In the wake of rising air pollution in Delhi, Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal has decided to control vehicular pollution by implementing a rule to ply odd and even numbered cars on alternate days. Though not a new idea, it will generate a huge debate on whether is the best option to tackle unclean air in the national capital. It is wise to look into what Beijing did back in 2008 as a case study perhaps for Delhi. Beijing, the Chinese capital, ranks as the second most polluted city in the world.
A study was conducted by the Chinese government after the 2008 Olympics when Beijing imposed rules barring cars from the central city, based on license plate number, in order to control congestion and pollution. The idea was to understand the impact of this driving restriction policy on individual travel choices and rule breaking behavior in Beijing.
The study showed that, even from a short run perspective, the driving restriction policy is not as effective as intended in controlling car trips. The findings are consistent with those in other world cities. “Because of unintended consequences, a driving restriction policy results in only short time effects in achieving the intended goals. Rule-breaking behavior is constant and pervasive, as has been observed in other regions. In particular, the public is more likely to break the rules at peak hours,” it said.
The study proved that peak hour travel increases the odds of breaking driving restriction rules by a factor of 2. Even without driving at “illegal” times, drivers in Beijing have circumvented the driving restriction policy by purchasing multiple cars with different license plate numbers, covering or borrowing license plates, etc.
The report said the government of Beijing responded to these “innovations” by increasing penalty for the rule breakers and restricting automobile ownership through a license plate policy.
The Chinese experience with Road Space rationing concludes that, “It has been reported that these command-and-control restrictions policies have driven license plate prices record high and increased demand, thus creating more problems, including heralding the birth of new black market. In our view, these command-and -control policies can only alleviate the negative externalities generated by travel demand for a very short period of time, but they are unable to attack the root causes. In the long run, the driving restriction policy or license plate lottery policy can hardly constitute the silver bullet necessary to reduce traffic congestion or air pollution. Beijing probably needs more market-oriented transportation policies and a more comprehensive policy package( e.g.,a combination of congestion tolls, expansion of the subway system, parking fees, fuel taxes, high-speed transit facilities, etc) to relieve this city from these negative externalities.”
However, the driving restrictions and the license plate policy seem to have been effective in curbing air pollution and traffic congestion, according to Beijing Municipal Commission of Transportation. The problem lies with people’s tendency to circumvent rules.
If we see people circumventing strict rules even in a non-democratic China, it is tough to imagine how it can be implemented in a country like India.