AAP ka Foreign Andaaz
Riding high at the success of the introductory odd and even scheme, Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal launched it again, effective from April 15 to the end of the month. The aim of this exercise, is to ensure that half of Delhi’s 8.8 million vehicles remain off the roads on each day in the said period. Delhi is one of the most polluted city in the world. Its 20 million population is exposed every day to over 153 micrograms per cubic metre of 2.5 particulate matter — between 15 to 20 times higher than what is desirable according to the World Health Organisation.
The situation has become so alarming that the Delhi high court asked the state government to take strict measures to reduce pollution levels. The AAP government responded with first tentative step by declaring that the 22nd of every month would be a car-free day. The government believed that the four car-free days in parts of the city saw pollution levels drop by almost 40 per cent, and this was taken as a signal to introduce the odd-even formula, which will allow vehicles with odd numbers to ply between 8 am and 8 pm on one day and even number vehicles to ply on the next. The formula is not new. Odd-even formula otherwise known as Road space rationing worldwide has been implemented as a pollution-curbing measure in other cities since the early 1970s, when Buenos Aires (Argentina) “banned one-half of automobiles entering the city center on a given day based on odd or even last digit of the plate number”, according to a September 2013 discussion paper quoted by the livemint. The report adds that a “similar restriction programme was also used in the 1980s in Caracas, the capital and largest city in Venezuela, and then in Athens between 1985 and 1991”. Chile’s capital Santiago followed suit in 1986, a move to combat rising pollution at the time. Let us take into account how other countries or cities have implemented this programme.
The city initiated the alternate day car driving restrictions just ahead of the 2008 Olympic Games and saw pollution levels drop by almost 20 per cent. The city has also restricted its car sales since 2011 to 20,000 car plates every month. These restrictions on cars have been followed up with efforts to increase public transport such as bus connectivity and metro services.
On August 20, 2015 Beijing imposed restrictions on factory production and car use in the city, forcing around five million cars to ply on alternate days for around two weeks, just before the 17th anniversary of Japan’s WWII defeat on September 3. These restrictions were put in place to ensure that the usually smoggy grey sky of Beijing would turn perfectly blue on this day. As a result, the air quality index of Beijing dipped to 17 (out of 500) and the skies turned crystal clear.
However, the moment the ban was lifted, skies turned grey again. By the end of November, the levels were so high that a smog alert had to be issued. Currently, Beijing imposes this rule periodically, on days with high air pollution.
The city has been imposing the odd-even number plate rule during periods of high air pollution. On such days, public transport is free. However, they had already tested the system before as a temporary measure when pollution had exceeded certain limits. The rule was last implemented in March 2015 when a smog alert was issued.
The “Hoy No Circula” was introduced in Mexico around 1989 to combat air pollution. It called for citywide bans, one day per week, based on odd-even number plates. For example, plates ending in 5 and 6 were not allowed to drive on Mondays while 7 and 8 were not allowed to drive on Tuesdays and so on. This measure was highly successful in bringing carbon monoxide (CO) levels down by almost 11 per cent. However, in the long run, people eventually started buying more cars, rendering the ban inefficient. Therefore, it actually ended in a rise in CO levels in the long run by almost 13 per cent. Mexico Hoy No Circula is coupled with an exhaust monitoring program, known as “Verificación” in Spanish (verification), whereby a car’s pollutant emissions are analysed every six months. A colored sticker based on a vehicle’s license plate number is affixed to each vehicle following an emissions test, indicating whether a vehicle is exempt from the program or not. In June 2015, theSupreme Court of Justice of the Nation ruled in favour a constitutional challenge, and ordered that passenger cars with model year older than 2007 shall be restricted based on their actual tailpipe emissions, and not on how old the car is.
Bogota tried to work on the limitations faced by Mexico and came up with stricter combinations of days and numbers so that the drivers would be unable to circumvent the rules by buying more cars. The policy did not reduce air pollution though, as people drove more during off-peak hours to get around these imposed measures. But examples show that the system has better potential as a short-term measure. Since 2002 Bogotá’s scheme switched the combinations of days and numbers every year, making it harder to circumvent the restriction by buying another car. Starting in February 2009,the city extended the restriction from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m., Monday through Friday. This extension was issued as a temporary measure until public works related with theTransmilenio BRT were completed.In July 2012,it reduced the hours of the restriction from 14 to 7 hours per day, to restrict access only between 6:00- 8:30 a.m. and between 3:00 – 7:30 p.m. The scheme is still going on.
The air quality levels in Italy went high in December 2015 and cars were banned from the streets of Milan and Rome on 28th December. This build up was caused by an excessively warm and dry winter experienced by Italy. Milan and Pavia decided to ban their cars from roads between 10 am and 4pm for three consecutive days, starting 28th December. Milan has also offered discount on their public transport to convince people to switch to other modes of transport including buses and trains (1.5 Euros for all day, which on normal days is the price for a single ride ticket). Florence decided to limit its cars in the city centre through New Year’s Eve 2016. In Rome, the citizens with odd numbered plates were asked to leave their cars home on Monday while those with even number plates were targeted on Tuesday. Some traffic restrictions were also seen in the southern city of Naples which only allowed vehicles with emission standard of upto Euro 4 to operate on the roads. They had also decided to ban wood-fired pizza ovens for the short run.
In 1975, Singapore implemented Electronic Road Pricing (ERP) through an area licence system, which essentially meant that drivers had to pay a flat rate to enter Singapore’s central area. The Danish Architecture Center (DAC), in a blog about ERP says, “The ALS system led to an almost immediate 45 per cent reduction in traffic and a 25 per cent decline in vehicle crashes”. Its implementation also meant that “today 65 per cent of the commuters in Singapore use public transport and air pollution reductions are consequently significant”. According to a paper presented in the World Roads Conference 2006, the Land Transport Authority has been testing a system based on the Global Positioning System that may eventually replace the current Electronic Road Pricing system. It has since been adopted in favour of the scheme in other areas too.
London also implements a similar congestion charge, a move introduced by Transport for London (TFL) in 2003. The fee is charged on vehicles operating within the “Congestion Charge Zone”, the area around Central London. According to a description on the TFL website, “The Congestion Charge is an £11.50 daily charge for driving a vehicle within the charging zone between 07:00 and 18:00, Monday to Friday. The easiest way to pay the charge is by registering for Congestion Charge Auto Pay. There are a range of exemptions and discounts available to certain vehicles and individuals.”
Experts in the transport field feel such an experiment can be a success only if last mile connectivity is increased with greater provisions being made for cyclists and by increasing metro feeder buses as is the case around the world. The eyes of the entire country are focused on Delhi. Some of the most polluted cities in the world –Gwalior, Ahmedabad, Lucknow, Raipur, Surat –are in India. If Delhi’s odd-even scheme is a success, the administrations in these cities could emulate the national capital’s example and tackle pollution on a war footing.
By Nilabh Krishna