Delhi and clean traffic

Richshaw queue

I had only been in India once before, in Hyderabad in the south. I remembered there being a big problem with traffic pollution – old, poorly maintained vehicles belching lots of smoke.

After arrival in Delhi a couple of weeks back, it took me a little while to notice the absence of this problem there. I started to realise that however battered the buses or rickshaws looked, there were no clouds of smoke coming out of them. And where the general atmosphere was not exactly clear, there being a constant haze of pollution, it was not considerably worse when near busy roads.

It was one of my colleagues who noticed the key to the absence – he asked me what “CNG” meant on the back of a rickshaw. It seems that Delhi has revolutionised its transport pollution problem with a wholesale switch to compressed natural gas fuel for many vehicles.

It is an interesting example of how some things are best regulated by governments rather than markets – There’s no way that happened without some coercion.

I wonder if they can do something about another problem that still exists on Indian roads – Indian main roads are an insane competition between drivers trying to drive cars and trucks as fast as possible and people, cyclists, bullock carts etc on the same roads travelling at very slow speeds. Add in some terrible road surfaces, free-ranging cows and some drivers who seem to be wholly reliant on the small shrines on their dashboard for their safety and you have an incredibly dangerous, time/energy-consuming transport network. From Dehra Dun to Delhi, a trip of around 200km, we needed about 10 hours including lunch and a tea stop!

The only positive thing to note is that, while we saw an incredible number of near accidents, especially with one of our bus drivers who appeared to be completely psychopathic, Indian road-user self-preservation is a wonderfully evolved system and we only saw one accident happen, where a car skidded into an ox-driven sugar cane cart. We did see the fresh remains of quite a few others though.

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