Fifteen years before Delhi came up with its ‘odd-even’ licence plate scheme to cut traffic congestion, Mumbai had its own plan to reduce traffic and air pollution. But while Delhi’s scheme is now the subject of debates, Mumbai’s lays forgotten, gathering dust in official records. Had it been implemented, it would have cut the number of vehicles on the city’s roads by at least 20%, according to the government’s own estimates.
Called the ‘traffic restraint scheme’ (TRS), the scheme was simple and, some say, more liberal than the one Delhi is mulling. Vehicles would remain off the roads for one a day week depending on the last number of their licence plate. For instance, private vehicles whose plates ended in 1 or 2 would have to stay off the roads on Mondays, 3 and 4 on Tuesdays, and so on. On Saturdays and Sundays, there would be no restrictions.
Part of the VM Lal committee report (Lal was then state transport commissioner), the scheme was the outcome of five months’ work by state, the police and civil society. One of its major recommendations, that public transport vehicles be powered by CNG and not diesel, was accepted and implemented. However, the TRS proposal remained on paper.
The TRS scheme was different in many ways from the one that Delhi is considering. For one, it only applied to the island city. Secondly, the restrictions would be enforced only between 9am and 5pm. The report was submitted to the Bombay high court, which had ordered the formation of the committee as part of its response to a public interest litigation on air pollution. However, the case drags on, while subsequent state governments show little willingness to adopt such a bold scheme.
Activist Meher Rafat, who represented Clean Air, which is now called ‘NAGAR’, said, “Our mantra was simple when creating the report: congestion causes pollution. This scheme was to ensure that the problem didn’t escalate in Mumbai as it has in Delhi.”
According to Dr PS Pasricha, retired director general of police, who was also on the panel as joint commissioner of police (traffic), the scheme could have cut traffic by 20%. “This figure was realistic. Our aim was to implement the scheme for two years and strengthen public transport in the meantime. Next, we would have gone on to target a 50% reduction,” he said. Despite being in favour of planned congestion reduction, Pasricha believes that the Delhi scheme won’t work because its target is unrealistic.