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Inside New Delhi’s Numeric Plan to Improve Air Quality

How even-odd driving days could clean up some of the dirtiest skies in the world.

A 2008 traffic jam in Delhi. Image via Flickr user Lingaraj GJ

Ah, New Delhi—home of the majestic Red Fort, the remarkable Lotus Temple, one of India’s most important museums, and some of the most polluted city air in the world. Earlier this week, a BBC journalist reporting from the city found that there were 378 micrograms of lung-unfriendly particulates per cubic meter of air—and that was inside his home. By contrast, the EU and World Health Organization say 25 micrograms per cubic meter is the safe limit for pollution.


What is the Indian capital doing about this monster environmental problem? It’s taking a pretty drastic step, actually—one that starts with vehicle traffic. The Delhi government announced Tuesday its plan to ban certain cars from the roads every other day.

The secret to the proposed system lies in license plate numbers. Private cars with license plates that end in odd digits will be allowed to drive on odd-numbered dates (the 1st and 3rd of the month, and so on) while cars with even-numbered plates will be permitted to drive on even-numbered days (the 2nd, the 4th, etc.).

The plan will go into effect January 1 and run through January 15, enforced between 8 a.m. and 8 p.m. All cars will be allowed on the roads on Sundays.

The short-term measure should immediately cut down on air pollution, Anumita Roy Chowdhury, director of research and advocacy at the nonprofit Centre for Science and Environment, told the Indian newspaper The Economic Times.

“This is not a plan for 365 days but a short-term one to be implemented with a full-fledged plan and strategy and we support the move fully," Chowdhury said.

Others say the plan will be difficult to implement. New Delhi has 16 million residents and 2 million registered cars, The Guardian reports. The paper noted that that a similar system in Bogota, Colombia, led to residents buying second, cheaper cars with alternate-number license plates.

On Wednesday, the Delhi High Court gave the plan a temporary go-ahead, though it will hear another challenge on December 23.

If the even-odd plan is implemented, it should help with another huge New Delhi problem—gigantic traffic jams. In September, commuters got stuck in a remarkable 26-lane jam as authorities experimented with a different traffic management system.

Image via Twitter

(Via Mashable)

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