Getting Even With The Odds: Pollution in Delhi

odd even delhi pollution

There have been so many puns and word play opportunities with the Delhi government’s Odd/Even car policy to reduce pollution that every possible combination must have been exhausted.

I was in Delhi for the whole of November and December 2015. I partly live in Delhi and I have never experienced the pollution to be as bad as it was. I started coughing even during the drive from the airport. After about seven days of persistent coughing I lost my voice entirely as my voice box seemed to have collapsed with the strain of my cough. Try asking for directions in Delhi over all the noise with no voice!

The Supreme Court of India ordered the Delhi government to come up with a pollution cutting solution pronto. What was decided was a 15 day trial from 1-15 January 2016 whereby private vehicles would be excluded from Delhi roads based on the last two digits of their number plate and the corresponding odd or even numbered date in the calendar.  Extra buses and metros would be added to the existing fleet and taxis, auto rickshaws and commercial vehicles would be permitted as would ambulances etc.

My immediate reaction was simply dread as the initial announcement did not exclude women drivers.  I had suffered from the city’s pollution but I couldn’t imagine being forced to take taxis or autos to go about my work at multiple locations all around Delhi. It is hard enough working efficiently when one can travel freely, if the travel option is reduced by 50%, by how much would productivity plummet?

I thought it through: the Delhi Metro is fantastic but I don’t live or work walking distance from a station.  The neighbourhood I live in doesn’t even have auto rickshaws zooming around that I could catch to a station. Before I started driving in Delhi I used to take taxis and the drivers were mostly awful, aggressive people who tried to trick me into paying more, artificially increasing mileage and so on.  Hardly any auto rickshaw driver goes by the meter, the haggling dynamic would change somewhat when the driver knows he would have millions of car-less passengers to pick from.

I will miss the traffic experiment but I’m so glad that women drivers were excluded from the rules as the city cannot become safe for women over night. I’ve been lucky enough to live in Delhi for about seven years and I’ve had a safer time there since I started driving.  Some men have started complaining that since women want equality, why are they excluded from the traffic experiment? Where does one begin with a response?

I don’t know what the solution to Delhi’s pollution is, however, I consider the experiment possibly targets the wrong party. I think commercial vehicles are the most polluting in Delhi. I know Delhi buses and auto rickshaws run on CNG gas but trucks, vans, older buses and taxis often have big soot clouds being pumped out of their exhaust pipes. And those vehicles are allowed.



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