The Delhi Government under the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) has brought back the odd-even scheme in Delhi. The car-rationing scheme will be in place from November 4 to November 15 in a bid to reduce the sudden spike in air pollution supposedly caused by stubble-burning in Punjab and Haryana. What remains to be seen is if this policy actually works or if it is it just a red herring tactic employed by the Delhi government?
The odd-even policy is just one variant of a range of policies called ‘road-space rationing‘. These kinds of policies aim to mitigate the negative effect of high-density road traffic during peak hours in major city centers. They actually have historical precedent dating as far back as 45 B.C. Rome where Julius Caesar declared the center of Rome off-limits from 6 AM to 4 PM with some special exceptions.
Contemporary examples include Beijing, Paris, Bogota, Mexico, and San Jose among many others. All of these places used some variant of the odd-even with some cities having temporary implementations (for one day in Paris) and permanent implementation in others (Beijing, 2008). All of these policies have had varied rates of effectiveness.
In cities where it was enacted permanently, it was found that it actually led to a rise in pollution since drivers purchased a second, cheaper, old and consequently more polluting, car. In Mexico for example, after a short term drop by 11%, emissions actually rose by 13%. Vehicles were restricted in Bogota during peak driving hours and the ban on different license plates was changed randomly to make it less beneficial to purchase a second car. Drivers just got around it by driving during the off-peak hours.
Thought the AAP does claim that odd-even is just an emergency procedure to combat an otherwise relatively clean air, that’s not entirely true. The Air Quality Index (AQI) for PM2.5 never once dipped below 50 which is the level said to be safe to breathe.
The effectiveness of the previous implementations of the Odd-Even Scheme has been under much debate too, with estimates ranging from 14-16% by the Energy Policy Institute of the University of Chicago (EPIC) to 2-3% by IIT-D researchers. Exemptions from the rule also need to be minimised to have any chance of it being effective. Commercial vehicles are exempted which will prove detrimental, according to a former chief of the Central Pollution Control Board.
Experts instead suggest the implementation of Low Emission Zones (LEZs) which ban vehicles that fall short of predetermined pollution standards. These can be used in conjunction with ‘congestion charges‘ that can be levied as a fee on vehicles plying in certain zones during peak hours. The LEZs will incentivise drivers to upgrade to cleaner vehicles while the congestion charges might reduce the number of vehicles on the road. This seems like a more sustainable long-term policy to reduce pollution in the city. Along with
Delhi loses 80 lives per day due to outdoor air pollution. This public health emergency necessitates concrete and immediate action to mitigate these unnecessary deaths as well as protect the most vulnerable group of all—children. Delhi’s air needs to get its due attention before it’s too late.
Note: The author is part of the current batch of the Writer’s Training Program.