Another round of the odd-even experiment is ready to kick off in Delhi and curiously missing are the howls of protest against it this time. Experts have not come out with doomsday scenarios. There is no news of someone knocking the doors of the judiciary yet. People have not complained about their livelihoods getting affected and there is still no talk of second vehicles in families.
There are some studies indicating that the reduction in pollution level was not dramatic during the first round in January but these don’t tantamount to rejection of the experiment.
The naysayers have gone silent. Full credit for it should go to the AAP government, perceived to be inherently anarchic and absolutely poor at governance by many. The task before it was massive – it’s not easy to keep half the vehicles off the roads in a busy city. It managed to make the implementation of the experiment a joint exercise involving the public and the government. It avoided intimidation through the official machinery to make people fall in line.
The odd-even formula for vehicles was after all meant for the good of the citizens and they saw little point in being defiant.
Of course, the odd-even formula still remains a temporary solution to the air pollution problem in the capital state. The contribution of vehicular emission to the total pollution is much less compared to that of coal and fly ash, road dust and burning of bio-mass. And the real solution to curbing fouling of the air by vehicles is to get an efficient public transportation system in place to discourage use of private vehicles by Delhiites. But the fact that the government is confident that it can initiate a fresh round with the involvement of the citizens is a good sign. In this phase, vehicles with school children in uniform will be exempt.
With nearly 50 percent of students being dropped off by their parents at schools this could be a setback to the final result – in January most schools were closed making the task of the government easier. Women are exempt this time too and the list has not been pruned. This means there might not be a big dip in the air pollution level during this phase. It would raise questions on the purpose of the whole exercise.
However, in perhaps an unintended result, more than air pollution the odd-even formula made Delhi aware of the issue of congestion on roads due to vehicles. Every Delhiite, by conservative estimate, spends at least 30 minutes in traffic during peak hours one way. At 60 minutes or one hour a day he/she spends approximately 15 complete days a year in traffic jams. According to traffic experts, during the implementation of the formula in January, the average speed of vehicles on the city’s roads had gone up from 19 km per hour to above 25 km per hour. This is because roads remained more or less free with half the vehicles off it.
With the vehicle population growing by around 1400 every day in the city, and no corresponding expansion of road space, traffic congestion is a serious problem that the city has to take note of. Gurgaon is getting feel of it already; it might get worse for the rest of the city sooner than later. During the implementation of the odd-even formula it gets a view of what saner traffic should be like.
The solution to air pollution and traffic congestion lies in streamlining the public transport system. The AAP must aim at that next. For now, it can rest assured that it has earned the goodwill of the ordinary people by appearing sincere in its effort and resistance to its initiatives will be minimal. It has to capitalise on it to usher in more drastic changes.