CSE monitors pollution levels on car-free stretch in Delhi

CSE’s exposure monitoring indicates dramatic drop of 60 per cent in PM2.5 levels compared to levels observed the previous day

This is supported by official ambient air quality monitoring that shows 45 per cent drop in overall PM2.5 levels across the city due to low traffic on the national holiday of Dusshera 

  • By implementing car-free day and by choosing a national holiday for it when car volumes are already low, the Delhi government has proven that reducing car numbers can significantly bring down pollution in a city where air pollution kills at least one person every hour and impairs the lungs of every third child 

  • While a car-free day every month can help build public awareness, the government will have to leverage this to implement hard steps to scale up alternatives and restrain car usage on a daily basis.  

  • Immediately scale up integrated public transport system, safe walking and cycling, limit legal parking and make parking more expensive, impose high taxes on cars and restrict their movement in congested parts. During this festive season, several neighbourhoods have pedestrianised and yet remained vibrant. 

New Delhi, October 22, 2015: Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) has found dramatic reduction in the exposure levels to particulate pollution on the stretch from Red Fort to India Gate during the car-free day that was observed here today. Pollution levels were 60 per cent lower than the levels observed in the same place, at the same time, yesterday. 

This observed reduction is further supported by the city-wide official ambient monitoring done by the Delhi Pollution Control Committee. This has shown an overall drop of 45 per cent in PM2.5 level in the city. The car-free initiative as well as the low traffic load on the national holiday of Dussehra has helped lower the pollution levels and toxic exposure in the city. 

Says CSE executive director (research and advocacy) Anumita Roychowdhury: “This initiative of the Delhi government has only helped to prove how the growing car numbers in Delhi aggravate toxic pollution; if these numbers are controlled, pollution can be lowered significantly. Though this event has been planned for one road stretch a day every month to help build public awareness, this will need simultaneous action to restrain car usage on a daily basis for the real change. Otherwise, this will get reduced to only a symbolic gesture. Restraint on cars can help to save lives and protect the lungs of our children.”

What has CSE done?

CSE has carried out real time exposure monitoring on the stretch from Red Fort to India Gate that was earmarked for the half-day car-free event. This monitoring is different from the ambient monitoring that the government does. Exposure monitoring captures the pollution on road and roadside that is influenced by the direct emissions from vehicles within our breathing zone. This is normally higher than the ambient level. The exposure monitoring on the road was carried out by CSE first on October 21 -- a regular day -- and during the car-free event on October 22.

CSE exposure monitoring on the car free stretch has thrown up stunning results: October 21, a regular day: On this day when the road stretch from Red Fort and India Gate had high traffic volumes, the PM10 level was as high as 750 microgramme per cubic metre (cu m) and the PM2.5 level was 689 microgramme per cu m. This was three times higher than the average ambient PM2.5 level in the city. 

October 22, car-free day: 

  • Dramatic drop in pollution exposure level – as much as 60 per cent: During the morning hours (7 am to 12 noon) when car-free event was on and there few cars on the road the PM10 level was 310 microgramme per cu m and PM2.5 level was 265 microgramme per cu m. This shows a dramatic drop of 59 per cent in PM10 levels and 62 per cent in PM2.5 levels compared to the previous day. This was still two times higher than the city-wide PM2.5 level today. Few cars were still running on the targeted stretch. 

  • Hourly variation in pollution levels on car free day shows winter condition setting in: The hourly pollution data on car free day shows that though the overall levels had declined compared to the previous day, the level in the morning was higher than around noon. At 7 am when the car free event commenced, the hourly average of PM2.5 level was 384 microgramme per cu m. But by noon it dropped to 148 microgramme per cu m – as much as 61 per cent drop. Cool and calm weather condition in the morning hours had trapped more pollution. By the noon it dissipated. This just foreshadows the winter pollution crisis that Delhi faces. Delhi needs urgent winter pollution action plan to ensure that Delhi does not see a repeat of the alarming winter pollution like the last year.

  • City-wide official ambient monitoring done by the Delhi Pollution Control Committee shows significant reduction in overall ambient pollution level: CSE has also analysed the DPCC ambient air pollution data of the mornings of October 21 and October 22 for four monitoring locations – Mandir Marg, Punjabi Bagh, R K Puram and Anand Vihar -- and found 45 per cent drop in the average PM2.5 level in the city. October 22 being a national holiday on the occasion of Dusshera there was a significant reduction in overall traffic volume in the city. Official monitoring also show higher pollution in the morning hours than in the noon.   

Lesson of the day: Restrain car numbers to make Delhi pollution and congestion free 
The new data has proven that reduction in car volume can make a significant difference to the air quality of Delhi. Otherwise, CSE evaluation of the current trend in motorization paints a scary picture -- if not addressed it will nullify all gains of pollution control. 

