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Sunday, September 22, 2019

Delhi tests car restrictions

IT'S said that Manila has the worst traffic in the world after Beijing and Delhi. As someone who has experienced all three cities, I'd say that's pretty accurate.

But when it comes to air pollution caused mostly by cars, buses and trucks, Manila is bad, but has yet to reach the smog-enveloped levels of the Chinese and Indian capitals.

In a desperate attempt to fight pollution by reducing the number of cars on the roads, Delhi recently launched a two-week experiment whereby private cars are allowed on the streets only on alternate days depending on their final license plate numbers, with Sundays exempt.

It calls for penalties of around $30 (P1,400) for offenders and its success is to be gauged by daily pollution measurements. In 2014, a World Health Organization (WHO) study ranked New Delhi’s air quality the worst of nearly 1,600 cities surveyed.

After several days of the experiment, traffic has been flowing smoothly on major Delhi roads which are usually jammed by subway construction and cars. But the experiment's ability to reduce pollution remains unclear, with air quality still at “hazardous” levels.

To get citizens on board with the experiment, the Delhi government took out full-page advertisement in newspapers which compared the lungs of a 52-year-old Delhi citizen with those of a resident of a similar age from Himachal Pradesh, a mountainous state in northern India.

"Delhi has now declared a war on air pollution. On which side are you?" it asked readers.

But thousands of drivers have been caught violating the policy. The roads have fewer cars, and, while pollution levels have decreased, the air is still "unsafe."

According to news reports from India, the most entrenched barrier is the Delhi elite who are used to having drivers standing by at all times. Some of those citizens, members of the capital’s upper classes, are up in arms about the change.

Promila Bij, 57, a South Delhi resident, swept into a taxi on the first day ¬the third she had called after two companies said they had no cars. She arrived at work in West Delhi more than an hour late, while her three cars and two drivers were sitting idle at home:

All three have license plates ending in odd numbers, which were barred from the road that day. When she reached her office, she canceled meetings that regularly take her to the suburbs and the city center.

“I cannot come because I don’t have my driver or car,” she said. “If you want to call me snooty, all right, I am, because that is my lifestyle and that’s how I work. You can’t say, ‘Change your lifestyle’ at the snap of a finger.”

The experiment finishes this week. No doubt officials in other cities with serious traffic and pollution problems will be studying the results in detail.

With Manila's traffic now worse than ever, an odd-even license plate scheme on alternate days would definitely reduce traffic and possibly help to improve air quality, but with no decent public transport system in place and smoke-belching jeepneys and buses exempt from restrictions, it simply would not work.
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