India

Back to traffic jams: Life after Delhi's odd-even experiment

Vehicles drive on a road before the implementation of the odd-even vehicle scheme in New Delhi, India, 30 December 2015. Image copyright EPA
Image caption Private cars with even and odd numbers plates are being allowed on alternate days during the experiment

The familiar sight of slow-moving cars and long traffic jams returned on Monday morning, the first working day after the end of Delhi's two-week car rationing trial.

Private cars with even and odd number plates were only allowed on alternate days during the experiment which began on 1 January, in an effort to curb alarming levels of pollution.

Today, drivers, who had been making their commutes in half the usual time looked frustrated, and I could tell from the expressions of the drivers stuck at traffic signals that the "odd-even" rule was being missed.

I knew how they felt. My drive to office during the car rationing period, was a mere 45 minutes, but now I was back up to the usual 90.

And that was not all.

After what now seems like a two week holiday, the frustratingly long queues of cars at traffic signals had reappeared, as did the cacophony of automobile horns.

Drivers seemed more aggressive as they raced to get ahead of one other, as though Delhi's road space had suddenly shrunk.

While the jury is still out on how much impact this trial had on the alarming pollution levels, an unintended but welcome consequence was the much needed decongestion of Delhi's roads.

Image caption Rohit Raman and his wife Swati got to spend more time at home during the "odd-even" experiment

The experiment also made several people explore other options like car pooling or taking public transport.

I was one of them.

I shared my car with Rohit Raman, his wife Swati Saran, and Virendra Singh on even days, and rode in their car on odd days.

Our offices are in the same area of Delhi, but although we lived in the same building complex, we had never thought about sharing the drive until the Delhi government launched the trial.

Our conversations in the car largely revolved around analysing the impact of the experiment on pollution and traffic jams.

While we agreed that the two-week experiment would not reduce pollution significantly, we couldn't help but notice the difference in traffic.

"I definitely got to spend more time at home during the odd-even days. The drive was less stressful and it's always fun to have more people in the car to share food, and of course conversations," Mr Raman told me.

Ms Saran too felt that "any reduction in traffic, however small, makes a difference".

Image caption Mr Singh works as a marketing professional in Delhi

But can such a plan be made permanent?

Mr Raman was of the opinion that while "it was all good until it lasted, the plan cannot be made permanent".

"The Delhi government made too many exemptions in the rule. That has to change to make this plan more effective," he said.

Women were allowed to drive their cars on all days. Cars carrying disabled people were also allowed on all days. Along with two wheelers, cars operating on natural gas were also exempted.

Image copyright AP
Image caption Volunteers helped traffic police in imposing the "odd-even" rule

Mr Singh said the "plan worked for two weeks but there were still several problems".

"There were reports that auto rickshaws [tuk-tuks] were overcharging and taxi operators also raised their fares during peak hours. You have got to control these things," he said.

Mr Raman added that the last-mile connectivity from metro stations was poor and that made it harder for people to use public transport.

He added that "the government's claim of solving the city's pollution problem through this experiment was too ambitious".

"I doubt that the plan curbed pollution massively, but it did reduce traffic congestion. Then just call it a plan to reduce traffic and not pollution," he said.

But for now, we have decided to continue car pooling.

If you live in a a city that adds around 1,400 cars to its roads every day, doing something is better than doing nothing.

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