Odd and Even — Will it work in Delhi


Odd and Even — Will it work in Delhi

Here’s the deal.  Delhi is one of the most congested and polluted cities on the planet. In order to take some drastic action, its government decided to do a 15 day trial of allowing only drivers with odd ending license plates drive on odd days and even on even days. How did it go?

Some things looked up:  Pollution levels were down, although still at an ‘unsafe’ level and traffic was lighter.

However  On day one, false license plates were available. Either a complete plate, or just one number to change the last number. They were selling like hotcakes. (Note: In many countries, including India, license plates are not provided by the government, but are manufactured by private firms on the request of the motorist. They are supposed to provide official documents when the plates are ordered.) Parking facility operators demanded that the city reimburse them for lost revenue.

In addition, drivers were offering rides to those who couldn’t drive on a particular day, but were charging very high rates to take people into town. Taxi rates were also increased.

There was one interesting question — is “0” odd or even. It seems obvious but people need to be given that information up front.

One comment from the local press was that the city was trying to institute rules when most drivers don’t follow the existing ones. This appears to be a major enforcement and cultural issue.

The “odd-even” has worked in some cities including Beijing, Paris, and many cities in Latin America. In most of them, compliance levels has been high since people saw the need and a positive result. Plus there was a high level of public transportation available.

Emerging economies are caught in a double bind. They are growing rapidly and the rapid growth often equals pollution.  Coal based power plants are cheapest and work. But regulations don’t require the least polluting be built. The same is true of automobiles, two cycle engines that mix oil and gas, and trucks. The infrastructure isn’t built for the crush of autos that take to the road as the standard of living is increased.

Stopping the development in its tracks isn’t politically popular or desirable, but the resulting air and water pollution is destroying the population.

During the industrial revolution, cities like London were unlivable. It took killer fogs to cause the changes that were necessary (reducing the use of soft coal, for instance) to clean the air.

Cities like Delhi, Shanghai, Beijing, Mexico City, Bangkok, and others will have to shortly make hard decisions. “Odd-Even” is one way to begin, but its not the end all solution. These cities and the countries that surround them will, as their population grows more successful (read that richer) begin to find ways to cut their pollution without throwing the baby out with the bathwater.

It took the England 150 years to get to the point where they were forced to clean up their act, these countries will move quicker.  They will make decisions on their own, in their best interest.

Just as the free market is made up of millions of tiny decisions made every day at the lowest level, environmental clean up will be done the same way. The Chinese, Indians, Mexicans and Thais are smart and wise. They will fix the problem. The best thing we can do is offer help when asked and otherwise bug out.



Picture of John Van Horn

John Van Horn

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