Delhi's 'odd-even' driving trial kicks off today

Apart from some exceptions such as those vehicles that run on compressed natural gas (above), all other vehicles are subject to the two-week trial run of odd-even licence plate restrictions in Delhi.
Apart from some exceptions such as those vehicles that run on compressed natural gas (above), all other vehicles are subject to the two-week trial run of odd-even licence plate restrictions in Delhi.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Govt urging people to carpool to control number of vehicles on roads and pollution

Mr Satnam Singh, 34, takes two hours to drive 50km from his house in Dwarka, Delhi, to his office in Faridabad, a satellite city, and he does the return journey at the end of the day. It is a ride he always does alone.

But from today, when restrictions on cars on the city's roads - with odd-number and even- number plates allowed on alternate days - are enforced in Delhi, he will carpool for the first time with two other people from his office.

"Two people, who have odd-number licence plates, contacted me for carpooling. I agreed. They work in my office but I knew them only by face. So thanks to 'odd-even', we will interact with one another," said Mr Singh, who works in a garment export firm.

He owns a car that runs on compressed natural gas, which is exempt from the restrictions, but he still put up his interest in carpooling on his Facebook page. "I am carpooling to support the odd-even formula. We all know pollution is a big problem." he said.

With Delhi, the capital city, having a trial run of odd-even restrictions from today to Jan 15 to control the number of cars on its roads and therefore pollution caused by vehicular traffic, carpooling is in the limelight.

The government has urged Delhi vehicle owners to consider ride sharing, which has been used by some commuters for about 10 years now, while several new carpooling options have emerged ahead of the odd-even restriction.

On Dec 15, taxi-hailing app Uber converted its cheapest ride UberGo into a carpooling service, while Ola Cabs, an Indian taxi-hailing app, on Monday announced a free service to allow private drivers to link up for carpooling through its app.

A few new websites offering carpooling, like odd-even.in, have also popped up. "It is a model that has worked in other cities," said Mr Gagan Bhatia, general manager, Uber India, North, of carpooling.

He said it was getting "encouraging uptake" of its carpool option.

"Carpooling now makes up nearly half of all our trips in San Francisco and over 30 per cent of our trips in Los Angeles. In its first eight months in LA, passengers did over five million carpool trips," he said.

The Delhi government has put an additional 3,000 buses on the roads and announced that the metro - the city's mass transit system - will run at full capacity for the two weeks of the odd-even trial. Still, public transport is expected to be overcrowded.

"People who don't want to use public transport are thinking this is the only option," said Mr Yogesh Saini, founder of carpool.in. He said traffic on his website had jumped "100 to 200 per cent".

"Carpooling is an alternate (way of) decongesting roads and reducing pollution levels, but it is not a total solution. Carpooling plus improving public transport infrastructure - that is the solution," he said.

Still, Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal has urged Delhi vehicle owners to consider it as an option. "There is going to be a lot of crowds in public transport. It's better you carpool," he said in an ad that has been playing on radio in recent days.

He has been slammed by his political rivals for what they said was a lack of preparedness for this month's trial of the odd-even scheme. Unfazed, however, Mr Kejriwal, who decided his Cabinet would not be exempt from the restrictions, will be carpooling to work with his Cabinet colleagues.

"It is practical," he said.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 01, 2016, with the headline 'Delhi's 'odd-even' driving trial kicks off today'. Print Edition | Subscribe