Tuesday, September 11, 2012
Does Delhi Need a Cap on Car Ownership?
By MALAVIKA VYAWAHARE
September 10, 2012
Is it time for India to take lessons from China about pollution and congestion?
The municipal government of Guangzhou, one of China’s biggest auto manufacturing centers, plans to halve the number of new cars on the streets, The New York Times reported, by introducing “license plate auctions and lotteries.”
The move comes as the city struggles to address traffic congestion issues and curb pollution – issues that also bedevil India’s biggest cities, particularly its capital. Despite the current slowdown, India is still one of the fastest-growing economies in the world, and, according to a World Economic Forum study released this year, also has the world’s worst air pollution.
The problem is particularly acute in Delhi, where an average of 1,335 vehicles were added to Delhi’s roads every day during 2010 and 2011. Infrastructure improvements have not kept pace with the influx of vehicles, mostly cars and motorcycles, and the city faces a capacity crisis in less than a decade, an expert says.
“The capacity of roads in Delhi will be exceeded by 2021 on most major roads and junctions,” Geetam Tiwari, a professor of transport planning at the Indian Institute of Technology, Delhi who is also associated with the city’s contentious Bus Rapid Transport pilot project, told India Ink.
So far, the Delhi government has been mulling measures to discourage private vehicle use and promote other methods of transportation, like B.R.T., rather than direct limits on ownership.
“Increasing vehicular population is a major challenge facing the city, and we will have to take tough decisions to deal with it,” a senior Delhi official said in an interview with The Jagran Post last week.
The “tough decisions” so far include making parking more expensive, levying congestion charges on certain routes during peak hours and upgrading the public transportation system, all of which are being gradually implemented in Delhi. The government is also considering a proposal to levy parking charges in residential areas, unlikely to be a popular idea among car owners, who are the city’s wealthiest and most influential people. The B.R.T. project, for example, has spawned vociferous opposition, especially among the car-owning population. A recent court order, in response to their complaints, allows other vehicles to use the bus-only corridor, negating its benefit for those not using private cars.
Some cities in India, however, are already experimenting with rules to check car ownership.
Aizawl, the capital of the northeastern state of Mizoram, has linked the granting of licenses to parking availability. Vehicle owners have to show that they own garages before their vehicles can be registered. But as a consequence, “a number of vehicles have been left unregistered due to the inspectors’ inability to verify that the garages exist,” the local news media reported.
In Jaipur in the western state of Rajasthan, the state government was directed by the high court to register only those vehicles whose owners submit an affidavit that they have a parking space for the vehicle. The order came into force on May 1 and local transport officials have not encountered the same difficulties as their peers in Aizawl, for a simple reason. “We were asked to get the affidavits from the vehicle owners. The high court did not direct us to crosscheck the affidavit,” officials told the The Daily Bhaskar.
Vehicle ownership levels remain fairly low in Delhi at 85 vehicles per 1,000 inhabitants, compared with a developed country like Britain, which has 760 vehicles per 1,000 people. But owning one remains a goal for many. “Rising appetites for personal mobility are buttressed by the association of car ownership with high social status,” a report on changes in bus transportation pointed out.
Growth in car sales remains a strong point in India’s economy. In a mid-term review of the Automotive Mission Plan 2006-2016, the government outlines plans to make India a “destination of choice in the design and manufacture of automobiles.” According to the review, vehicle production in the country increased from 9.7 million units in 2006 to 20 million in 2011.
India’s courts have occasionally addressed questions about the addition of more cars to India’s roads. Dismissing the Municipal Corporation of Delhi’s plea this year to limit the cycle rickshaws on Delhi roads, a Supreme Court judge said the government was not prepared to put limits on cars. “In your so-called vision, you must have thought that by scrapping rickshaws there will be enough space for cars and other vehicles on the roads,” The Hindu quoted him as saying.
Anumita Roychowdhury, executive director of the Center for Science and Environment and head of the transport planning program, said the government should focus on influencing commuting choices and encouraging people to use cars less and public transportation more.
“A quota system should be a last resort,” Ms. Roychowdhury said. “But that is something Delhi would have to consider if the current government policies do not solve the transport problems soon.”