On World Environment Day, CSE warns Delhi's air pollution and congestion crisis will worsen this decade if urgent action is not taken

  • Nearly every day this summer, both particulate matter and ozone levels have exceeded standards. These pollutants can snuff life out of cities
  • On top of that, carbon dioxide emissions from cars have added to the warming in and around the city
  • By 2021, car ridership will boom by an amazing 106 per cent. Bus ridership will be slowest to increase at 28 per cent. If people carrying capacity of roads drop, how will Delhi move more than 25 million person trips a day sustainably by 2021?

New Delhi, June 5, 2012: On this World Environment Day, Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) sounds a warning -- newer air pollution and mobility challenges are threatening Delhi. An ominous slide has already begun. While the air remains extremely dirty, severe energy impacts of growing motorisation are being felt as well. This summer, both particulate matter and ozone levels have exceeded standards almost on a daily basis. At the same time, the share of carbon dioxide emissions from personal vehicles (which warms up the air) is increasing rapidly.

Says Anumita Roychowdhury, CSE’s executive director-research and head of its air pollution team: “This is worrying, when the daily travel trips are expected to explode from 15 million today to 25.3 million in 2020. The travel practices of the teeming millions in 2021 will determine liveability of Delhi.”

She adds: “If no further action is taken to radically improve public transport, walking and cycling, then Delhi by 2021 will gasp for breath, pay unacceptable fuel costs and spew warming gases like never before.”

Is the city prepared to deal with that? Here is a report card from CSE.

