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After playing odds and evens

The challenge is sustainable improvement, so that no special effort is needed in future

Written by Biplav Srivastava , Arvind Gupta |
Updated: January 18, 2016 12:00:46 am
odd even, odd even rule, delhi odd even, delhi odd even rule , odd even scheme, odd even delhi, odd even news, delhi odd even news, delhi news The odd-even policy in Delhi is over.

The much-debated odd-even trial has ended. The current situation in Delhi is alarming with regard to its air quality as well as its traffic. Sustainable long-term solutions need to be implemented to make quality of life better for Delhi’s residents. It’s not without reason that the scientific and technical community is worried about the process and data points being used to gather usable information from this trial run for developing real solutions for the future.

A quick primer on air pollution is needed to understand the situation. Air pollution is measured by many parameters, like CO and PM2.5, and India has come up with an Air Quality Index (AQI) to give an aggregate sense of how bad the air is. Pollution is caused by many factors, including traffic, construction dust, burning of agricultural byproducts, weather, emissions from power plants and industries. Even for each source, only some parameters are bad and need to be properly identified. For example, in traffic, vehicles cause most pollution when moving at very low speeds or at very high speeds. So, removing most vehicles to speed up the rest will increase pollution. There’s very little public data available on the nature and sources of pollution, leaving policymakers guessing about what to do.

If the objective of this trial was to ease traffic, it has worked well. But if we take into account the pollution angle, it hasn’t. The level of pollution, according to most public data points, indicates no impact on AQ levels. A report by IIT Kanpur says the major contributing factors to air pollution are road dust (56 per cent), construction (14 per cent), industry (10 per cent), vehicles (9 per cent), burning waste and other factors (10 per cent). Among vehicles, trucks are at 46 per cent, two-wheelers at 33 per cent, and cars at 10 per cent. If we calculate the actual contribution of cars to air pollution in Delhi, it would be about 1 per cent. Taking into account the odd-even exemptions, we still had about 60 per cent cars running daily. Hence, the expectation is about a 0.4 per cent improvement in AQ levels.

The first week saw a 50 per cent increase in PM2.5 levels — from around 240 micrograms per cubic metre in the week preceding to about 360 in that first week. The Safar-Air app from the Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology, which tracks 10 places in Delhi/ NCR and also gives an overall AQI reading, has consistently shown Delhi’s AQ as “very poor” and “severe” in the same period.

One major reason for the increased use of personal vehicles in Delhi has been the inadequacy of public transport. Although the Delhi Metro has eased traffic for DTC buses, the metro’s reach is limited. With a capacity to ferry 36,00,000 commuters, the metro runs 4,00,000 commuters short, mostly due to last-mile connectivity issues. With about 16.5 million people living in Delhi, it becomes all the more important to have a robust, reliable interconnected web of public transport. No city can aspire to be smart without a robust and safe public transport system.

A viable long-term solution should look at not disrupting economic activity and inconveniencing the travelling public. People travel because they have a business purpose. If everyone stopped moving, all traffic problems would be gone, but the city would be economically dead. It’s always possible to show a marginal improvement in this area for a short period. But the real challenge is to make improvements in a repeatable, sustainable manner, so that no special effort is needed.

Therefore, more than just a vague rule that restricts traffic, we need a solution that achieves the holistic goal of better long-term AQ.

These are: One, encouraging and incentivising clean fuel, hybrid and electric cars; two, car-pooling is a good option and special zones and lanes should be created; three, walking and cycling paths; four, restricting construction activity in winter months and obligating contractors to keep the construction area dust-free; five, vacuum-cleaning road dust; six, greening unpaved parts of roads and open spaces; seven, educating farmers about the hazardous effects of burning agricultural waste; eight, restricting the transit of trucks through Delhi and imposing heavy fines on non-PUC trucks; and last, analysing the outcome of the odd-even experiment critically and by experts. The exercise should become more technically focused and go slow on the publicity hoopla.

Whenever a technical area, such as smart cities, gets the attention of politicians, technical people get cautiously worried. Science demands perseverance, focus and methodical evaluation, without consideration for egos, material incentives and political correctness. The odd-even experiment did bring about a much-needed debate on pollution and respiratory health. But Delhi’s residents are now looking at viable and sustainable solutions.

Gupta, an Eisenhower Fellow for Innovation, currently heads the BJP’s information and technology group. Srivastava is a smart cities researcher. Views are personalThe challenge is sustainable improvement, so that no special effort is needed in future

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