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Delhi's Car Ban Experiment Didn't Improve Air Quality That Much, But it Should Still Be Permanent

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Earlier this year Delhi’s air pollution was so bad that the government temporarily banned half its cars from streets. The policymaker who came up with the idea says the ban should be 365 days a year—but not because it improved air quality all that much.

The “odd/even” scheme allowed drivers to use their cars every other day depending on the last digit of their license plate number. The ban only lasted two weeks, and there was a slight improvement in air quality—particulate matter dropped about 18 percent, according to an independent study. But the problem with bans like this is that as soon as the cars return, so does the smog. Delhi adds 1,400 more cars to its streets every day.

Although the tiny improvement in air quality improvement is a nice reason to keep the ban going, it’s not what’s motivating Anumita Roychowdhury, director of the city’s Centre for Science and Environment, to make it permanent. She told CNN that even if the ban wouldn’t impact pollution levels right away, forcing half the population to get out of their cars every day would guarantee that the government would fix the public transit problems—including accommodating lower-income and female riders—and address outdated tax incentives:

“You are actually making it cheaper for me to use my car than to take public transport,” Roychowdhury said. Bus ridership has dropped from 60% in 2000 to 41% today. “The irony here today in Delhi is that cars are carrying about 14% of the travel demand, but 80% of transport investment in the city is tied to roads that facilitate car movement, not public transport.”


That imbalance of investment is the problem in most cities, but in Delhi it is literally killing people. The air quality is so bad in India that the country was cited in a recent study after 1.4 million residents died prematurely from lung and cardiovascular diseases in 2013. And it’s causing permanent damage in kids.

There are bigger reforms that need to be made, too—coal-fired plants should be taken offline, and the widespread burning of wood and trash needs to be regulated—but I think I agree with Roychowdhury that extending the car ban would force a radical reshifting of daily behavior and the city would have no choice but to change quickly to support it.


[See the entire story and video at CNN]

Tsering Topgyal/AP Photo

Follow the author at @awalkerinLA