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Delhi driving ban: An odd way to start 2016

January 1, 2016

Indian authorities have begun trialing a drastic new car ban, affecting odd and even number plates on different days. The world's most polluted capital is desperate to reduce smog which is well above safe limits.

Rush hour in Delhi
Image: AP

From 8:00am local time (02:30 UTC) on Friday, India's capital New Delhi banned an estimated 1 million vehicles from traveling on any one day in a bid to reduce pollution levels.

Only cars with odd-numbered license plates are allowed on the city's roads on odd-numbered dates (like January 1st). Those with even-numbered plates can only travel on even numbered dates.

The new rules won't apply on Sunday, to motorcycles, women driving alone or politicians and other VIPs.

Stiff penalties

Those caught driving on the wrong day face fines of 2,000 rupees (28 euros) as the city bids to undo its reputation as the world's most polluted capital.

The plans are being introduced for 15 days on a trial basis and could be extended permanently if they are a success.

Delhi smog
Delhi's smog has worsened in recent weeks due to the weather, vehicle emissions and pollution from power stationsImage: Getty Images/AFP/R. Schmidt

Delhi's Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal has even promised that he and his ministers would car-pool.

In an appeal to residents to cooperate with the new rules, he said: "This plan will only be successful when it becomes a very big movement, when people will want to obey it from their heart."

Residents skeptical

But many Delhiites have quickly complained that the new scheme will cause considerable inconvenience, add to their monthly expenses and lead to an increase in fraud and corruption.

The Times of India reported that local taxi and rickshaw services were expected to see a spike in demand, amid fears customers could be fleeced due to a lack of fixed pricing.

Security issues, especially for women, mean that carpooling is less popular in India than in many other countries.

Despite Delhi having a modern six-line Metro system, commuters say the public transport system doesn't cover the whole city.

Although an extra 3,000 buses are being laid on, there's confusion as to which routes they will take and whether there will be enough room to carry many of the new public transport users.

Sidestepping expected

Some politicians have warned of an increase in false number plates and say residents may try to bribe traffic officers, in a city where traffic rules are already regularly flouted.

Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal
Delhi's Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal has staked his reputation on the controversial planImage: picture alliance/landov

An estimated 8.5 million vehicles ply Delhi's roads each day. Just under three million of these are private cars or vans, which are included in the alternate day ban.

Thousands of civil defense volunteers have been deployed to assist the traffic police in monitoring car number plates at key junctions of the city.

Pollution levels in Delhi are reported to be more than 10 times the World Health Organization's safe limits, and there are growing concerns that many lives are shortened by the toxic air. Several other Indian cities also suffer the same affliction.

The city has been shrouded in a toxic blanket of smog in recent weeks as winter sets in and cooler temperatures trap pollutants in the atmosphere, pushing harmful PM 2.5 levels sky-high.

mm/rg (AFP, Times of India)