This isn’t the first time something like this is happening in the world. Road space rationing can be traced back to as early as 45 B.C. in fact. But while it worked out wonderfully in some countries, it fell flat on its face when it came to others.
Kejriwal government’s idea of rationing the number of cars on the road to avoid congestion and reduce emission levels isn’t an original one. Julius Caesar was the first to put it into effect actually. In 45 B.C, Caesar, noticing the congestion problems carriages and carts pulled by horses were causing in a number of Roman cities, declared the centre of Rome off-limits from 6 in the morning till 4 in the evening. This applied to all vehicles except the ones that were carrying priests, officials, visitors, and high ranking citizens.
Did it work out?
By the sound of it, the only people who weren’t allowed were the people looking to do business in the centre of Rome. While we don’t have numbers, it seems it didn’t, causing inconvenience to the poor. But again, when has that ever bothered the high and mighty?
Paris is a beautiful example of how road rationing can actually work. On March 17th, 2014, a driving restriction was imposed in Paris and its suburbs based on license plate numbers. Very similar to what Delhi is planning to impose. The issue was raised by the city government to control the air pollution attributed to vehicle emissions. Cars with even number plates were banned from entering the city between 5:30 am until midnight.
It must also be added that the week before the traffic restriction was imposed, the government also reduced speed limits around Paris by 20 km per hour and provided all public transportation for free to encourage one and all to use it. Violators would be fined 22 euros. This wasn’t the first time they did this though. Paris tried this once before in 1997.
Did it work?
A loud YES! Both times. In fact they were so successful in reducing the emission levels and reaching their pollution control goals that they kept the odd-even rationing for only a day. One day! There was no need to continue the experiment beyond that.
Just incredible what just one day of odd-even rationing could do, right? But population definitely will be a factor.
Population of Paris 2015 – 2.24 million.
Population of Delhi 2015 – 18.24 million.
In the South American city of Mexico, the odd-even rationing policy or the Hoy No Circula (roughly and hilariously translating to ‘today it doesn’t circulate’) was introduced as early as 1989. Cars would be banned for one day in the week depending on the number on their license plates. Violators were asked to pay anywhere between $23 to $69. Since they didn’t have even half as many cars back then as Delhi has currently, they didn’t have to do it the odd-even way. They would pick out numbers. For example Sundays, number plates ending with three and four were banned, Mondays five six, Tuesdays seven eight, so on and so forth.
Did it work out?
Initially, yes! It was great – pollution reduced by as much as 11%. But eventually they did what some Delhites on social media are planning to do. They just started buying two cars with both, even and odd numbers. Two cheap cars would mean high emission levels too. It’s actually scary because not only did it give rise to the number of cars on the roads, but the pollution levels rose by an alarming 13%!
The Columbian capital of Bogota also implemented the rule of Pico y Placa (‘peak and plate’). They just started banning cars during the peak hours for two days a week. They wanted their citizens to take them seriously so they started fining the violators 15% of their daily minimum wages. To make sure people don’t try to act like they did in Mexico and just buy two cars, they started changing the combination of days and numbers around every now and then. Smart move, surely must’ve worked here.
But did it work?
Absolutely NOT! Some reports say that they failed largely because the drivers would start driving during the off-peak hours. The whole point of government appointed ‘peak hours’ were useless now. It only led to more traffic, and more pollution sadly.
In an attempt to improve the air quality of Beijing, China, before the 2008 summer Olympics, implemented a temporary road space rationing. They imposed restrictions on private vehicles by allowing even and odd license plates to drive on alternate days with the violators having to cough up 200 yuan for breaking the rules. Just like what Delhi is trying to do. Before this they had conducted a pilot test a year before in 2007, where they restricted the driving of about 1.3 million vehicles, that’s about 1/3rd of Beijing’s fleet, for four days. They reported a daily reduction of vehicle emissions of up to a staggering 40%!
Did it work?
Absolutely! It was a brilliantly carried out initiative. In fact, they were so successful in cleaning their air and relieving traffic congestion (two huge problems even Delhi faces) that they implemented a permanent, more modified version after October 2008. Now they ban only 20% of the vehicles on a weekday as opposed to half during the Olympics. They banned heavy vehicles from entering the city during the day. They also banned 300,000 of their oldest, most polluting automobiles from entering their city centre. The ban was also implemented on vehicles coming from outside Beijing. To compensate the car owners for inconvenience caused, and as a form of some incentive to take the public transport, they exempted them from vehicle taxes for the next three months.
In 2009, a nationwide car scrappage program was implemented offering rebates for trade in old heavy polluting cars and trucks for new ones.
This road space rotation theory based on number plates has been implemented in some other cities as well. Bans are observed in places like Athens (1982), Santiago( 1986, 2001), Metro Manila (1995), Sao Paulo (1997), La Paz (2003), San Jose (2005), Quito (2010). Honduras even implemented a country-wide ban in 2008. All these cities restrain a percentage of vehicles every weekday during rush hour or for the entire day. When the restriction is based in two digits, a theoretical 20% reduction of traffic is expected.
It isn’t difficult to make out that Arvind Kejriwal’s Delhi government is following the success observed in China. More so because of the similarity in population. But even though the idea is very novel one, do we actually see Delhites doing what they have found so very difficult over the years? Following rules?
Only the new year will tell.