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Please, Spare Us The Odd-Even Torture This Winter

15/07/2016 6:20 PM IST | Updated 18/07/2016 8:38 AM IST
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Delhi's Transport Minister recently said that the odd-even rule for rationing private cars' use of Delhi roads may be back this winter. According to the minister, the decision was taken after accounting for an expected spike in pollution levels during the winter season. Now, we don't have any definitive answer for whether the implementation of the odd-even scheme leads to any reduction in pollution levels. There are also some other compelling reasons to argue why bringing back the scheme is a bad idea. We can start with the citizens' right to free movement, which gets terribly impaired every time the odd-even rule is in force.

All cities grant their citizens certain rights, including right of free speech, freedom of activity, freedom to pursue their desires and express their opinions lawfully. The implementation of the odd-even scheme challenges the citizens' right to movement and accessibility. In both its avatars earlier this year, the scheme was seen as a powerful crusade against traffic congestion and environmental pollution. But the fight was seen elsewhere, as common citizens followed the rule and battled the inconveniences caused by it.

The implementation of the odd-even scheme challenges the citizens' right to movement and accessibility.

The proponents of odd-even continue to argue that it's an effective way of curbing the use of private vehicles and forces citizens to use public transport. They cite examples of other cities around the world that have used the odd-even rule towards this goal. Unfortunately, they continue to ignore that unlike its global counterparts, Delhi's public transportation system is still not equipped to serve its millions of residents in their daily commute across the length and breadth of the city.

Delhi's pedestrian infrastructure is missing, its public transportation is woefully inadequate and is inefficiently designed. The number of transit stations is deplorably small given the size of the city. Access to them is further challenged by lack of well-designed footpaths with amenities like toilets and street furniture, which together define the basic rights of pedestrians.

As far as mass movement of people without a private vehicle in Delhi is concerned, only the Delhi Metro with a daily ridership of 2.5 lakh passengers per day is doing well. However, the last mile connectivity of Delhi Metro stations to homes, offices and markets is a different story, as other modes of transport like autorickshaws and non-motorized transport (NMT) are still poorly planned and implemented. Show me a person who frequently travels by auto-rickshaw in Delhi and I'll show you someone who has to frequently beg and plead with errant auto-rickshaw drivers to deign to take them or charge by meter.

The government in its infinite wisdom continues to overlook more practical solutions like clearing roads of encroachment and adding more multi-level car parking sites...

We are in 2016, but Delhi still lacks, shockingly, a comprehensive NMT network plan that can improve accessibility to residential or commercial neighbourhoods from major arteries of the city. In fact, this accessibility to neighbourhoods forms the crux of Delhi's transportation problem. It is as if our neighbourhoods are designed to encourage private car ownership – their accessibility is so poor that people are forced to take out private vehicles even for going to a market within their colony.

First, we create a city that forces its residents to consider a private four-wheeler as the ultimate symbol of personal mobility and freedom. And then we get a political class that challenges this right, or in a perverse way compels people to own two cars instead of one, one with an "odd" license plate, the other with an "even" one. And nobody seems to question the opportunity cost of loss in trade and business due to the limitations imposed on travel.

The government in its infinite wisdom continues to overlook more practical solutions like clearing roads of encroachment and adding more multi-level car parking sites, which if implemented efficiently can clean up the majority of the streets overrun with illegal parking in Delhi. Thirty-five percent of Delhi's streets are clogged due to unauthorized encroachments, illegal occupancy and disrepair. Solving these problems can free up our roads and reduce traffic congestion dramatically.

Our lawmakers find it easy to create new rules especially if they can be given a populist twist. They don't experience the pain, hardships and anxiety these rules cause...

In fact, Delhi's people would be better served if the same political will directed at running the odd-even rule was channeled towards speedy completion of the KMP bypass that has been under construction for over 10 years! The bypass would allow interstate movement of trucks and while its construction carries on at a snail's pace, Delhi's roads continue to be thoroughfares for the thousands of trucks which transit through the city and have no business to be here except that there is no other alternative.

Our lawmakers find it easy to create new rules especially if they can be given a populist twist. They never get to experience the pain, hardships and anxiety these rules cause to the common person every day. And, of course, the enforced "success" of such rules makes for a dazzling media and publicity campaign. But 15 days later, our city is back to square one with incessant traffic jams, errant auto-rickshaw drivers and unwanted trucks making our roads a mess. There is, alas, no escape from that.

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