15 Crucial Lessons India Needs To Learn From Delhi’s Odd-Even Experiment

Posted on January 18, 2016 in Down To Earth, Lists, Staff Picks

By Richard Mahapatra:

Note: This article has been republished from Down To Earth.

delhi-road1. Emergency situation needs emergency measure: Delhi is facing one of the worst spells of air pollution this winter. The odd-even measure is a fitting response to such an emergency situation. Analysis already shows that the 15-day car-control measures have curtailed pollution.

2. Public participates if politicians show will: The evident acceptance of the experiment despite early apprehensions shows that people are willing to become sensible participants if those in power show the will to take tough measures. The experiment has immense lessons for the rolling out of schemes which need public participation.

3. If people participate, politicians support: In India, every executive decision leads to political polarisation wherein opposing parties oppose for the sake of opposition. The odd-even experiment is no exception. But barely three days into the experiment, the Opposition pledged their unconditional support. Elsewhere in the country, ruling politicians declared similar efforts in urban areas.

4. The convenience v inconvenience lesson on governance: Arvind Kejriwal’s anti-corruption drive, which brought him into the limelight, didn’t enjoy as much sustained support as his odd-even experiment did. It seems that people saw air pollution as a huge health risk or inconvenience and, thus, bartered away the convenience of driving to work for cleaner air.

5. Public mass transport is still the way out: The odd-even experiment showed that if the public transport system is improved, people will opt for it. During the 15 days, the government deployed almost 4,000 extra buses. It was a rare sight to see buses which were not too crowded despite a big chunk of private cars being off roads.

6. DTC is capable: The experiment showed that with rationalisation of routes and less congestion, the much maligned Delhi Transport Corporation (DTC) can be effective. DTC has about 4,712 buses. But its utilisation during 2014-15 has been only 83.99 percent against the 85.5 percent in 2013-14. This is much worse compared to what state transport undertakings have achieved in other cities—95 percent in Bengaluru and Chandigarh. At any given point of time, at least 400 to 500 buses stand unutilised in Delhi’s depots due to poor maintenance or missed trips. This number of unutilised buses is equal to the total bus fleet in smaller cities. Reports show that during the experiment, the depots were almost empty.

7. Decongestion is the starting point for cleaning the air: Post-analysis scientific data will vouch for the experiment’s impact on air quality. But for the aam admi, the impacts are clear—fewer cars on roads mean a smooth ride, thus avoiding the unnecessary burning of fuels while being stuck in traffic jams. Also, less traffic means the public bus system ran more buses in a day.

8. Pollution did come down; so fewer vehicles on roads are desirable: An analysis carried out by the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) has shown that this winter, of all the severe smog episodes so far (with several consecutive days in severe category), the peak pollution during the odd-even programme has been the lowest. This shows that despite the hostile weather conditions—no wind, temperature dip and western disturbance—peak pollution during the odd and even scheme was much lower. The earlier smog episodes have seen much higher peaks and much more rapid build-up compared to the rise during the first week of January.

9. There is a sense of participation in solving one of the biggest challenges of modern times: During the experiment, the pollution load from cars was lower; per capita emissions of car users were also low. Data with CSE shows that both the particulate and nitrogen oxide load from cars reduced substantially during the odd-even programme—by as much as 40 percent. A higher share of pollution benefits have come from a reduction in diesel cars.

10. Reduced exposure to toxic pollution from vehicles on roads and in the vicinity: It is estimated by the US-based Health Effect Institute that the maximum impact of vehicular pollution is up to 500 metres from the road side and 55 percent of Delhi’s population lives within that zone. This has serious public health implications. Studies by researchers of the University of California, Berkeley, have shown that in Delhi, the pollution level on the road and close to the road is at least 1.5 times higher and peaks 15 times higher than the ambient concentration. This programme has, therefore, contributed to the reduction in exposure to toxic fumes.

delhi traffic11. A CNG-fuelled bus is a global warming fighter: The user of a single occupancy petrol car meeting Bharat Stage IV standards can reduce per capita particulate emissions per kilometre by at least two times by using a CNG bus. The benefit will be higher if the shift is from cars meeting older emissions norms.
The user of single occupancy diesel car meeting Bharat Stage IV norms can reduce per capita particulate emissions per kilometre by at least 40 times by using a CNG bus. If the shift is from a diesel SUV, the reduction will double.

Car pooling will reduce the per capita emissions by four times from the same car. Riding in the Metro is a zero-emission activity in the city (this does not account for emissions from electricity generation). The odd-even formula will also result in massive fuel savings and also mitigation of heat-trapping carbon dioxide emissions. Per capita CO2 emissions from a single occupancy petrol car can reduce by 15 times when we use buses. Also, per capita CO2 emissions from a single occupancy diesel car can reduce by 13 times when we shift to buses. This translates into substantial fuel savings.

12. Tax the cars more than the public buses: Enhanced media focus on the experiment brought out the crucial fact that public transport buses are taxed more than private cars. It is an environmental injustice or say, an incentive for pollution. However, it is heartening to know that the judiciary has taken steps to fix this.

13. The demand for better public transport rises: As the city returned to roads without odd-even restrictions on January 16, there is going to be increased awareness and, thus, consequent demand for more public transport facilities.

14. Politicians see electorates: The success of the experiment because of public participation has rung electoral alarms. From Uttar Pradesh to Karnataka, politicians now want to experiment with the odd-even system. There might be a competitive spree among states to roll out many such anti-pollution measures.

15. Public health is back on the agenda: The experiment worked because the threat to public health is real and people have already suffered. It was rolled out with public health as the main issue. This means the country’s capital has set an example by putting public health under the lens.