Millennium Post

Beating all odds

The unexpected success of odd-even phase-I and the successful implementation for odd-even phase-II can pave the way for not only Delhi to improve its public transportation system but also make other metros stand up, observe and reform their urban problems. There is definitely now more at stake not only for Delhi but also other urban centres of the country. Will Delhi be the leader?

Delhi relies on its private transportation. According to the Delhi government data there are 84 lakh registered vehicles plying in Delhi. Delhi alone has more number of cars than metros of Mumbai, 

Kolkata and Chennai combined together. For a city state however which prides itself to be among the leaders in having the highest per capita income in the country, the state of poor public transportation however has often been ignored.

From shortage of buses, over charging autos to an efficient metro which has the limitation of not providing last mile connectivity, a robust public transportation for the city is awaited.

Often solutions are found in crisis and the problem of public transportation which has been ignored for long especially by the middle class citizens of Delhi did get a notice because of the hazardous levels of pollution limits prevalent in the city.

As many medical reports have indicated that high pollution levels is affecting the respiratory health of the citizens of Delhi adversely. In a report submitted to the Delhi government for analysing the trend of harmful effects of pollution Maulana Azad medical college shows that more than 35 per cent of the people who got themselves tested from January 1-15 had impaired lungs.

Speaking to Millennium Post, Dr. Suneela Garg the Project head said: “The objective of carrying these tests across 10 centres was to get an official analysis of how poor air quality of Delhi is affecting the health of Delhiites and we found that it is not at all a false hype, the health problems caused due to pollution is serious. We also found that people who have lived in Delhi for more than 20 years have higher percentage of impaired lungs than citizens living in Delhi for five years.” Even as Gokulpuri in East Delhi in the report is found to be worse affected with 48 per cent of the people tested having impaired lungs, posh areas in Delhi like Rajiv Chowk also donot fare any better.

Even though there have been various factors causing pollution in the Capital city with dust pollution being the major contributor from the report of IIT Kanpur, the steps taken by the authorities and the courts in curbing the usage of Diesel found more mention.

Diesel may be seen as a major contributor for vehicular pollution with high emission of particulate matters of 2.5 micrograms, particles that can enter into lungs and cause its impairment and harmful gases like Sulphur Dioxide and Nitrogen Oxide but subsidised cost and better mileage of its vehicles have led to its high demand. Vivek Chattopadhyay of CSE says: “Diesel vehicles are found to be 35 times more polluting than petrol driven vehicles, further our vehicles still use lower quality fuel of BS-4 which does not improve the situation either. Effective steps now must be made by authorities to cause awareness of the harmful effects of diesel vehicles and curtail their use.”

Various steps may have been taken by the authorities and courts to curb the usage of diesel and reducing pollution levels, however the one which caught the eye of the citizens was the imposition of odd-even scheme by the Delhi government. With the city not being geared up fully and still having a weak public transportation system, the rule was seen with skepticism by many who doubted its viability. To prepare for eventualities the Delhi government asked certain private bus operators, mainly working in schools, to provide services and also asked for greater frequency of metro trips, along with asking autos not to overcharge. The greater media visibility, greater concern of the people and involvement of the government functionaries made sure that the odd-even scheme was not a complete failure even though many may have different opinions about its success.

Even though there was reduction in the number of vehicles on road, there was no impact felt on the pollution levels with both PM10 levels and PM2.5 levels being extremely high. However in the defense of this rule, CSE director Sunita Narain said that owing to the climatic conditions of Delhi during December-January had the rule not been introduced the situation would have been worse. Gradually with the onset of western disturbances and coming in of moisture with the flow of winds, in the second week the reduction in particulate matter was seen however many critics felt that the levels of pollution were still high.

The impact of odd-even however made a huge difference on the traffic situation in the city. For a city which is used bumper to bumper traffic in the peak hours and where a lot of time is wasted by being stuck in the traffic, the scheme improved the situation to a great extent. Sudesh Varma, who used to take more than an hour to commute from Shahdara to Green Park took only 40 minutes to reach his work place during the odd-even scheme. Even the ambulances functioned with greater speed.

With the scheme being an unexpected hit, the Delhi government introduced a discussion on introducing the scheme and got thumbs up from the citizens, however the limitations and apprehension of a poor transportation system was also invoked.

The odd-even scheme targeted the four wheeler cars which are approximately about 22 lakhs on road, however the 53 lakh approximate two wheelers would also have to be tackled. 

Further the issue of people buying more vehicles calls for concern. Most of the automobile lobbies have raised concerns over ultimately phasing out old vehicles. 

On its part the government will be introducing the odd-even scheme again in April after the board examinations of the students get over with few changes, however the challenge will now be to improve the public transportation system of the city, especially its number of buses complying on the road. 

There are approximately about 5,500 DTC buses and cluster buses combined that are plying in Delhi and around  3,000 buses are being planned by the end of the year. The work becomes all the more crucial as most of the land falls under the DDA. 

There is also an anxiety that in trying to improve the bus system, Delhi does not get back to the killer Blueline and Redline days where the revenue models devised led to over speeding and killings.

The metros also have a challenge to widen its reach and maintain the cost that is affordable to the common public. The DMRC Chief Mangu Singh has long asked for the revision of fares, which have not been sidelined in the interest of the public. The government would have to heed to complaints of overcharging autos and make them more consumers friendly.

As the second phase of odd-even is still far away, the groundwork by the Delhi government and the citizens will have to start. The success of odd-even phase-II can in turn make other metros stand up and take a look at their failing traffic situation and try reforming their public transportation systems more innovatively.

Odd-even Phase I was made successful out of compulsion and odd-even phase II would have to be made successful out of intention for future generations to come. It can in turn provide Delhi another opportunity to lead the way and show a solution in solving some urban problems as well. Will Delhi be up to it and play the role of a leader?
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