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Saturday, Aug 17, 2019

Has India joined the war against car ownership?

In India, it will be tougher to restrict car ownership but regulations discouraging vehicles with internal combustion engines and squeeze on free parking will make it tougher to own cars.

mumbai Updated: Jul 29, 2019 07:04 IST
Mumbai has restricted free parking on public places and expensive parking charges can make us look at cars in the same way as the West — an expensive inconvenience.
Mumbai has restricted free parking on public places and expensive parking charges can make us look at cars in the same way as the West — an expensive inconvenience.(PTI)
         

The road transport ministry is planning to hike vehicle registration fees several-fold for various types of vehicles. The draft of the notification, aimed at speeding the shift to less-polluting electric vehicles, proposes to increase registration fees for cars to ₹5,000 from ₹600 and for two-wheelers to ₹1,000 — a 20-fold rise. With the government planning another notification, proposing to exempt electric vehicles from such fees, the death of the internal combustion engine is imminent.

Non-electric vehicles using internal combustion engines are mobile power-generating factories releasing emissions such as carbon monoxide and nitrogen oxides (NOx). Studies show that vehicle emissions damage the respiratory system, aggravating conditions like asthma.

Mumbai, where vehicle ownership is soaring — the number of diesel vehicles rose to 4,08,453 in 2017 from 2,65,066 in 2013 — pollution is already a concern. A study by Greenpeace India, which used data from the Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Gas, found that diesel consumption increased to 3.83 lakh metric tons (MT) in 2016 from 2.86 lakh MT in 2013 in the island city — a rise of 34% and an annual increase of 12%.

The study warned that the trend will intensify the rise in particulate matter (PM), which includes minute air-borne pollutants that can get lodged in the respiratory system.

This newspaper has reported that levels of PM10 — suspended pollutants less than 10 microns in size — were at an all-time high in Mumbai, and transport accounted for 10% of the emissions.

Mumbai recorded 78 microgrammes per cubic metre (µg/m3) of NOx in 2016 and 83 µg/m3 in 2017 as against the annual safe limit of 40 µg/m3. For the more deadly PM2.5, transport contributed 21% of the emissions, according to the System of Air Quality Weather Forecasting and Research. Data from the Maharashtra Pollution Control Board shows that average NOx levels, emitted mostly from vehicles, was above safe limits. Diesel, because it is less refined, is more polluting than petrol. Data from the Maharashtra Motor Vehicles Department show a 39% rise for petrol vehicles, 63% for liquid petroleum gas, and only 21% for CNG.

The West has already sounded the death knell for car ownership. The US, where the automobile ushered in a mobility revolution, is ending its century-old love affair with cars.

One report had predicted that by 2010 a majority of Americans will not be car owners, and instead rely on electric or autonomous vehicles owned by fleet operators. The American Census Bureau has reported that 9.1% of households didn’t have a car in 2015, compared to 8.9% in 2010, a small change but a trend experts believe will intensify; the indicators are everywhere.

Automobile sales in the U.S declined this year with only 26% of 16-year-olds earning a driving licence in 2017, compared to nearly 50% of that age group four decades ago. In the UK, the annual number of 17-year-olds taking driving tests has fallen by 28% in the past decade.

Global car sales have fallen to 94.2 million in 2018, one million fewer than in 2017. One study estimated that an average driver logs less than 10,000 miles a year and an average car is used for just over an hour a day, making it an expensive inconvenience.

Two dozen European cities will ban diesel cars over the next decade, including 13 cities that will keep cars with internal combustion off roads. In India, however, car ownership, which is seen as a status symbol, especially among the newly-emerging middle class, is yet to peak.

In India, it will be tougher to restrict car ownership but regulations discouraging vehicles with internal combustion engines and squeeze on free parking will make it tougher to own cars.

For instance, Mumbai has restricted free parking on public places and expensive parking charges can make us look at cars in the same way as the West — an expensive inconvenience.

First Published: Jul 29, 2019 07:04 IST

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