After 5 years of riding the New York City subway, I tried the Delhi Metro at the busiest time of the year — and it showed me exactly what I'm missing

ShutterstockThe Delhi Metro is not only clean and convenient, but also extremely reliable.
  • The New York City subway may be extensive and well-connected, but it’s hardly the most reliable.
  • In contrast, the Delhi Metro is not only clean and convenient, but also extremely reliable.
  • I rode the Delhi Metro during the most crowded time of the year, and it was still much more enjoyable than the New York subway system.

As a New Yorker, I rely on the city’s subway system for my daily commute to work and back. And while it is extensive and well-connected, it’s hardly ever reliable.

The ageing system is in tatters, and is plagued by frequent outages and delays, often making the experience a frustrating one. It’s not the cleanest, either, with trash regularly littering the rat-infested tracks.

The Delhi Metro, in contrast, was an absolute joy to ride on.

I took the Metro on a recent trip to the Indian capital – and my hometown – and found that it was not only clean and convenient, but also extremely reliable.

Here’s a closer look at my experience on the Delhi Metro.


The New York City subway runs 24 hours a day, through four of the city’s five boroughs. It transported about 1.7 billion people last year.

Source: The New York Times


But the Delhi Metro gets crowded, too. In 2016–17, the Delhi Metro had a billion riders.

Shutterstock

Source: Delhi Metro Rail Corporation


It opened for business in 2002, and now spans across 317 kilometers and 231 stations in the National Capital Region of India.

Source: Delhi Metro Rail Corporation


It has eight colour-coded lines: Red, Yellow, Blue, Green, Violet, Orange, Magenta and Pink. I travelled on the Yellow line, between the stations Jor Bagh and Chandni Chowk.

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I happened to ride the Delhi Metro on the Sunday before Diwali — perhaps the biggest festival in India and the busiest time of the year. While Jor Bagh wasn’t crowded, thousands of people were lining up to enter the Chandni Chowk station, where I got off.

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But what was impressive was that even with the increased ridership, the metro seemed to run smoothly without any hiccups.

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It’s also relatively green. The Delhi Metro is the world’s first railway system to get a United Nations certification for reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

Shutterstock

Source: Delhi Metro Rail Corporation


Plus, it’s safe. A number of busy stations, including Chandni Chowk, have glass doors between the platform and the tracks, to prevent any accidents during peak hours.

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You must be prepared to have your bags checked and body scanned at the ticket gates, because security is tight in several public places in Delhi, including malls, movie theatres, hotels and the metro. This is unlike any other subway system I’ve used elsewhere in the world, and makes the Delhi Metro super safe.

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The first coach of every train is reserved for women.

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Here’s a shot of what the women’s coach looks like.

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The general coaches tend to be a lot more packed.

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Even general coaches, though, have reserved seats for women, the elderly, and the physically challenged.

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Regular riders of the New York subway will recognise some similarities between the two systems, like the mix between underground and elevated subways and tracks.

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The stations are equipped with food stalls and other retail outlets like WH Smith.

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And public restrooms, which you can pay to use.

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Fares on the Delhi Metro are calculated based on the origin and destination stations, so the cost of a ride can vary depending on the distance travelled. Fares for a single ride can range from ₹10 (14¢) to ₹60 (85¢) — still a fraction of the cost of a single ride on the New York City subway ($US2.75).

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Source:

Delhi Metro Rail Corporation


You can use vending machines at the stations to buy tickets in two ways.

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You can purchase RFID tokens that are valid only for a single journey on the day of purchase.

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Or you can use travel cards, which are available for longer durations, and are available in denominations of ₹200 ($US2.84) to ₹2,000 ($US28.37).

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You can also purchase your ticket from agents if you need to.

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There are screens on every platform that show how far the trains are and how much more you need to wait for them. The trains run from about 5:30 am until 11:30 pm, and their frequency ranges from every couple of minutes during peak hours, up to 10 minutes at other times.

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Most trains have drivers, but the Magenta line trains became the first driverless trains to be launched in the Delhi Metro network in 2017.

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Source: The Times of India


Each train has either four, six, or eight coaches.

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Source: Delhi Metro Rail Corporation


In fact, coaches have designated spaces for those who are wheelchair-bound — something New York could try and incorporate.

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You can actually walk from one end of the train to the other, as all the coaches are inter-connected. You don’t need to pass through rickety doors and dangerous passages in between cars to make your way from one car to another.

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Each coach is plastered with signs telling commuters to keep clear of the doors, that they are being recorded by cameras, that they must beware of the gap between the train and the platform, and of pickpockets. They also signal that smoking and spitting is prohibited — which my friend visiting from London interpreted as no barfing.

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Just like the New York City subway, coaches on the Delhi Metro have that train’s route map, which you can use to track where you are on your journey and where you must get off.

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There is also a screen that flashes the names of current and next stations, as well as other messages, in addition to announcements made on the loudspeaker.

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And helpful handles you can grab to hold your balance while the train is in motion.

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Overall, the trains are both very spotless and very spacious.

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Like in New York, there are plenty of opportunities to run ads, both within the train cars and in the stations. But if that’s not enough, you could perhaps blanket an entire train with your ad, like Bank of Baroda did.

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The stations also have their names captured in blue, red and white signage in both Hindi and English. These signs seem to have been inspired by the London Underground.

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There’s one more detail you probably won’t see in New York: Train cars come equipped with power outlets, in case you want to charge your phone or laptop.

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Overall, I was really impressed with the Delhi Metro.

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It was not my first time on it – I had used it a handful of times when I lived in Delhi until 2013 and quite enjoyed the experience. But I was curious to see whether anything had changed over the past five years, and if operational headaches had begun to catch up with its management.

But I found it to be as well-maintained, and in some aspects, even better than before.

Not only was it impeccably clean and comfortable, but also highly convenient. Everything you could possibly need on your journey is at your fingertips.

Plus, driving through Delhi’s crazy traffic and choked roads from Jor Bagh to Chandni Chowk would have taken me at least an hour. But thanks to the Delhi Metro, I was at my destination in 20 minutes.

I have been fortunate to experience the metro/subway systems in New York, Boston, San Francisco, London, Singapore, Athens and Paris. And Delhi scores the highest points among them all in terms of ensuring safety. The security checkpoints are unlike anything I’ve encountered elsewhere.

It was also refreshing to see the metro continue to run smoothly and not get crushed under the weight of increased ridership at the busiest time of the year. Had it been New York, I shudder to think of the massive delays that would have invariably resulted.

The Delhi Metro, in my opinion, is one of the best subway systems in the world.

It will be interesting, however, to see how how it will contend with surging ridership and ageing rolling stock moving forward. But for now, at least, it is a mode of public transportation at par with, or better, than some of the best systems around the world.

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