New Delhi: Sonali’s parents always avoided taking buses when she was a child as they thought the buses were unsafe. When she started using buses to attend college, Sonali, who uses only one name, would pray that she reached safely as she found they were often driven rashly.

In the past couple of decades, Delhi has seen an explosion of private cars on such safety concerns and the lack of public transport options. The number of private vehicles in the Capital exceeds the combined vehicle population in Mumbai, Kolkata and Chennai.

Changing lanes:The buses are equipped with a passenger information system as well as an automatic fare collection system

Another notable public transport initiative came with the formation of the Delhi Integrated Multi-Modal Transit System (DIMTS) in 2004, a joint venture company of the government of the National Capital Region (NCR) and Infrastructure Development Finance Co. Ltd, which has introduced a dedicated bus corridor in south Delhi and a fleet of high-capacity, low-floor buses.

“Now, with the new high-capacity buses, travelling in Delhi has become comfortable." said Sonali, who commutes daily from Vasant Kunj in south Delhi to Connaught Place.

The GPS monitoring centre

On 5 May, 50 such buses were flagged off as part of the first cluster managed by Star Bus Services Pvt. Ltd. Cluster buses are equipped with a global positioning system (GPS) device, a passenger information system as well as an automatic fare collection system. Since commuters are informed on the frequency of service, typically within 5-10 minutes, these buses together ferry as many as 42,000 passengers every day.

“The cluster buses, the GPS systems and passenger information system at bus stops will make public transport more predictable," said Sanjiv Sahai, director, DIMTS. “When public transport is more efficient and affordable, then why would people use private vehicles, which are more expensive?"

When more commuters switch to public transport, it will help reduce congestion in the city’s streets, Sahai said. “When public transport is more efficient, people will travel with ease and gradually shift to using public transport regularly. The congestion will automatically begin to reduce."

B.I. Singal, director general of the Institute of Urban Transport, a think tank, did not agree with this prognosis.

“Easing congestion is not possible. A good public transport system will open up more road space, which will eventually be filled by more cars," he said. “Congestion needs to be managed rather than reduced."

DIMTS is also working on a slew of high-tech systems to further improve the efficiency of bus services in the NCR.

Once the passenger information system is in place, it will be a “boon to commuters", said Sahai. Not only will it help manage the buses and monitor whether they are speeding, or stopping at all bus stops, it would also help in rationalizing routes and in reducing the so-called bunching of buses on specific routes, thus ensuring smoother flow and reliability.

DIMTS is also working on a smart card, which will be introduced in 15 months. The card can be used for the Metro, the dedicated bus corridors as well as on other buses. The buses will be linked through satellite and GPS devices to a central accounting system.

“We will optimize bus routes by identifying the more revenue-generating routes at both peak and off-peak hours, and implement destination-based ticketing," Sahai said. “We will also work on a Metro-bus link to the more frequented areas."

The introduction of such high-tech innovation is not without its critics. Some simpler methods could also be effective, an expert said.

“Bus stops should be equipped not only with the bus numbers, but also with bus routes. A simple map will help commuters who do not have access to the Internet. If they do not know a bus number, it will help them to identify it," said Vivek Chattopadhyay, a senior researcher at non-profit Centre for Science and Environment.

A survey should also be conducted to understand commuter behaviour. “Often the ground reality is different from what is implemented," Chattopadhyay said. “The needs of the common commuter need to be understood first, for which using simple technology is an imperative."

Photographs by Ramesh Pathania/Mint