Pollution is a year around problem in Delhi. In late autumn and winter months the problem becomes acute. Because of chill in the air, pollutants tend to settle at lower levels of atmosphere. Change in airflow pattern does not allow the pollutants to be blown away.
Of many factors that contribute towards air pollution in Indian cities, vehicular emission contributes around 30% of total in Delhi. Almost 90 – 95% of vehicular exhaust consists of particles of size 2.5 micron (PM2.5) which can go deep inside respiratory tract and create a variety of problems; which are manifested as itchy and watery eyes, sore throat, runny nose, cough, shortness of breath and in severe cases breathing difficulty.
Delhi government is proposing to introduce road rationing program, also called Odd Even program, for fifteen days from the 4th of November 2019, where cars ending with odd number on their plate will ply on the road on given days and vice versa. Such a program was introduced earlier for fifteen days each in the months of Jan and April, 2016. Another proposal to introduce the program for four days in Nov, 2017 was not followed through. The current program, like the earlier ones, will exempt two wheelers, vehicles driven by women, alone or with a child, vehicles driven on CNG fuel, hybrid technology and electric powered vehicles, along with emergency vehicles. Politicians, supreme court judges and defence vehicles will also be exempted.
Criticism : Road rationing programs undertaken earlier have been criticised for a variety of reasons:
- Though a 13% reduction in PM2.5 level was reported by one study, another study had suggested there was no evidence that road rationing had any impact on pollution levels. Reduction in PM 10 and PM2.5 levels, were attributed to change in wind pattern and weather.
- There were too many exemptions allowed. If politicians and women were exempted, why senior citizens with one vehicle were inconvenienced? I do not understand, why anyone being inconvenienced could not call a cab – Ola, Uber, Meru or even a neighborhood taxi service?
- Taxi companies like Ola and Uber were charging more in the name of surge pricing. Surge pricing is an algorithm based fare structure that kicked in because of increase in consumer demand.
- Because of exemption allowed for CNG cars and female drivers, the program encouraged people to buy a second car, with an appropriate, odd or even number plate. There is no evidence that this really happened.
- Government had introduced the Odd Even program without factoring the amount of pollution that came from vehicles.
- Public transport system in Delhi was not adequate to cater to increase in demand. Metro rail was too crowded for ease of travelling and comfort. Pressure on public infrastructure had the potential to compromise safety margin of public transport system.
Many had suggest that road rationing did not have the intended effect on lowering pollution level, Personally, I had found driving to be less stressful as there were less number of cars on the street. Though there were jams at vulnerable points, these jams were less acute.
Though pollution level did not show a great deal of reduction, there was reduction of congestion on the road and people were following the program sincerely. Despite not scientifically proven, intuitively it appears that a reduction in road congestion may translate into the following beneficial effects :
- Reduction in travel time;
- Less stress on drivers and passengers, and less incidence of road rage;
- Lesser cars, means lesser jams, and lower emission;
- Less fuel consumption, less import bill;
- Less stress on law enforcement officials.
Experts believe, road rationing must be employed only on a temporary basis. That way, citizens do not find a way to adapt to the system. Cities like Beijing, use road rationing as a temporary solution and back it up with a strong public transport system. Onus will be on Delhi government and Central government to bolster public transport system in the capital. Effort should be made to shift people from personal vehicles to public transport system. Move away from fossil fuel driven vehicles to electric powered and / or hybrid vehicles. In this regard the draft motor vehicle police of Delhi government that proposes that by 2023, electric vehicles will constitute at least 25% of all vehicles registered in Delhi.
People of Delhi had supported the scheme of Odd and Even road rationing before. Now onus should be on government to deliver and create an efficient and robust public transport system.
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