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Restricting driving policy: The game of Odd and Even

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Restricting driving policy, also commonly referred as Odd-Even number plate policy, is on the tongue of everyone these days. Due to the realization of increase in smog in the NCT, the government of Delhi played their jack and decided to reduce the pollution by reducing the number of pollution emitting vehicles. According to this policy, 1st January, 2016 onwards, a four wheeler vehicle shall not be allowed to ply on the roads for more than 3 days in a weak, excluding Sundays. The said rule works in a way that vehicle holding even number plates and the vehicles holding Odd number plates shall not run on the same day, rather alternate days are fixed for Odd and Even numbered vehicles.

The above said realization came when Indian Institute of Technology, Kanpur produced its report on the environment of Delhi, recommending immediate solution for the increase in smog. The said report analyzed the number of vehicles running on the roads of Delhi and brought into light that a huge amount of air pollution was being created. In the words of Anumita Roychowdhury, head of the Air pollution control unit of Centre for Science and Environment, “the air quality linger from ‘very poor’ to ‘hazardous’ and solution of this requires ‘aggressive and drastic immediate solution…small incremental steps won’t help”.

The step is being seen by some as an optimistic move by the Delhi Government but there are equal critics of the same concerned with its impracticality and terming it as a deemed-to-fail policy. The said policy is definitely not a brand new step but an experiment already performed across many cities in the world and it is said that this brave move has been taken on the model of those already performed experiments. It is now pertinent to briefly look at few such examples:


The first such restriction was implemented in 1986, when 20% of the fleet was banned on any day when air pollution was expected to reach a critical level. This model of restriction imposed ban on the use of a car once a week, based on the last digit of its license place. The one exception to this was that if a car is relatively new then such restriction will not apply to it. Santiago’s program reveals that such an exception to the restriction can have a large effect on fleets’ turnover which may also result in better development of technologies as producer/manufactures will have to depend on policies of the government.


Mexico City is one of such cities which had once implemented this model of pollution control. Such restriction was imposed in Mexico City during the year of 1984 to 1993. This model also restricted the use of vehicle once a week based on last digit of the number plate. But unfortunately this model of restriction did not worked as two studies on the policy found that while pollution did fall immediately after the ban, but it actually increased in the long term[3] as people now started purchasing another old car with even/odd number plate (as the case may be), which thereafter resulted in more emission of effluents in the air.     


During 2008 Olympics, Beijing, China also tried to implement such alternate day driving restriction. Unlike other experiments in other cities, Beijing’s driving restriction succeeded in its purpose and led to reduction of the pollution to as much as 20%. But every success has its own cost. Beijing had to pay the cost of less work time by those with discretionary labour supply. This restriction created a higher commute cost which resulted in reduction of daily labour supply. This restriction reduces the demand in an arbitrary manner. However, now Beijing has moved from this reduction and had begun to limit the registration of new cars from December 2010.


Paris also tried this method of reducing the air pollution, but only for a certain period. These methods were the temporary measures when pollution went beyond a critical level. The recent such restriction was put just for a day in the month of March 2015 and had been put twice before.

What can be observed from the above models is that though they had, in some situations, bore sweet fruits but were on the huge costs, which compelled the respective governments to change its policy and switch to other method of achieving the required goal i.e. reduction of air pollution. Since the above models are based on the condition and requirement of the respective country/city, it would be prudent to analyze, in the following heads, few peripheral challenges which the Indian capital may face during implementation of such kind of policy.

There are peripherally 5 issues which shall be kept in mind during the implementation of this restriction/regulation, namely:

  • Medical reasons.

The critics question the policy on the situation when there is a medical emergency on odd day and such emergency vehicle had even number plate.

  • Woman protection issues.

The policy is also questioned on the women related issues. Take for instance, a situation where a woman who uses her registered even number vehicle and does the late night shifts, on odd days how her protection shall be maintained during night shifts. She will have to resort public transport which at least at present is not so safe alternative.

  • Issues relating to differently abled people.

Suppose some differently-abled person owns one registered vehicle which he/she uses for his/her transportation. How he/she shall manage himself/herself when such policy comes into force.

  • Issues relating to school kids and their parents.

The issue concerning school kids are that there are students who do not use school transport facility and are totally dependent on their private vehicles. The management of this issue is also of prime importance.

  • Commercial vehicle issues.

There are huge number of commercial vehicle drivers who drive their private vehicle to earn their bread and butter on day-to-day basis. This policy will make them to not to use their registered odd numbered vehicle on the even day, for instance. This will not only result in the reduction on number of taxis available, which may act as an alternative to private vehicle, but might also hamper the daily earning of poor drivers who are totally dependent on everyday earnings.

It should be noted that the government of Delhi has so far not issued any rules or set guidelines regarding this policy, instead it just had declared its intention to bring such rules from January 1st, 2016. Delhi being world’s second largest populated capital city in the world after Tokyo and to check whether a city with such population will be able to manage its affairs or not, government had proposed that the said rules/regulation will be an emergency measure and shall be working for few days i.e. for 15 days only.

The critics have already started criticizing the policy and now everybody’s eye is on 25th of this month when government will bring out its drafted policy on the issue. Government has already created a three member committee for dealing with the challenges and everybody is hoping for a successful implementation because if this does not happen, then the city may turn chaotic and in the light of the scenario of increasing pollution, it will be important to look for some other alternative.

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