Traffic Jams are back in the national capital, with several arterial roads witnessing heavy traffic even during non-peak hours, after lower road occupancy for nearly two months owing to the lockdown imposed during the second wave of the Covid pandemic.
Senior Delhi traffic police officials said that, since the national capital started unlocking in phases early this month, the snarls on several arterial roads have broken away from their usual patterns, and are now continuing even during non-peak hours.
For instance, during pre-pandemic days, and even after the reopening of the nationwide lockdown last year, traffic jams on arterial roads were usually confined to limited hours — from 9am to 12 noon and then from 4pm to 8pm. However, over the past fortnight, traffic jams on several major stretches have continued beyond the peak rush hours.
At the ITO intersection, among the busiest in the Capital, traffic volume during the pre-pandemic days was around 250,000 to 300,000 vehicles (during peak hours). Last year, when the city reopened after the Covid-19 lockdown the traffic volume increased marginally to around 325,000 to 340,000, but jams were still limited to the four hours in the morning and four hours in the evening, with relatively smooth flow during the rest of the day.
Since June 10, however, when traffic movement resumed after the second lockdown, the traffic volume has been high consistently through the day. A short-period estimate shows that the intersection has been recording around 400,000 vehicles during peak hours, but jams now continue on the stretch for almost the entire day.
Complaints received by the traffic department’s control room from June 1 to June 25 show that stretches such as the ITO intersection, Mukarba Chowk, Ring Road (from Hyatt Hotel to AIIMS flyover), Ashram intersection, Britannia Chowk, Kashmere Gate (near ISBT), Rajouri Garden crossing (Najafgarh Road), Dwarka Road (near the Palam flyover) and Outer Ring Road (near Hauz Khas metro station) see traffic jams continuing beyond peak hours. To be sure, some of these stretches have peculiar problems such as ongoing construction work.
Officials said while traffic seems to have gone up on all these stretches, the average vehicular volume figures will be released after at least a month’s traffic recordings are studied.
The higher volume at odd hours, they said, could be because of flexible work hours allowed by employers due to the Covid-19 pandemic; and it could also be a temporary trend since the lockdown has been lifted after a gap of two months.
“Now that markets, offices and economic activities, in general, have come back to normal, traffic jams are expected. But since these are continuing through the day in certain stretches, it could be because people are now venturing out after a long gap. We hope things will normalise after a few weeks,” a traffic official said.
The department is not viewing this as a trend yet. “There are some stretches where we have observed increased traffic volume but it will be unfair to say that this has become a trend. We will have to record and study traffic volume for at least a month before we can say for sure that the patterns have changed post-Covid,” another senior traffic official said.
Traffic experts said what Delhi is witnessing now is an anomaly, primarily because other modes of public transport are not functioning at their optimum capacity, and people are still wary of using mass transit fearing infection.
“Metro is operating only at 50% capacity and other modes of transport are also not very reliable. Anyone who can afford personal transportation would prefer travelling in a safe space, so it is normal to see some deviation in the usual traffic trends. The pandemic has changed the way people travel, but we will need to study it more before establishing trends,” said Sewa Ram, professor of transport planning, School of Planning and Architecture.
Allow standing passengers, one foot apart, says Delhi Metro
With hapless commuters compelled to wait for nearly an hour on average to enter the busy Metro stations during peak hours these days, Delhi Metro Rail Corporation (DMRC) has requested Delhi Disaster Management Authority (DDMA) to allow standing passengers in its trains, sources said.
A letter has been written by the operations department of DMRC to the divisional commissioner of Delhi, who is also the DDMA secretary, they added. As part of the gradual unlock process, DDMA had allowed Delhi Metro to resume train services but with only 50% of its seating capacity and no standing passengers.
Sources said that “DMRC has stated in the letter that Metro systems are designed to provide more standing capacity in order to carry large numbers of commuters during peak hours and that is why, the present carrying capacity is 10-15% of the capacity its train coaches are designed for.
DMRC has also mentioned in its appeal that all government offices, PSUs, local bodies and private offices have been allowed to function and malls, markets, etc are also open. It has said that opening of most economic activities and workplaces and limited capacity being offered for travel by Metro have led to large queues outside Metro stations and larger waiting time, leading to frequent complaints, sources said.
DMRC has also mentioned that with limited space available in Metro, coupled with long waiting hours, people are being forced to take their private vehicles or other modes, leading to more violation of Covid norms in grameen sewa vehicles, mini buses, e-rickshaws, auto rickshaws, etc.
After the national lockdown last year, when Delhi Metro operations were closed for 169 days, the services resumed in September 2020 as per a detailed standard operating procedure (SOP) prepared based on guidelines issued by the ministry of housing and urban affairs.
Sources said, “DMRC has mentioned in the letter that as per the SOP, necessary signage and markings are in place inside the stations and coaches, with seating allowed on alternate seats and standing with social distancing.” DMRC has requested that in larger public interest, Metro services may be allowed to run as per the SOP approved by the central government as of now and further relaxation may be allowed once the situation improves.