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Can #OddEven Curb Delhi Pollution? Here's What Locals Are Tweeting

A new traffic law has some New Delhi residents wondering: "How the heck do I get to work?"

Following the lead of Beijing and Mexico City, the Delhi government put into effect an "odd-even" policy for cars starting Jan. 1. Residents can only drive their cars on either odd or even days, based on the last digit of their license plate numbers — though everyone gets a pass before 8 a.m., after 8 p.m. and on weekends.

The policy is an attempt to address the rampant pollution in the city; last year, the World Health Organization named Delhi the most polluted city in the world, even worse than Beijing. According to the Delhi police, there are nearly 10 million vehicles on its roads.

The policy has drawn mixed reviews from Delhi residents, who are debating its merits on Twitter.

The ban doesn't apply to women (who may feel more safe driving than taking public transit) or to Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his ministers. Nor to Delhi's massive fleet of auto-rickshaws and taxis, as well as scooters and motorcyclists excluded from the ban — mostly to avoid overcrowding on metros and buses.

Violators are being charged a fine of 2,000 rupees (about $30).

To account for the hundreds of thousands of Delhiites who will need to find a new way to get to work, the government has put an additional 3,000 buses into circulation and scheduled the metro to make 70 extra trips each day. And of course, lots of residents are carpooling. There's even an app now to help those with odd-numbered license plates find carpool buddies with even-numbered plates.

Some are realizing that the policy makes for a great pickup line.

Others are thinking of creative ways to bypass the new law.

The new policy will apply till Jan. 15 — a two-week trial run to see if it works. The verdict, so far, is unclear: Critics are skeptical the policy will actually reduce pollution levels, particularly in January, when Delhi's pollution is at its worst owing to the heavy fog. Plus, wealthier households with more than one car (and both odd and even license plate numbers) can easily bypass the ban.

At best, the policy is a short-term fix, says Pankaj Bhatia, the deputy director of the climate program at the World Resources Institute, a nonprofit research organization. "It will not help to solve Delhi's pollution problem without other more urgent and comprehensive policy measures," he says, like setting higher fuel efficiency standards for all sorts of vehicles.

For now, local news reports say that 1 million private cars have been pulled off the roads, making commutes quicker.

And at the very least, the policy has got locals talking — and tweeting.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Corrected: January 11, 2016 at 12:00 AM EST
An earlier version of this post included a tweet with a photo of people crowding to board a subway train. That photo was in fact taken before the odd-even policy was put into effect and has been removed from the post.
Esha Chhabra
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