Wednesday, December 09, 2015

Are car owners being taken for a ride in Delhi?

The Chief Minister of Delhi has more or less succeeded in pushing the “odd-even car rule” down our throat, albeit for the first 15 days of the New Year. Many “environmentalists” and “socialists” have already called it a “great idea” and things like “if London and Singapore can do it, why can’t we”!

While there is absolutely no question that Delhi’s pollution levels are at such dangerous and toxic proportions that it is imperative to tackle this on war footing, it is also important to understand if this “odd-even car rule” is going to solve the problem or only exacerbate the discomfort of the citizen of Delhi.  That is, if the objective is to control pollution and not something like decongesting the roads.

The big question is whether the Delhi car owners are being taken for a ride.

Let’s look at the fact-based arguments and then the pros and cons. So here goes:

Fact-based arguments

·       Vehicular pollution accounts for 30-40% of all air pollution, according to a draft report from the State Environment and Forest Department. This means that there are other forms of pollutants like dust, dirt and soot that contribute to 60-70% pollution in Delhi. This also implies that even if you stop all vehicles, there would still be 60-70% air pollution to contend with. Who will bell this cat?

·     According to the Delhi Pollution Control Committee, air toxicity in the capital ranges from 3 times the accepted limit in some areas to an alarming 14 times the limit at Anand Vihar. Yes, this is the place that is next to the Ghaziabad bus station and the Patparganj Industrial Area and that which houses the Interstate Bus Terminus (ISBT). No marks for guessing what kind of vehicle is seen the most here! But, the rule is not going to cover buses or the industries, so pollution at Anand Vihar is not likely to come down!

·        According to IIT-K, two wheelers account for 34% of the vehicular pollution (which is 30-40% of total air pollution), 56% from trucks and other commercial vehicles and only 10% from cars! So even if you stop all cars from being used on Delhi roads, it is not going to make any appreciable impact in controlling pollution. So, is this rule barking up the wrong tree?

·         As per the Delhi government data, Delhi has a little over 2.6 million cars. If you assume that only 40% people use their cars, that makes it close to 1 million cars being used. Assuming that odd and even numbers are equally registered, on any given day when the rule is in implementation, you will have half million people trying to use public transport. If you assume 100 people can be crammed into a single bus, you would need 5000 additional buses every day. And this doesn’t take into account 2 wheelers! The government’s intent to introduce 1000 more buses isn’t going to make the cut.

·       Singapore and London & other cities in the world have a great public transport system that runs on time. And even there, the rule is applicable only in the CBD (Central Business Districts)

Pros to the rule

·       The rule will halve the automobile traffic in Delhi. However, 5.7 million two-wheelers (scooters and motorcycles) plus 35 lakh commercial vehicles and 5500DTC buses will still use the road as they are exempt from this rule.

·       Cabs and TSRs will see a rise in demand as car owners will turn to this mode for commuting. Their economic status will improve

·       The rule will bring down pollution by 2% from the existing levels (half of 10% cars of 40% vehicular pollution)

Cons to the rule

·       Major polluting agents are not addressed, so there would hardly be any improvement in air quality

·     Car users who work in shifts such as in ITES industries, Hospitals, etc., will face difficulties on the day they can’t use their car.

·      Women and men who use a driver for their car will be severely impacted. Since most drivers are men, they cannot drive for half the days in the month and this would mean either a 50% cut in salary or full salary for half the work done.

·      Delhi is full of small traders and entrepreneurs who often travel to nearby states for sourcing or selling their wares. They often go on a road trip and return the next day. With this rule, it becomes difficult.

·        If your children miss their school bus on the “wrong” day, you cannot take them to the next stop to catch up with the bus. Nor can you take them to school.

·         If women are going to be exempt from this rule, then it is going to be very difficult to assess the gender of the driver, barring a strip search!

·       If there is a medical or other emergency, you have to look for a cab or for a neighbor with the right kind of car number!

·       The already hard-pressed Delhi Police will be stretched even further to implement this rule. It will add to the already reigning chaos on the road of Delhi in the form of running red lights, driving against the flow of traffic, parking an arterial roads, lack of lane discipline, etc. which go undetected.

·       People in sales will be completely devastated with this rule. Their means of living is based on their ability to take their items of sale to various potential customers across the NCR and taking their products in public transport is out of the question. They also cannot afford to use cabs or TSRs.

·       The same problem (as in the preceding bullet) applies to musicians and sportspersons also. They have to take their tools of trade to practice every day to keep themselves in fine nick to be able to earn their livelihood. They cannot afford cabs or TSRs and using public transport is going to inconvenience other users and themselves.

The Verdict

It is pretty evident what the rule can do and will end up doing. However, I would like readers to please comment and provide their viewpoint and verdict.