There’s some impatience in the air already. Odd-even isn’t going the way it should. There’s more resistance from people and more anger on the streets. Phase two of the experiment started on a holiday; yet there were 1300-odd challans on day one. The first round in January was relatively smooth – the number of challans picked up sharply only on the first normal weekday after odd-even got rolling. This could be because, like some caught driving the wrong vehicle on the wrong day alleged, the government failed to publicise its move the way it did the last time. Or it could be that the novelty factor in the experiment is wearing off and thus the excitement is missing.
It’s difficult to say that compliance has been poor at this point. The city’s roads look less congested and there are more even-numbered cars visible on even days and more odd-numbered cars on odd days. Challans don’t necessarily mean deliberate defiance of the government’s plan. Yet there’s this feeling that this time, the response from Delhiites is less encouraging. A fine of Rs 2,000 could have compelled many to comply. Unlike in January, the government is more serious on the enforcement aspect and there are more policemen and ex-servicemen on the ground.
However, the real problem may not have much to do with the willingness of people to cooperate with the government. On Monday, the first big test for the implementation of the odd-even formula in this phase, the usual troubles came back to haunt commuters. There are not enough buses to ferry them. With schools open, the government does not have the option of engaging at least 400 DTC buses – as many as 700 of them are engaged in school duty. This was not the case in January when schools were closed. The buses available are overcrowded. In the summer heat, it’s a terrible experience for commuters.
The Delhi Metro has promised to add a few more trains to the existing 197 during the fortnight. Fifty six trips will be added to the usual 3,248 trips. However, that is proving inadequate to meet the demand. There was heavy rush in the trains during peak hours on Monday. It is likely to be the case on all weekdays, particularly since there’s little scope to raise the frequency of services. A breakdown, such as the one on the Red Line on day one due to overheating of overhead wires, can be a nightmare for commuters. In summer, such incidents are likely to be more frequent.
Moreover, there’s the problem of last mile connectivity. The metro feeder bus services – 15 additional buses and new routes have been added for the 15-day period – have proved wanting in meeting the commuter demand. There have been complaints about delay in service. The effective implementation of odd-even requires the auto rickshaw service to work properly. Instead, they ended up leaving a lot of passengers in dire straits. They had called a strike on Monday and withdrew it before noon. However, the services were far from normal. There were fewer number of autos on the roads than usual and many were either overcharging passengers or rejecting them outright.
In a nutshell, commuters had a very unpleasant experience on Day One of Phase 2 of odd-even. The first phase of odd-even was implemented in winter. People would be less forgiving about the troubles they experience in winter than when they are under the harsh summer sun. The government may claim success but it should be mindful of the trouble Delhiites had to take to make its success a reality.
There were hints of impatience and anger today, but the next time it might end up in brazen defiance. Delhiites have been magnanimous so far, but the government should not take it for granted. It must make public transport efficient before thinking of going for round three of odd-even.