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Around the World in a Smoking Car

The world’s richest 10 percent are responsible for almost half of all global carbon emissions, while the poorest 50 percent cause just 10 percent of it in one year.

Nirupama Sekhri
Publish Date: Jan 6 2016 1:34PM | Updated Date: Jan 7 2016 7:14PM

Around the World in a Smoking Carphoto: Hrishikesh bhatt

The world’s richest 10 percent are responsible for almost half of all global carbon emissions, while the poorest 50 percent cause just 10 percent of it in one year. During the Paris Summit on Climate Change earlier this year, this is the figure that developing countries like India cited to make rich countries to take responsibility and ‘pay up’ for cleaning up the earth and help developing countries to reduce their greenhouse emissions.


Logically, what’s true for the goose should be true for the gander. This argument based on the ‘polluter pay’ principle could be extended to guide policy within developing countries as well.


Metropolises in India, most notably Delhi, are suffering from an increasingly poor quality of air, much of it caused by vehicular pollution and construction work. All citizens suffer the consequences of breathing in the polluted air as per the World Health Organisation (WHO):


“Poor urban residents pay a double ‘health penalty’ for the congestion, noise and air pollution that they have not generated, combined with risks and limitations to their own healthy mobility …. (they) tend to be the most vulnerable to environmental pollution – often they live in areas of very high traffic volumes and as pedestrians or cyclists may be more exposed to risk of injury. Also they may be the most damaged economically by urban transport development that emphasizes only private modes.”


However, while governments in some Indian cities have taken a few steps towards making public transport more attractive, none of them have actually implemented policies to directly curb private vehicle use, despite this being a key part of the problem.


A few years ago, Congress-led Sheila Dixit’s Government in Delhi had toyed with the idea of levying a congestion charge in parts of Delhi but had not moved this through. Now Aam Aadmi Party has taken the lead in targeting private vehicles by proposing an even-odd number scheme plying on odd-even dates to be tested between January 1st and 15th, 2016.


For now, there are more sceptics than believers in the scheme’s potential. The general mood is best summed up by what UITP (International Association for Public Transport), India’s Jaspal Singh said, “In the absence of a larger plan the scheme is doubtful to succeed, but at least it’s started people talking about problems of private vehicle use in the city, and of alternatives like carpooling.”


Policy Pulse explores other policy instruments that need to be addressed to reduce private vehicle use in the city and encourage the use of public transport.


Making cars pay


Experience around the world shows that people do not shift to public transport merely because it’s attractive or cheap, or for environmental or altruistic reasons. If buying, maintaining, parking and driving cars continues to be affordable, people will continue to use private vehicles.




Limiting space and hiking the cost of parking vehicles is possibly one of the most powerful policy instruments available to city governments to curtail private vehicle use. Most busy cities around the world levy hefty parking fees.


In urban areas in Japan one has to purchase a parking certificate before buying a car. In London, besides the £11.50 congestion charge, cars have to pay an additional £5 to £6.50 an hour for parking, close to £40 for 24 hours. Parking fines are pretty steep too, generally between £80 and £130.


Most Paris travel guides will tell you that parking in Paris is limited and expensive. On-street parking is not allowed in many streets in the central part of the city as well as on main roads. Parking charges vary between € 2.5 to 4 for every hour, and between € 15 to 48 for a day.


In New York City too, it’s a good idea to ‘shop’ to book a parking spot in advance, which, in downtown, costs $20 up for a day’s parking.


Guo Jifu, Director of the Beijing Traffic Development Research Centre, Hong Kong, responded to a sensational sale of a parking spot for 12.88 million HKD in mid-2015, by saying, “It’s this same way in Manhattan, Tokyo, and Hong Kong. In these high density areas where every inch is worth gold, if a person can’t afford to live there, how can a car?”


But while in Manhattan, Beijing and HK buying an expensive car park is a matter of status and pride, in Indian cities citizens demand free or cheap parking as a matter of right. This is a mindset that needs to be addressed for parking policies in Delhi to follow international trends.


Congestion charging


Traffic congestion that leads to vehicles idling away is a source of fuel wastage and pollution. Cities around the world levy congestion charges for either entering certain zones or driving through them.


Singapore levied the first ERP (Electronic Road Pricing System) system in the world. The Singapore LTA’s (Land Transport Authority) website informs us, the system is “based on a pay-as-you-use principle, motorists are charged when they use priced roads during peak hours. ERP rates vary for different roads and time periods depending on local traffic conditions. This encourages motorists to change their mode of transport, travel route or time of travel.”


In London one has to pay a flat £11.50 congestion charge for driving into the LCC designated area between 7 am and 6 pm, Monday to Friday. Oslo, some towns in France and some highways in California have all successfully levied some form of a road pricing fee or toll.


Most of these cities, particularly Tokyo and Singapore, also have among the lowest levels of health-damaging fine particulates (PM10) compared to other cities in the world.


Been there, done that - The Beijing experience


Beijing’s track record of tackling congestion and pollution over the past quarter century offers valuable lessons for Delhi.


