For last 10 days, since January 1, 2016, a limited odd-even rule has been applied to vehicles in Delhi, as per which odd-numbered vehicles can be run only on odd days and even-numbered vehicles can be run only on the even days. Broadly speaking, the application of this rule has been successful in Delhi. While pollution levels might not have gone down appreciably, traffic has been much smoother comparatively. Delhi citizens have mostly cooperated with this scheme voluntarily. However, the odd-even rule that has been applied, was a drastically curtailed version with a large number of exemptions. All two-wheelers have been exempted. Vehicles driven by women (not accompanied by men) were exempted. CNG vehicles were exempted. Moreover, schools were closed during this period which meant a large reduction in traffic. Once most of these exemptions are removed, the odd-even rule is likely to create chaos on the roads of Delhi and lead to tremendous inconvenience to the people, without there being much benefit on the pollution front. Let’s see how.
As I have pointed out in my previous article [Not easy to implement odd and even numbered vehicles rule in Delhi], which was written on the presumption that the odd-even rule would be applied without exemptions, there are about 96 lakh vehicles in Delhi. Out of these, the number of private cars is only about 26 lakhs while the number of two-wheelers is about 60 lakhs. With the limited version of odd-even rule having been applied so far in Delhi, mainly the private cars were affected. Out of these, about 13 lakh private cars would in any case be allowed on any given day since approximately half of them would be odd and the remaining half would be even. Out of about 13 lakh private cars which might have been prohibited from plying on Delhi roads on any given odd or even day, vehicles driven by women (not accompanied by men) were exempted and so were the CNG vehicles. As this news report suggests, as many as about 60,000 cars have converted to CNG since the odd-even rule came into existence in Delhi on January 1, 2016. This is in addition to a large number of private CNG cars that already existed in Delhi. Therefore, it is quite clear that the actual number of private cars restricted from plying on Delhi roads on any odd or even day would have been much less than 13 lakh cars.
Moreover, it may also be kept in mind that a large number of car owners already have two or more cars. Thus, many of them might be having odd as well as even numbered cars, meaning thereby that they would not have been affected much by the limited odd-even rule.
Further, generally speaking, car owners have sufficient resources to hire an autorickshaw or a cab, at least during the limited period of experimentation with the odd-even rule. Likewise, it is possible to share a car since it can generally accommodate four or more persons, therefore, at least some people could (and would) have resorted to car-pooling.
In view of all these and other reasons, due to the limited application of the odd-even rule, very few people would have used public transport such as Delhi Metro or the public buses during last about 10 days. In any case, the number of additional people using the public transport would not have been more than about 10 lakhs or so (the media reports, in fact, suggest that about 6 lakh additional people used public transport). Keeping in view the fact that Delhi Metro carries about 28 lakh people everyday and public buses of Delhi Transport Corporation (DTC) also carry about 35 lakh people everyday (thus, a total of about 63 lakh people are carried on Delhi Metro and DTC every day), an addition of about 10 lakh new passengers would not have made too much difference to the overcrowding in the public transport. In fact, the closure of schools during the above experimentation stage of the limited application of odd-even rule, and running the school buses as additional public transport buses, also helped reduce the overburden on the public transport.
However, the situation would be entirely different when the odd-even rule is applied in its full strength without any exemptions.
Firstly, it has to be kept in mind that there are about 60 lakh two-wheelers, out of which about 30 lakh vehicles will further be affected. Secondly, while we have CNG cars, we do not have CNG two-wheelers, due to which all these additional 30 lakh vehicles will be affected. Thirdly, unlike cars where car-pooling is possible, it may not generally be possible to do pooling or sharing of two-wheelers. Fourthly, the number of women (percentage-wise) driving two-wheelers is comparatively much less than those driving cars. Therefore, it should be clear that almost all of these additional 30 lakh two-wheeler vehicles would be affected if the odd-even rule is applied in his full strength.
It is also to be kept in mind that it may not be (financially) possible for most of these 30 lakh people using two-wheelers to hire autorickshaws or cabs for commuting everyday if their vehicles are not allowed to be used on any given odd or even day. Therefore, almost all of these additional 30 lakh people would have to use public transport such as Delhi Metro or public buses. This is going to be in addition to about 10 lakh car-owners.
Thus, there would be tremendous burden on the public transport if these additional 40 lakh people have the use public transport. This burden will be felt more if the schools were also to reopen (since you cannot keep the schools closed forever) which will reduce the number of additional buses being used as public transport. The public transport in Delhi cannot take this tremendous burden, without greatly inconveniencing people.
Transition to the full application of the odd-even rule without any exemptions is thus likely to lead to chaos on Delhi roads. One should not, therefore, be misguided by the success of the limited application of the odd-even rule, and it is no guarantee (or, even an indicator) for the success of the full application of the odd-even rule.
Let us now come to the issue of pollution. It has already been highlighted in the media that pollution caused due to vehicles is much less than that caused due to other reasons (such as dust). Moreover, even amongst vehicles, private cars cause the least pollution and it is the commercial vehicles and the two-wheelers which cause maximum vehicular pollution. Therefore, full implementation of the odd-even rule is likely to greatly inconvenience people, while at the same time not reducing the pollution effectively to the desired level.
Odd-even rule may be well-intentioned, but it may not be practical and may not be that useful as it is supposed to be. No doubt, certain drastic measures are required to control the alarming pollution levels, a rational and practical approach is necessary for that purpose.