Odd-even won’t fix Delhi’s air, but it will feed the selfishness of Delhi’s car owners

No breathing easy yet.
No breathing easy yet.
Image: AP Photo/Tsering Topgyal
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Dear car-owning Delhiite,

It is amazing how you have convinced yourself that the odd-even car rationing is the best thing to have happened to transport in Delhi. One would have thought you’d be unhappy about it, considering you can’t take out your car everyday.

But you lapped up chief minister Arvind Kejriwal’s odd-even Kool Aid because it made driving around the city such a pleasure. You are willing to sacrifice a day’s drive for the next day’s zip zap zoom. Insulated from the Delhi air in your air-conditioned cars and air-purified homes, you are the odd-even scheme’s biggest champion even though it failed to reduce pollution.

Wait. Pollution? Was that even a concern in the first place? To you, or your chief minister?

Kejriwal, supposedly the common man’s representative, uses a Toyota Innova paid for by tax payers. He is concerned about something. And that’s not pollution. It is to appear to be reducing pollution.

Headlines matter, don’t they?

The chief minister was only too happy that you loved his odd-even formula, even though for other reasons. After all, he had finally managed to win over the car-owning middle class, a segment that was not exactly kicked about his Aam Admi Party (AAP).

But, odd-even is a temporary solution. Very soon, won’t you just buy another car to get around the rule? Your second car, likely to be a less fancy or even a used one, could probably cause more pollution.

So, the two of you can now tango along Delhi roads, ignoring one of the biggest solutions to the pollution problem: public transport. If there was enough of it, like some great cities in the West, you would not be using your car today. It���s been over a year since Kejriwal took power. But he has nothing to show by way of public transport, except the odd-even hogwash.

Kejriwal’s main public transport focus is to merely complete the flyovers and signal-free corridors, a legacy of his predecessor. That’s great for car owners.

For others, AAP promised a unified transport authority to get rid of policy confusion. This has not been done. It promised revamping the ring railway. Nothing has come out of it. It would no doubt blame the central government.

But what about things the AAP government can do: cycle lanes or increasing taxes on new cars?

It could also request the supreme court to remove the cap on granting licences to CNG auto-rickshaws. The government’s own study found that Delhi has the lowest ratio of autorickshaws to population among India’s metros. But Kejriwal is loath to rub Delhi’s notorious autorickshaw mafia on the wrong side by doing anything that eats into their business. After all, they are AAP’s propaganda machine.

Increasingly, Kejriwal’s government has been using similar excuses as its predecessor, Sheila Dikshit’s regime: there is no land for buses, Tata Motors makes them very expensive, the cap on auto-licences is to be blamed on the supreme court.

Kejriwal scrapped the one good thing the Dikshit government did for public transport—the South Delhi Bus Rapid Transport (BRT). Car-owners effectively killed the BRT. The government was heard saying nobody liked it anyways.

It now promises to build elevated bus corridors. That would be great. But seldom have mere promises worked.

The solution, thus, is for you to rebel against odd-even.

When the odd-even scheme ended in January, some Delhi Transport Corporation staffers protested demanding better public transport as an incentive to make people avoid cars. You need to get to Jantar Mantar too, or even to the chief minister’s office; ask for more buses, metro trains and coaches, and autorickshaws and e-rickshaws.

Next time when you hear the radio ad—Main Arvind Kejriwal bol raha hoon—tweet to him, ask him to speak less, stop making excuses, and to do more about your daily commute to work.

Dear car owners, as you begin car-pooling on alternative days, do ask your chief minister to stop fooling you.

We welcome your comments at ideas.india@qz.com.