Alarmed by the rising congestion and pollution levels in the 1990’s, Beijing levied a Japanese style parking certificate system and consequently a parking restriction system, both of which failed due to corrupt practices like securing fake parking documents.


In 2004 the Beijing government levied a 10 percent vehicle purchase tax on all vehicles. However, they found that it didn’t deter the sale of vehicles which continued to rise unabated.


In 2007 bus fares were slashed by 60 percent to incentivise people to take buses. It didn’t work, people did not move from their cars into buses. Finally, as an emergency measure for the 2008 Olympics, the odd-even number plate system was introduced, which had a significant effect in reducing congestion and vehicular pollution.


However, by 2010, just like in Mexico City, numbers of cars had risen and people had found ways to circumvent the ban by buying another vehicle. In addition, on week-ends, the air quality actually became worse.


So, in December 2010, the Beijing Municipal Commission of Transport froze new vehicle registrations. They implemented a publicly-held lottery system for purchasing a license plate that individuals and corporations had to apply for online. This lottery is held once a month, with about 20,000 new car registrations allocated to eligible, lucky winners.


It is a unique scheme because unlike the Singapore auction where only the wealthier section of people can apply, the Beijing plan is more equitable. In the very first year car registrations were controlled by over 75 percent and over the years, the growth in the number of total cars has slowed down dramatically.


Other Chinese cities like Shanghai, Guangzhou, and Guiyang, are also considering similar systems. Guangzhou began restricting cars using a system with hybrid auction and lottery components.


In addition, Beijing has been made into an expensive city to park a car in. A parking bay in the city’s premium central area can cost upto one million yuan (160,000$). Even in suburban areas an underground parking averages RMB 150,000 to 200,000 (24,000 to 32,000$).


Zhou Zhengyu, Director of Beijing Transport Commission recently announced that he was considering levying a congestion charge system for parts of the city.


So Delhi’s odd-even scheme needs to be part of a larger transport policy, the kernel of which has to be made up of unwavering support from the Government on the “polluter pay” principle. Also, it needs to be complemented by extensive public awareness and sensitisation campaigns to persuade the public of a rationalised cost for the use of fuel, parking, road space and pollution. Otherwise, irrespective of how good the public transport systems are made, private vehicles will continue to be attractive and increase in number.


Cars - A Necessity or Luxury!


The powerful auto industry in India, overtly and covertly, has pushed for four and two wheelers being perceived as family vehicles. Attractive, easy loans with low EMI’s have helped people easily buy such vehicles. Ratan Tata, whose company made trucks and buses before foraying into car-making, spoke emotionally about his dream of every Indian owning a car when he launched his ‘everyman’s car’ Nano.


With this, the idea of buses being polluting, irresponsibly driven, unreliable, uncomfortable, slow and, worst of all, a poor person’s mode of transport, has been consistently advanced. The Government too reflects this bias by not investing enough in infrastructure or passenger information technology for public and mass transit systems, like buses, cycling and pedestrian paths. 


After the much publicised Urban Renewal Mission launched in 2005 there was a sharp increase in the demand for buses in many first and second tier cities. Indian bus manufacturers responded by increasing their capacity to manufacturing 50,000 buses per annum, which has not been enough. City governments, including in Delhi, have waited for months for buses to be delivered. In comparison, China produces 550,000 buses per year.   


This mindset of walking and cycling as "inferior modes", which hamper the smooth flow of motorised traffic needs to be addressed and changed. A WHO (World Health Organisation) report prepared under HELI (Health and Environment Linkages Initiative) puts it succinctly:


“It is probable that vehicle owners represent the most politically powerful social sectors and therefore are likely to resist policy attempts to curb private car use if the health and environmental benefits of ‘managed transport’ are not well-communicated and understood.”


Lack of public transport user groups


According to DPCC (Delhi Pollution Control committee) an estimated 30 to 40 percent of daily trips to work in Delhi are on foot or via bicycle. While 60 to 70 percent of daily trips to work are by motorised modes, about 60 percent of these are by public bus transport. By some estimates a staggering 7 million passengers are carried by the 5,000 DTC and Delhi Transit buses daily.


However, public transport commuters tend to be captive users with no other transport alternatives, most often including: the poor, women, children and the elderly. As the HELI report says, “Often public transport patrons represent weaker socioeconomic sectors and may feel too powerless to advocate for system improvements.” 


Conversely, the actual planning and supply of public and mass transit services are more often than not driven by people who are not public transport commuters themselves, and with little or no representation from user groups.


This has led to a neglect and stagnation of public transport systems, which are augmented and spruced up in parts only for showcasing when it comes to events like the Commonwealth Games.


There is a need to build user platforms empowering pedestrians, cyclists, bus and metro users to demand better services and for these services to be continuously evaluated and improved by regular users.




Delhi’s Transport Minister Gopal Rai was very impressed with Oslo’s public transport system during his trip there in October this year. He has since waxed eloquent about cycles being the best mode for last mile connectivity.


