamous for many aspects, and unfortunately not for the right reasons: air pollution with vehicular emissions contributing 39% (PM2.5) of the total pollution in the city, the highest number of road crash deaths in the country, unsafe public spaces and transport for women and girls.

Delhi’s development plan, which will shape the city’s growth for the next two decades, bears the responsibility of not only catching up, but also setting the tone for the rest of the country and other megapoli globally. While there are no precedents to follow, Delhi will either become an example to follow or avoid.

Streets and public transport systems are not only a city’s backbone but its most visible form of urban governance and can demonstrate commitment to equitable low-carbon pathways. There are some progressive attempts at improving non-motorised transport in the city. However, the disconnect between the baseline studies on transport and proposals, lack of analysis of public transport ridership and patterns, specific outcome and output targets, implementation timelines and responsible agencies endangers its vision and threatens to make the plan a paper-based exercise.

We will dive a little deeper into different modes of transport (see graphic below) and governance.

Credit: The Urban Catalysts

Non-motorised transport

As per the baseline studies, 42% of all trips in Delhi are by walking (35%) and cycling (7%). Average walking trips are 1.6 km, while cycling trips are 3.6 km. The plan recommends that “concerned agencies” shall create active travel plans to promote walking and cycling. The proposed street design guidelines also incorporate road safety for pedestrians.

Given the fragmented institutional structure of Delhi, with more than a dozen road-owning agencies, it is unclear who would take the responsibility of preparing these active travel plans. The Delhi Development Authority should take the responsibility for delineating and publishing city-level network plans, which individual road-owning agencies can detail out subsequently. It is important that these are published as part of the development plan so that they have statutory backing and civil society can hold individual agencies accountable.

The Delhi Development Authority should publish a city-level cycling network plan, a pedestrian infrastructure priority plan that includes metro-rail, frequent bus-transport corridors and their influence zones. Additionally, it should publish a plan that identifies traffic-calmed zones to create safer streets for pedestrians and other vulnerable road users.

These could be areas within a five-minute walking distance of city and regional nodes such as railway and metro-rail stations, bus terminals, inter-state bus terminals, university campuses, district and community centres, and primary, secondary schools, hospitals which attract children, care givers and youth who are some of the most vulnerable road users.

Finally, the street design guidelines of the Delhi Development Authority’s Unified Traffic and Transportation Infrastructure Centre should be updated to specifically include women’s safety and diversity in public spaces.

Gender responsive guidelines for bus shelters. Credit: The Urban Catalysts

Integrated public transport is the weakest link of this development plan. The baseline studies argue that the fares of airconditioned buses and metro-rail systems are comparable and that we may expect a modal shift to metro-rail in the future. Simultaneously, it states that first- and last-mile connectivity trips to bus stops are by e-rickshaws, auto-rickshaws, two-wheelers and cycle rickshaws.

Individuals calculate the cost and ease of a door-to-door journey that would necessitate planning for an integrated public transport journey. Further, research has indicated that walking constitutes 87% of all first- and last-mile trips to bus stops in Delhi, and 93% for informal women workers.

Transportation affordability usually refers to the ability of households to purchase mobility for their basic needs like education, work, shopping, healthcare. A report by the Centre for Science and Environment presents different measures of transport affordability: there is an affordability problem with public transport when more than 10% if households spend more than 15% of their income on work-related trips.

The South African government established less than 10% of income as a policy benchmark in its 1996 White Paper on Transport Policy.

The baseline studies report that the per capita income in Delhi is Rs 25,260 per month. Our research among informal women workers revealed that 37% of their households earned less than Rs 10,000 per month with an average monthly household income of Rs 12,135.

We calculated the cost of using different modes of public transport (non-AC buses, AC buses, Phase-I and Phase-II metro-rail stations), with the following assumptions: 52 (work) trips per month per household (assuming two trips per day for 26 days), no transfers, average travel distance of 10.90 km as per the baseline studies, 3.60 km as the average distance for e-rickshaws and 5 km as the average distance for autorickshaws is 5 km.

Our analysis shows that only non-AC buses, AC buses and Phase-I metro-rail stations with walking as the first and last mile are affordable for households with a monthly household income of Rs 12,135. Further, the use of any mode of public transport with first- and last-mile connectivity by paratransit such as autorickshaws and shared e-rickshaws is unaffordable to households earning Rs 25,260 per month.

The cost of travelling by a two-wheeler is cheaper than traveling by the Phase I and Phase II metro-rail stations with paratransit.

There are around 3,200 bus stops in Delhi, as compared to 500 existing and proposed metro-rail stations, providing connectivity and access to different parts of Delhi. Therefore, it is imperative that the development plan aim to augment the bus fleet in Delhi to achieve 60-70 buses per million residents, amounting to 18,000-21,000 buses in Delhi by 2041. This will also need to consider augmenting and replenishing the fleet every seven-10 years.

Further, bold action will be required to reorganise paratransit to enable fare integration, consider a hybrid of distance-based and flat-fare systems to ensure affordability of public transport services, and increase parking fees along public transport corridors and their influence zones to disincentivise the use of personal motor vehicles.

Spatial planning

While the plan provides norms and allocation of different amenities, there are no guidelines on their spatial location. Land-use and transport integration should not remain restricted to mass rapid transit. The plan must include guidelines to ensure that amenities accessed on a daily basis (such as markets, primary schools) are within walking distance whereas city and regional amenities (such as hospitals, city-level public open spaces) are within walking distance of frequent public transport

Lastly, the development plan of Delhi needs to adopt bold targets to ensure connectivity, access and equity, identify responsible agencies and set implementation target years. The targets should ensure that at least 90% of the residents, all new affordable and economically weaker section housing have access to frequent bus-based public transport within five minutes walking distance.

The plan should also create a sustainable urban mobility plan linking future scenarios to greenhouse gas emissions with the goal of achieving net zero targets by 2050.

The National Capital Region is at a historical juncture, where it can become a model for other urban regions to follow or continue to attract attention for all the wrong reasons.

Street network and location of amenities. Credit: The Urban Catalysts

Sonal Shah is the founder of The Urban Catalysts and a member of the Main Bhi Dilli Campaign, focusing on transportation and gender equity.

This is the last of a five-part series on the draft Delhi Master Plan 2041. Read the entire series here.

All the authors are writing in their individual capacity but also as part of the Main Bhi Dilli Campaign. The Campaign, a network of individuals and organisations based in Delhi had been engaging with the drafting of the Master Plan since 2019 with a focus on informal work, housing and inclusive planning.

As a campaign, they consider their work to be on-going until the final plan is published. Therefore, their hope with the series is offer not just critiques but propositions, suggestions, revisions and changes to the Draft Plan. All the suggestions offered here have also been filed as official submissions within the planning process’ suggestion and objection mechanisms. The articles have been put together by Gautam Bhan and Mukta Naik on behalf of the Main Bhi Dilli campaign.