A pollution-control plan like the odd-even policy is used only as an emergency measure in Beijing and is unlikely to be turned into a permanent rule, Zeng Jinghai, principal staff member of the Atmospheric Environment Management Division, Beijing Municipal Environment Protection Bureau and Cai Jing, a member of the Beijing Transport Energy and Environment Centre, tell Pritha Chatterjee and Kedar Nagarajan.
How effective have vehicle regulation schemes like the odd-even rule been in improving Air Quality?
Jinghai: We introduced varying vehicle restriction measures since 2008, to tackle Beijing’s poor air quality. No single measure has been introduced in isolation. The odd-even scheme similar to the one currently underway in Delhi is one of them. We introduce it as an emergency measure when pollutant levels, are in what we term ‘red alert’ levels. In 2015, we introduced the scheme twice and for seven days in all. Whereas, in 2014 we did not feel the need to introduce it at all. According to our colour coding scheme to assess air quality levels, red denotes days where the pollution levels are the most hazardous.
What are the particulars of the scheme when introduced?
Jinghai: The scheme is in operation from 3 am to midnight. We apply the rule throughout the day with a three hour leeway. It is enforced continuously, because firstly it is easier for the public to plan their day and enforcement officials to monitor. It also helps in maximum emission benefits. Every time a person is caught violating the rule, they are fined 200 Yuan Renminbi (Rs 2,047). So a person can actually be fined multiple times on the same day.
Are government vehicles,women and two wheelers exempted from the scheme? If not, what are the exemptions followed in the odd-even number plate rule in Beijing?
Jinghai: We believe that if you expect the public to adhere to such a policy, then the government has to do it much better. Therefore, on red alert days not only do government vehicles across departments adhere to the odd-even rule, they also have to take an additional 30% vehicles of the road. Therefore, a total of 80% of government vehicles do not ply on red alert days. Only commercial vehicles, ambulances, school buses, waste collection and disposal trucks, electric vehicles and two-wheelers are exempted from the rule. Women are also expected to adhere to the rule.
Why are two-wheelers not included in the policy?
Jinghai: There are other regulatory measures to regulate pollution from two wheelers. We have two types of two wheeler license plates in Beijing. Type A, are those vehicles that use traditionally polluting fuels. We have stopped allowing the registration of any more of these vehicles 10 years ago. The emission norms of the existing two wheelers of this category have been made stricter, they have to get more number of pollution checks. These vehicles are on the roads even during red alert days across the city. Type B includes sports and luxury motorcycles that are allowed to ply only in semi-urban or rural spaces.
Jing: Based on our source apportionment studies, motorcycles contribute barely 3-4% to vehicular pollution as opposed to around 30% from four wheelers. Therefore, they do not form a part of the restricted vehicles in emergency pollution control measures.
What are the other vehicle restriction schemes adopted in Beijing?
Jing: Since 2008, we have had a policy where number plates are grouped into five categories based on the last digits of the number plates. For every category, the vehicle cannot be used during peak hours on one day of the week. For instance, license plates ending with 3 and 8 are in one category, 4 and 9 in another. This rule is applicable between 7am and 8am every day on an arterial road called the fifth ring road. After every 13 weeks, the days allotted to every number plate category are changed. Since 2011, between 7 am and 9 pm parking tariffs have been increased for the inner city compared to the suburbs, rates are higher on the ground than underground. We also have initiated several congestion relief measures since 2010. A license plate lottery policy has been introduced where private car owners, corporate entities and other organisations, compete for an annual pre-specified number of new number plates. In 2011, this was 240,000 in 2015 it was reduced to 150,000. All these restriction measures have helped improve the use of public transport from 24.1 to 25.8%.
Why have Beijing’s pollution control efforts concentrated so much on regulating vehicles?
Jinghai: As Beijing is a city with 5.7 million vehicles on the road, we see tackling vehicular emissions’ contribution to poor quality as an immediate and effective measure. Combating road dust and other pollutants from construction sites is not something we have arrived at a comprehensive method to tackle. The regulation of industrial pollution is more long term and will come about as the scope to rely on alternate fuel sources increases.
The Delhi Government has said it might make the odd-even rule a permanent feature for a certain number of days every month. From your experience in Beijing, do you think such a policy can work in the long-run?
Jinghai: For social reasons it has not been possible to make this rule permanent in Beijing. I can tell you that we do not have any intention of making it permanent. It is the kind of rule that inconveniences the public, so it is not sustainable for the long-run in Beijing.
Jing: Such a decision should be based on local conditions. In Beijing, it is used as an emergency measure. Considering its social acceptance, we have not thought of making it a regular policy.