Air Quality improvement needs transformative actions

Norway achieved its targets for automotive emissions three years early. The Scandinavian country had in 2012 set a target to limit transportation related emissions to 85 grams per kilometer by the year 2020. It achieved this target in 2017. The target was considered by many as overly ambitious becausethe target for the EU was 10 g/Km higher, itself considered a steep ask. The emission level achieved by Norway for the month of December 2017 was 74g/km, well within the target of 85 g/km. All this was possible reportedly due to a big surge in the sales of electric vehicles. During 2017, electric cars accounted for 25 percent of Norway’s total car sales. This was driven by attractive incentives offered by the Government in the form of a total waiver of Value Added Tax on such electric cars.

Closer home, a few days ago the Maharashtra Cabinet cleared an electric vehicle policy which incentivizes both buyers of electric cars as well as manufacturers setting up charging points in the State. The electric vehicle push seems to have gathered momentum as can also be seen from the reported unveiling of electric vehicles by several manufacturers at the Auto Expo which opened in Noida early this month. The Norway example serves to illustrate the huge improvements that are possible in city air quality with more electric vehicles on the road. It also highlights the very positive role of government support, while often expensive, for such a programme for cleaning city air.

The issue of extremely poor ambient air quality and the resultant health hazards are high on the priority list in all our cities. Vehicular emission is a significant contributor to the problem and, with rapidly growing numbers, this will only be enhanced. Thus, in our opinion, we need transformational interventions and not incremental tinkering to address the

problem. Incentives for electric vehicles and infrastructure as in above cases are likely to enable a rapid transition to a more benign transportation ecosystem in our cities. Of course there are other concerns; about

the charging infrastructure and after sales service support for example. But we cannot let these tactical constraints come in the way of our strategic pursuits. Solutions must be found including the money for incentives.

Any lasting solution to the urban mobility conundrum-that includes congestion apart from pollution-will be incomplete without transformational measures to promote mass public transport systems. The approach will need to include making public transport, say buses, more affordable and attractive than personal two-wheelers and cars. This seems easier said than done. ULB run public bus services are strained for finances and reeling under losses. Any attempt to raise fares is met with declining ridership. This not only defeats the purpose of revenue generation but also results in more private vehicles

on the road, higher emissions and greater congestion. Revenue raising must happen without hiking fares. A cess on every litre of transportation fuel and enhanced parking fees for example could be used to fund the public transport operations. Alongside, some of the preferred roads could be reserved for public transport buses to discourage private vehicles. One could think of other measures, but these are required urgently.

In this issue of Urban Update, we carry an interview with Union Environment Minister Dr. Harsh Vardhan, where he speaks on

air quality in our cities and the ministry’s ongoing actions.

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