Decongesting Delhi: Why The Odd-Even Scheme Doesn't Add Up

01/03/2016 8:09 AM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:26 AM IST
Lingaraj GJ via Getty Images
The metropolis of Delhi was not planned for this volume of traffic. Clogged roads with buses, cars, autorickshaws, bullock carts, cycles, bikes etc are a regular feature.

Delhi's odd-even scheme to reduce congestion and pollution in the city has caught the public's attention. Though the scheme may be effective in controlling traffic in the city, many other problems that are inherent in Delhi's commercial centre's remain unanswered. With all the focus on this particular scheme, many other effective and comprehensive solutions are not being considered.

A common reason for congestion in a city is the compact space, usually in the centre, within which most of the commercial and business hubs are located - often called the Central Business District (CBD).

A common reason for congestion is the compact space within which most of the commercial and business hubs are located -- the Central Business District (CBD).

CBDs lie in the middle of the city so that the commercial centres can have access to all the external or internal activities in the city. This central location creates opportunities for the businesses to gain from the interaction between people and jobs, and helps to connect with the maximum number of people living around the city. The people benefit as well from the proximity to work, which reduces travelling cost and keeps them close to the opportunities provided by the city. Owning to these benefits, CBDs tend to be expensive, crowded and dense. Classic examples of CBDs can be Nariman point in Mumbai or MG Road in Bangalore.

Along with being the hub for all the commercial activities, CBDs also attract a significant amount of population either as consumers or for work. Thus, people travel to the CBDs from the far boundaries of the cities. However, the lack of appropriate infrastructure to take the burden of the incessantly rising population that travels to or lives in the CBD creates congestion and begins to negate the benefits provided by centralised business activity.

Commercial businesses prefer to set up in the CBD due to another reason apart from the benefits mentioned above - it costs a significant amount to travel to the CBD. The increase in demand, consequently, leads to an increase in the land value and creates incentives for the middle income population to relocate out of the CBD. Apart from land, prices of most other commodities and services also increase proportionately. Hence, the population that remains in the CBD includes the rich who can pay the high prices or the poor who can't afford the travel cost. Last year, Delhi's CBD, Connaught Place was ranked the fifth most expensive office market in the world, followed by Mumbai's Bandra-Karla Complex (BKC) at 15th position.

Delhi requires more business districts -- such as Nehru Place -- to reduce the pressure and the land value in Connaught Place.

In order to reduce the stress borne by these CBDs, it is important that appropriate steps are taken to decongest them.


One of the essential steps is relocation. When the congestion on the streets becomes intolerable, people tend to move closer to the CBD in order to avoid traffic. Businesses move to other clusters where there is a market for labour and for their products/services. Mumbai is a successful example of how multiple business districts were create to effectively reduce the stress on the original CBD. Dissipation of BDs across the cities helps in redirecting the traffic and reducing the land values in the original CBDs. Similarly, Delhi requires more business districts -- such as Nehru Place -- to reduce the pressure and the land value in Connaught Place.

ICT to reduce dependence on physical spaces

Besides decongesting cities, recent innovations in Information and Communication Technology (ICT) could also be used to reduce the dependence on physical business districts. After the advent of ICT, urban experts have been debating the relevance of CBDs altogether. ICT provides a flexible work-space for various activities and reduces the need for physical contact. It provides amenities that made it easy to coordinate work through Skype (online video calls) and allows online shopping and transactions.

Tai-Cheek Wong, a specialist in urban studies, sought to check the relevance of CBDs in the ICT era in a paper based on the financial district in Singapore. The paper explains that ICT makes it possible to bring different categories of labour to places at varied costs and availability. The paper concludes that though ICT is an important consideration, it is not enough to motivate enterprises to select their location. "Other factors such as an appropriate workforce, labour supply and access to transport can be more important."

Charging for parking or charging surge prices for travelling within the CBD... would make [citizens] prefer public transport or car pooling...

Wong's study did not include the services sector, which requires face-to-face contact with the customer, examples being domestic services, security services etc. Moreover, human interaction is an important element of agglomeration economies, which refers to the benefits that accrues from the proximity between people or businesses. In this context, ICT might have limited impact on reducing congestion.

Disincentivizing certain behaviours

The final method to reduce congestion in the CBDs can be by using methods to disincentivise citizens' behaviour that reduces overall welfare. For instance, charging for parking or charging surge prices for travelling within the CBD will increase the cost borne by the citizens. This would make them prefer public transport or car pooling to private vehicles. The effectiveness of this alternative solution will depend on the quality of public transport on offer. Bangalore Metropolitan Transport Corporation runs a set of AC buses for short distance within the city to create a substitute for private vehicles. However, Bangalore falls short in providing high-speed networks to connect the CBD and the rest of the city, which results in restricting the growth of the city and increasing the stress on the CBD.

It would behoove the Delhi administration to consider alternate solutions to decongest the capital and to foster breathing spaces in the city centres.

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