Editorial: Road to chaos

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Published: February 20, 2016 12:27:06 AM

Mumbai vehicle-rationing plan ignores city’s realities

The Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC), which proposes a vehicle-rationing scheme for Mumbai that would involve either an annual cap for new car-and-bike registrations or a cutoff date beyond which there will be no new registration, first needs to be clear on why it is considering such a move. If, as The Economic Times reports, the goal is indeed reducing pollution—compared to India’s car density of 18 cars per 1,000 population, Mumbai’s 65 cars per 1,000 persons would make it seem like the city is choking in exhaust fumes—then the city needs to learn from Delhi’s mistake with the odd/even scheme. As an IIT-Kanpur report showed, both for particulate matter smaller than 10 microns (PM10) and PM2.5, the two most hazardous class of pollutants, vehicles had a much smaller contribution—at 9% and 20%, respectively—than road dust and construction waste. And even within that, cars had a much smaller share than two-wheelers. So, there could be a case that Mumbai, which has a much lesser number of vehicles (just over 2.5 million) than Delhi (over 8.4 million) may not need vehicle-rationing if the aim is solely bringing down pollution. To test this, the city perhaps needs to get an IIT-Kanpur-like study conducted.

But if the concern is reducing vehicular congestion, the proposal may seem to have some merit. After all, Singapore, with a moderately higher car density (90 per 1,000 persons), does have similar vehicle-rationing even though it has a much higher road density. Some would argue, therefore, that Mumbai would do well to adopt the BMC proposal—which also includes a congestion tax in certain zones—early enough if its streets are to be decongested. But the city’s existing urban transport scenario makes it clear that it would be near impossible for such a plan to take off. Consider, for instance, the city’s suburban and metro railway infrastructure. While its 427-km long suburban rail network seems enviable, it has nearly twice the annual commuter burden of a comparable network length, the London Underground metro system (402 km)—with Mumbai’s population being 1.4 times that of London. Besides, as per some reports, 80% of Mumbai’s population already uses public transport, including the suburban railway, meaning there could be little room for more with the existing infastructure. The city’s metro railway is yet to add over 160 km of its proposed network—at present, it is functional over just 11.4 km. What all this means—especially in the backdrop increasing car ownership in the city—is that many still would have to take their cars or bikes out. And as for the congestion tax, merely lifting from a global model seems unwarranted, given the disparity between the average income levels of the cities from which the concept is borrowed from and Mumbai’s. The city should perhaps focus on widening nearly 707 km of its road network— part of the BMC proposal; this would need a crack-down on illegal encroachments.

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