  • The summer of 2012 is a grim reminder of severe and worsening multi-pollutant crisis: CSE analysis of the official air quality data shows that ozone, the new predator in town, has exceeded standards on all days in May and most days in April this year in areas like Civil Lines and Airport and on 80 per cent days in residential colonies like R K Puram. Ozone is a serious problem during summer when nitrogen oxides and hydrocarbons react under the influence of sunlight and high temperature to form ozone. This can have immediate health impact even at short duration exposures. The levels of tiny particles are also unacceptably high across the city.
  • Cars threaten to upset the carbon budget of Delhi: With Delhi hardselling the lifestyle of cars, carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from vehicles have exploded. It is shocking that cars and SUVs together contribute 45 per cent – close to half of the total -- CO2 load from all vehicles. This will be a stunning 52 per cent by 2021. Can Delhi or any city afford CO2 emissions from luxury uses? More than 90 per cent of the 1,200 vehicles sold every day in Delhi are personal vehicles. Cars with bigger engines that guzzle more fuel are increasing. The Government of India has failed to notify the fuel economy standards for cars even after four years of protracted negotiations with the auto industry.
  • Bus ridership – transport of the majority – sliding deplorably: Bus transport ridership has already dropped from 60 per cent in 2000 to 40 per cent now. With each bus trip lost to cars and two-wheelers, pollution and health costs will worsen. RITES forecasts that even after the full completion of the Metro rail project, the Metro ridership will still be at 20 per cent of the vehicular trips including non-motorised transport in 2021. The bulk of the public transport services will have to be bus-based. But bus ridership is expected to slide further to 36 per cent. How will Delhi meet the Delhi Master Plan target of 80 per cent public transport ridership by 2020?
  • Car trips will increase the maximum by 2020. If there is no improvement in public transport ridership, the number of personal vehicle trips will peak. By 2021, car ridership will increase the maximum -- 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. On a per person basis, CO2 emission from a car is six times higher than a bus.
  • More cars will reduce people-carrying capacity of Delhi roads: 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.
  • People-carrying capacity of major arterial roads are already severely impaired: Delhi might have the most extensive road network at 21 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. In Swarn Jayanti Marg in Dhaula Kuan, the share of cars is as much 68 per cent. On a city-wide basis, even after occupying the maximum road space, cars carry only 14 per cent of all trips, says the RITES survey of 2008.
  • Motorisation is happening amidst enormous inequity and poverty. Delhi needs affordable modes of transport. It is unacceptable that bus, walk and cycle are threatened in a city where 63 per cent of the urban population can spend less than Rs 2,654 per month or Rs 88 per day (as per NSSO data). Expensive transport system is unaffordable and harsh for many.
  • Will cars make Delhi run to a standstill by 2020? The ongoing urban emissions.info study on car running speed breaks the myth that driving a car is the best way to travel in Delhi and NCR. The pilot study in South Delhi, Noida, Greater Noida, Gurgaon and Dwarka has found that cars crawl at 4 kmph for almost 24 minutes in two hours of driving and waste 200,000 litre of fuel for one million cars plying daily. The study cautions against building new roads and flyovers. Delhi is so gridlocked and polluted when 48 per cent of Delhi households do not own any vehicle.
  • The overwhelming numbers of walkers and cyclists are answers for the future. Protect them: While the total number of daily car trips in Delhi is about 3 million, that of walking and cycling together is 8 million – 2.5 times more. Cycling trips at 2.8 million are almost equal to car trips, shows a 2008 study supported by the Union urban development ministry. Though the modal share of walking and cycling are high in smaller cities, in absolute numbers Delhi tops in daily cycling trips and is second to Mumbai in absolute number of walking trips. Even in car dominated roads like the Outer Ring Road – with very hostile traffic conditions – share of cycles is quite close to that of autos – 7 per cent and 9 per cent, respectively. It is astounding that in stretches like Uttam Nagar and Subhash Nagar on Shivaji Marg, and Jyoti Nagar East etc on Loni Road the numbers of cycle and cycle rickshaw outnumber cars. For instance, on the Subhash Nagar stretch, there are 18,000 non-motorised transport vs 4,000 cars.
  • Yet Delhi roads kill highest number of pedestrians: Unsafe roads will further compromise use of public transport. The National Crime records Bureau has exposed that Delhi records the highest pedestrian fatalities in road accidents in the country. Pedestrians and cyclists are easy victims to crashes and accidents. Policy disdain and neglect is responsible for this homicide of zero emitters who are part of the solution to the mobility crisis. If any other cause had led to so many deaths it would have been a state of emergency.
  • Motorisation aggravates health impact of air pollution: In Delhi, where more than 3,000 premature deaths occur every year due to air pollution related diseases, as estimated by the US-based Health Effects Institute, vehicular pollution makes it worse. The 2010 study by the researchers of the University of California, Berkeley, have found that commuters in Delhi breathe far more harmful particles while traveling compared to the ambient concentration. The PM2.5 concentrations inside vehicles can be 1.5 times higher than the surrounding background air; and ultra-fine levels are about 8.5 times higher. Also about 55 per cent -- more than half of Delhi’s population -- lives within 500 meters from arterial roads, and is directly affected by vehicular pollution. A 2010 study by the Kolkata-based Chittaranjan National Cancer Research Institute shows reduced lung function in 43.5 per cent school children in Delhi. A range of other diseases have now been linked with air pollution. What scourge awaits Delhi in 2021?
  • Pollution impacts of motorisation will worsen with expansion of diesel use and outdated technology: More than half of cars sold run on diesel that spew toxic and cancer causing emissions. The current Bharat Stage IV emissions standard in Delhi is inadequate to reduce the toxic risk from diesel.

What is needed? Take people out of congestion by improving public transport. Build city at human scale and not vehicle scale.

  • Bus, walk and cycle and improve last mile connectivity to escape pollution nightmare: People can be taken out of congestion with public transport measures. Delhi urgently needs to meet the target of 11000 buses and also improve bus system in terms of speed, efficiency, frequency, reliability and quality of the services at affordable prices. The Transport Demand Forecast of RITES in 2011 says that 73 per cent public transport ridership by 2020 is achievable with buses especially dedicated bus lanes. This will need supportive scaling up of walking and cycling infrastructure, para transit and feeder to Metro and increased capacity of Metro.
  • More roads for vehicles are not the answer: Any amount of road space can get quickly saturated without restraint measures on personal vehicle usage through taxes and parking-charges. Delhi has massively invested in building roads and flyovers over the past years – the city has over 46 flyovers but most of the roads exceed their carrying capacity. Vehicles use up huge amount of land for parking. In this situation, congestion is inevitable and so is its resultant pollution, oil guzzling and poor quality of city life.

Delhi can avoid the looming pollution and congestion disaster only if its transport planning hinge on sustainability, equity, and people centric approach. Give this a chance.

For more on this, please contact Souparno Banerjee at souparno@cseindia.org, or call him on 9910864339.