Delhi’s Odd-Even Scheme: A Step in Right Direction
The car rationing scheme experimentation has explicitly acknowledged the presence of more than acceptable number of vehicles on Delhi’s roads, a stark departure from any earlier policy perspectives. Though the scheme’s objective was primarily to bring down air pollution, the virtue of decongestion and an impetus to use public transport are also obvious outcome. It has definitely succeeded in instigating both conversational and behavioural change among the city’s commuters.
Undeniably, the odd-even scheme is a step in right direction to combat issues that are closely related to city’s car culture. But mere tokenism and populist measures will be hard to sustain, and the gains of such efforts will disappear over time. The government and other civil society agencies must evolve comprehensive long-term strategies so that aspirational targets of improving air quality are realised. Strengthening public transport systems is key to such strategies, along with certain command and control (CAC) and economic incentives to check the growth of private vehicles.
Take for instance our previous efforts since 2000s to switch vehicles plying in the city to less-polluting CNG. Several reports few years after full implementation have revealed positing impacts on particulate emission levels and air quality. But in just a decade or so, those gains have waned over time. Long-term, sustained, and well-informed efforts are the need of the hour.
Although cars are not the primary polluters in the city and contribute a mere 2 per cent of the PM 2.5 concentration, their excessive growth in numbers in recent times is not sustainable and has to be curbed. I see odd-even formula as a short-term measure to reduce the number of vehicles immediately. As in Beijing’s case, the immediate effect of such a rule was the reduction in vehicle flow by 21% and increase in average fleet speed by 27% (Hao: 2011). But the rebound effect of increase in car owning partly hits at the effects on reduction in total vehicle use in Beijing, a problem that is bound to happen in Delhi as well, as indicated by a recent survey by The Hindu.
Therefore, as suggested by experts like Kaustuva Barik, a two-pronged strategy involving command and control (CAC) and economic incentives can be adopted in the long-term.
1. Imposition of congestion tax on private vehicles
2. Subsidy on public transport
The idea here is to evolve a ‘double dividend’ scenario – the congestion tax will reduce the number of private vehicles on roads, and in simultaneously generate revenues that can be used for strengthening public transport and smooth flow of vehicles. Supposedly, if we take a nominal estimate of congestion tax of Rs. 1000 per month for private cars, and Rs. 500 for two-wheelers, it would generate a whooping revenue of about Rs. 563.12 crore per month or Rs. 6,757.44 crore per annum. This substantial revenue can be utilised for modernising and improving the quality of public transport system.
However extreme the idea of taxing private cars may appear, it can be worked out in the usual ‘populist’ manner as poorer households are automatically exempted and public transport is made cheaper, reliable and safe. For those using their own cars will benefit either, by saving time and fuel costs due to improved fleet speed on roads. When we feel happy for green tax imposed on commercial vehicles plying in and out in the city, we have to support taxing private vehicles that is based on the same logic. In fact, the CVs that ply in Delhi transport even essential products like food and supplies for the residents, and the per-capita pollution that they make is likely to be far lower than private cars with solitary travellers.
Further, the government has to think on how to reclaim those public spaces that are lost to cars. We live in an era where land is a scarce commodity, and rents are paid by every households and business establishments for every inches of land. But we fail to realise that cars that are habitually parked in our streets eat up our valuable public space that can otherwise be accommodated for a wide array of activities. It can be used for housing thousands of homeless people, for instance.
As a precursor to the idea, the Himachal Pradesh high court in May last year ruled that every new car buyers in Shimla has to prove whether there is a parking space for the new car. A similar move can be very much effective and useful for the city of Delhi, with every narrow lanes persistently filled with cars. A specific tax for parking space can also be charge for all private cars periodically, so that all these measure together discourage our households to buy new cars and use public transport.
In a nutshell, people have, at the least, started to acknowledge that something has to be done about the deteriorating air quality and poor state of affairs relating to urban mobility, and any such efforts has to be a ‘collective’ one as a single community. We must realise that certain compromises have to be made in our personal choices for the collective well-being of the community. Many of our choices, at all times, one-way-or-the-other, are at the expense of
others. This includes owning and use of cars as well.
* Views expressed are personal. Pictures are for representation purposes only.
Photos Credit: Business Standard, Daily Mail UK