It took Mexico City over two decades to reduce pollution by strictly enforcing several measures. Mexico’s ambassador to India Melba Pria tells Apurva how the city achieved this and lessons Delhi can learn.
What is Mexico City’s hoy no circula?
It prohibits the circulation of 20 per cent of vehicles from Monday to Friday based on the last digit of their licence plates. Vehicles are given a colour sticker (engomado) that determines the days on which they cannot ply (see box). This applies to all vehicles entering Mexico City, whether they are local or not. In 2007, hoy no circula was extended to Saturdays as well.
How was it implemented?
Along with road space rationing, vehicle verification was implemented in 1990. Even today, all vehicles must pass this test every six months. They are granted a score which determines when and how many days they can ply. While newer cars (up to three years of age) get an automatic score of 00 (which is the optimal), they still have to pass the verification test. Vehicles that are older than eight years or which get a bad score during the test are restricted to circulating one day a week and two Saturdays a month. Hybrid and electric vehicles are exempted.
How well has it worked?
The policies have managed to reduce pollution between 25 and 70 per cent and carbon emissions to 7.7 m tonnes in four years, beating the target of 7.0 m tonnes. Hoy no circula encourages the use of alternative transportation. The Mario Molina Centre conducted a survey in 2013 asking citizens how they tackled the restrictions — 63.8 per cent said they use public transport, 13.8 per cent stay home, 8.3 per cent use taxis, 4.5 per cent bought a new vehicle and 3.9 per cent carpool.
Was this one among several measures introduced simultaneously?
This was part of a broader strategy. Four consecutive federal programmes under the name PROAIRE (Pro AIR) were designed and implemented since 1995. The ongoing programme is PROAIRE 2011-2020. We have a law (General Law of Ecological Balance and Environment Protection) which establishes that federal authorities must implement programmes to reduce pollutants. The Federal “Environment Ministry” (SEMARNAT) is responsible for designing programmes for factories under federal jurisdiction to reduce emissions. The law states that local authorities must come up with programmes to improve air quality and submit them to the federal government for approval.
What were the other measures?
Hoy no circula was just a small part of the policies implemented to improve air quality in Mexico City. Other measures include industry restrictions, expansion of metro system, improving fuel quality among others.
How was the road rationing policy implemented? Was there a mass awareness drive? Were violators fined or punished?
First, we launched a citizens’ movement called Un Día Sin Auto in 1984. It was a voluntary initiative to stop using cars one day a week and was promoted by an organisation called Mejora tu Ciudad. In 1989, the hoy no circula programme was established as mandatory — first as a seasonal measure (during winters) and then as a permanent one in 1990. Restrictions on public transport was included in the programme in 1991.
Since the first day, the restrictions have been enforced vigorously by the city’s traffic police. They have imposed fines of approximately Rs 6,720 for plying on a forbidden day. The law states that the vehicle can be impounded for 48 hours. A good communication campaign by the government in publicising the dangers of polluted air was also started. For instance, the Mexico City government has a website which citizens can easily consult to check daily levels of pollutants and air quality.
What are the lessons Delhi can learn in not only implementing road-rationing policy but in controlling air pollution?
An air improvement initiative has several steps, including emergency provisions. Coordination between levels of government is essential… Delhi needs to get the public on board… There is no quick fix, but Mexico City’s decades-long efforts are showing that comprehensive approaches, and openness to the best ideas, can make a huge difference.