Opinion

Odd-Even Policy: A reality check

Abhirup Bhunia | Updated on March 09, 2018 Published on December 16, 2015

The new travel policy in Delhi can lead to a commuting disaster if public transport is not able to absorb the surplus



Currently, 56.81 lakh two-wheelers and 27.90 lakh cars and jeeps ply on Delhi’s roads, according to the official state government statistics. These figures don’t include the taxis. Which means a total of 84.71 lakh private vehicles. In most cases, one vehicle equates to one person.

Let’s say the odd and even number plate vehicles each represent 50 per cent of the total vehicles in Delhi and all vehicles hit the road at least once a day.

From January 1, 2016, then, 42.35 lakh vehicles will be parked away and that many persons will additionally avail of public transport.

Public transport in Delhi can mean surface transport (buses and autorickshaws) and its successful underground network.

The economics

Currently, 24 lakh people travel on the metro every day. And already, although theoretically not running in full capacity at all times of the day, peak hours (office time) crowds in the Delhi Metro are already unmanageable.

I’m not sure anybody who already travels by the Metro think it is logically possible to entertain the thought that more people use the Metro.

But let’s for argument sake assume as much as a 50 per cent hike in metro ridership from January 1, 2016, when the Odd-Even policy comes into effect.

So, out of the additional 42.35 lakh people who will rely on public transport from next year, 12 lakh will be absorbed by the Delhi Metro alone.

So, we have 30.35 lakh people who have to depend on either autos or buses for their daily commute. As for autos, estimates vary, but there are about a lakh of these indigenous three-wheelers currently plying in the national capital.

Most auto-wallahs will tell you that they make between 10-15 trips per day, making them about ₹1,000-1,500 a day.

Let us assume figures on the lower side. So, with a 10 persons per auto per day figure, we have 10 lakh people already commuting in autos daily.

The scope for more people travelling in autos seems less given supply side constraints. The population-to-auto ratio in Delhi is much lower than other metros such as Mumbai and Bangalore.

But let us also assume that each auto makes 15 trips per day from January 1, 2016, — embracing the projected rise in demand.

That’s five lakh more people travelling by autorickshaws from the New Year.

Now, if the Delhi government’s plan to double the number of autos also magically materialises, we will have 10 lakh additional people travelling by autos per day.

And the bus conundrum

What are we left with? 20.35 lakh additional people on Delhi’s roads with only buses realistically left to service.

According to the latest data, buses of the Delhi Transport Corporation (DTC) carried 38.87 lakh people in 2014-15. Absorbing the additional demand of 20.35 lakh passengers, therefore, crucially depends on the Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal’s promise of increasing the existing 4,000-odd DTC fleet by another additional 6,000 buses sees light of the day. That seems a huge ask.

Now, we are also left with an estimated one lakh electric-rickshaws, probably a few ten thousand rickshaws, — none of which is replacement to cars and two-wheelers really — and sundry car-pooling efforts here and there (whether via smartphone applications such as PoochO or traditional methods).

Uber, we’re told, is about to cash in on the demand with a new carpool offering. One can be sure the competitors will closely follow.

Unless the private sector revolutionises the way people travel, once again as the likes of Ola have done with the taxi business, it is wholly possible that the new ruling will amount to untold harassment for close to 2 million Delhites.

Finally, what is also very important to look at is the trendline, apart from the absolute numbers.

The politics

Over the past several years, with the steady rise in the per capita incomes of Delhi’s citizens (now at 2.4 lakhs per annum, three times the national average), more and more people have become aspirational.

Easier loans and peer pressure have led to a rapid increase in private vehicle buying, along with other items albeit perhaps with lesser carbon implications.

Alarming as it may sound, 1,400 private vehicles are added to the city’s roads every day. During the same time that 4 lakh passengers were added to DTC’s ridership, 15 lakh new private vehicles were added to Delhi’s streets.

So, can a trend that is so drastically and unequivocally pointing one way suddenly reverse itself? Is it likely that the rational human being seeking to expand his/her perceived comfort suddenly give in to the cause of collective goodwill?

Finally, we say in international negotiations that this is India’s chance to pollute its way to economic development. Can we convince the new middle class to think otherwise?

That is, wouldn’t the middle class find it harsh on them if they were legally bound to give up on their chance at what they think is advancement, no matter how polluting?

The writer is a policy consultant

Published on December 16, 2015
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