Explosive motorization and car mania: Delhi already has 8.8 million vehicles and is adding more than 1400 a day.  Only in one year between 2013-14 and 2014-15 vehicle registration has increased 14 per cent. Delhi has more vehicles than Mumbai, Kolkata and Chennai put together. At the current level of average new car registration ad day Delhi has already added close to 500 cars today even when celebrating car free day. The latest Economic Survey of Delhi 2014-15 has shown that the number of cars has increased 2.7 times in 15 years. This is making enormous demand for road space and parking space that the city cannot satisfy any more. 

Delhi is jammed even at the current level of car ownership: Delhi is gridlocked even when according to the Delhi Statistical Handbook 2014 only 22 per cent of the households own cars. Delhi has much more cars per 1000 people than some of the wealthiest cities in the world that have adopted car restraint policies. Delhi has 157 cars per 1000 people where as Singapore has 38 cars per 1000 people and Hong Kong only 25. What will happen when as per the slogan of the ruling government of Delhi each household will own and use one car? 

Car trips will increase the maximum by 2020. If there is no improvement in public transport ridership, the number of personal vehicle trips will skew. By 2021, car ridership will increase by 106 per cent. Bus ridership will be slowest to increase at 28 per cent. With loss of bus ridership per capita emissions and fuel guzzling will increase and the city will suffer huge pollution, health and fuel costs. 

Half of the particulate load from the transport sector in Delhi comes from personal vehicles: Growing dependence on personal vehicles – cars and two-wheelers – further aggravate the pollution problem. The personal vehicles already contribute half of the total particulate load from the transport sector in Delhi. This is getting worse with increase in number of diesel cars and SUVs. Compared to petrol cars particulate and nitrogen oxide emissions from diesel cars is just double. Bigger diesel SUVs pollute even more. Diesel SUVs emit 80-90 per cent more particulate matter and 60 -90 per cent more nitrogen oxide compared to diesel cars. Increase in diesel use in cars is also increasing lung cancer risk in the city. 

More cars will reduce people-carrying capacity of Delhi roads – worsen congestion: Even during peak hours, a car carries only 1.5 persons as opposed to a bus carrying 60-70 people. Two cars occupy same space as one bus, but carry 20 times less people. If this trend continues the capacity of roads to carry more people will reduce drastically. This is extremely worrying when Delhi will have to move more than 25 million trips a day by 2020. Delhi might have the most extensive road network at 22 per cent of its geographical area, but it is saturated and severely choked with vehicles. In some of the prominent arteries cars are more than half to close to 70 per cent of the total traffic -- but they carry only 17-20 per cent of the travel trips. Traffic speed has plummeted. A pilot study of Sim Air and IIT Delhi in South Delhi, Noida, Greater Noida, Gurgaon and Dwarka had found that cars crawl at 4 kmph for almost 24 minutes in peak two hours and waste 200,000 litre of fuel for one million cars plying daily. 

Hidden subsidy for cars must go: A car user pays 9 times less road tax every year than a bus operator. While a bus carries about 1000 passengers every day, a car that occupies almost half of a bus space carries only 1 to 2 passengers. A bus that carries 65 passengers per trip pays Rs 15,000 as road tax every year. But a car that carries 1 to 2 passenger and costs at least Rs 6 lakh pays a pittance for its lifetime -- Rs 1600 for 15 years. At the same time cars enjoy free parking at the residence and most public spaces and a small parking fee in legal parking areas in commercial areas.   But bus carries 40 times more passengers during peak hours than a car. 

Leverage car free day to implement hard decisions for real change:
While a public event like car free day once a month can help to build public awareness about the perils of car dependency and the need for car restraints, the real change is possible only if this is leveraged immediately to implement the urgent measures of providing alternative to cars and actively discouraging car usage on a daily basis. Globally cities are adopting parking policy for restraint, congestion and road pricing, capping of cars, restricting cars in congested and low emissions zones to fight pollution, congestion and energy guzzling. 

Need time bound action on the following:

  • Immediately link and scale up metro-bus-autos/taxis-walk and cycle:  This is needed immediately to connect door steps of people with their destinations for effortless movement without the car. Connect each and every neighbourhood with efficient and reliable public transport service.  

  • Provide safe and barrier free walking and cycling infrastructure: Redesign roads and road network to give safe and priority infrastructure to walkers, cyclists and public transport users. 

  • Adopt parking policy and taxation measures to restrain car usage: Limit legal parking areas across the city and demarcate them on the ground. Impose high penalty for illegal parking on public space. Charge high parking charges and also price residential parking in public spaces. Impose higher taxes on cars for their congestion and pollution impacts. Use the revenue to build public transport. 

  • Prepare pollution emergency plan for the coming winter


For more on CSE’s air pollution campaign, please contact Souparno Banerjee, 9910864330, souparno@cseindia.org