And Rai isn’t the only one. Nagoya or Toyota city in Japan is taking an active lead in building fully protected bicycle lanes on some of their busiest streets, modelled on the Copenhagen cycle tracks–the first city in Japan to take this initiative.


However, there is a huge climatic difference between those cities and Delhi. By Copenhagenize Index for Bicycle-friendly Cities. in the world, the European cities of Copenhagen and Amsterdam top the 2015 index at the 1st and 2ndposition, while the South and North American cities making it in the first 20 list are Buenos Aires at the14th place and Minneapolis at 18th. Upon closer examination you will find that all the cities and towns in the top 20 of that list enjoy balmy summers.


Delhi, indeed most Indian cities, can be better compared to Singapore or Hong Kong climatically, as they also experience heat, humidity and regular bucketing rainfall. But, Hong Kong enjoys a formidable scale of integrated urban planning, which seamlessly links its multimodal transportation hubs (airport, metro, bus depot, ferries) to efficient mobility modes (double-deckers, long buses, mini-buses, taxis, pedestrian walkways, escalators, taxis) with hotels, shopping malls and commercial buildings.


Singapore maintains an enviable greenery and foliage cover to shade pedestrians and cyclists, who also find respite in enclosed spaces, most of which are air-conditioned.


So, in Delhi, for people to be pedalling, out of choice, for a few kilometres or more, in temperatures that soar in summers higher than 40 degrees, there would have to be some sharply planned and effectively implemented infrastructure coordination, which would have to involve horticultural projects as well.      


Sustainable road construction


Besides vehicle emissions, the activity of building roads and transportation infrastructure itself produces a very high level of greenhouse gases through fossil energy used in digging and cutting, transportation, paving works, etc.


Sustainable road building and, critically, effective road maintenance go a long way in reducing pollution. Rebuilding roads that fall apart every year is not just financially wasteful but also environmentally unfriendly.


Inter-sectoral Cooperation & Innovation


Efficient public and mass transit systems involve much more than getting more buses on the roads and making bicycle-paths. Location and information technologies have transformed the way many sectors function, and this applies to mobility as well.


The integration of GPS, GIS and ICT into transportation services and vehicle technologies is fostering a steadily closer conversation and interface between vehicles, infrastructure and people. These technologies and services are termed ITS or Intelligent Transportation Systems and are helping governments and agencies around the world to better mine data, plan, maintain and improve mobility services with the aim to reduce congestion and pollution.


The same technologies that have become ubiquitous to urban life – mobile phones, tablets, laptops, etc. – are also being used to study mobility patterns and respond to passenger needs quickly through efficient information systems.  


South Korea is probably a prime example of this. Within one generation the country leapfrogged from rudimentary stages to one of the most advanced transport and traffic related services in the world. They took to connecting people with ICT, and technologies with services on a war footing.


Finally, if the Delhi Government or, indeed, any State or city government in India, is to pursue a long-term, sustainable mobility plan it will need support and commitment from the Central Government. It is the Centre that will need to formulate policies to guide corporates, public and private agencies, science and technological developments and investments towards a common vision and goal.


It was exactly a year ago that the Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, called for the need to foster cooperative federalism among states. Perhaps the FAST Bill recently passed in the US House of Representatives can inspire him.


In a move hailed by sectors across the US, the senate unanimously approved the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation (FAST) Act, a five-year legislation to improve America’s roads, bridges, public transit, and rail transportation systems and reform federal surface transportation programmes.


Among the FAST Act provisions are: US$100 million per year for intelligent transportation systems (ITS) research; Creation of a new US$60 million per year Advanced Transportation and Congestion Management Technologies Deployment Programme designed to accelerate the deployment of new technology and innovations.


Delhi as the capital, is a good place to begin pushing for such a policy shift.






Delhi Metro System Signs Solar Deal


The Delhi Metro Rail Corporation (DMRC) signed a new deal with the Solar Energy Corporation of India (SECI) to source electricity from solar power projects. The DMRC is aiming to secure low-cost electricity over several years to ensure energy efficiency and financial sustainability.


The DMRC will source about 1,000 million kwh of electricity from ground-mounted solar power projects every year as part of the deal and a project of 500 MW capacity will be commissioned over the next 3 years. SECI will manage the process of tendering and finalising the developers and the DMRC will agree to a power purchase deal with the developer.


The DMRC currently buys power from utility firms in Delhi at high tariff rates. The Corporation has already built several rooftop solar power projects at its stations and the programme is expected to be expanded to more stations. 


Only buses to school


All the 300 children attending Santa Maria, a playschool in Shanti Kunj, New Delhi, commute to school in school buses. Drop-offs and pick-ups by private modes are not allowed. There are multiple advantages of this. There is a planned, predictable movement of buses to and from school premises leading to a smooth movement of traffic, and therefore significantly less pollution. Ancillary benefits include daily interaction among children, as well as staff members, two of whom are in each bus. Also, the school does not have to wait for stragglers. “School ends punctually and we can follow an uninterrupted, efficient after-school routine,” said a school official.