What is Car Free Day?
Daily commuters between Delhi and Gurgaon understand the real pains of office hour vehicular rush and traffic congestion. People living in Gurgaon themselves are well aware of the long distances, the horrific traffic situation, and the need to own and drive private cars to get around. Well, this situation is quite similar to the growing automobile population in any major metropolitan city in the country. Gurgaon, and Delhi, may well be worst case scenarios, if we consider the pollution caused by burgeoning number of cars and automobiles. But the rest of the urban regions are soon headed this way too. Very often civic bodies, government organizations, and the people of metros have voiced the need to take drastic measures to curtail the use of cars. But nothing much seems to have been done. Till now. Countries around the world commemorate September 22 as Car Free Day – a day when car owners voluntarily decide to use other means of public transportation and give up on their cars to save fuel and to curb pollution. This year Gurgaon also decided to celebrate Car Free Day. Car Free Day in Gurgaon On Tuesday, 22 September, 2015, Gurgaon celebrated its first ever Car Free Day. While the occasion can by no means be called a resounding success, it was certainly a positive start to an environment and population friendly initiative. The younger generation seemed quite taken up with the Car Free initiative. Many office goers chose to walk, ride a bicycle, take the metro or bus to work on that day. The police plans to tie up with an app-based bus service to provide shuttle services from metro stations. Bicycles may also soon be available on hire at many places in the city – an initiative to follow up on the good work sparked off by the drive. Tuesdays to Combat Pollution To keep up with the rising vehicular population, the terrible pollution, and the disinclination shown by people living and working in Gurgaon to use public transport, the Gurgaon police decided that one Car Free Day a year is far from adequate. Hence, Tuesdays of every week shall be observed as Car Free Days. The Gurgaon Municipal Corporation and Haryana Urban Development Authority (HUDA) have also agreed to extend all possible help in the implementation of Car Free Tuesdays in the city. The five zones in the city that shall remain car free from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Tuesdays are – DLF Cyber City, Electronic City in Udyog Vihar, Golf Course Road, DLF Cyber Hub, and the road between Huda City Centre Metro station and Subhash Chowk. Challenges and Alternative Arrangements The Traffic Police of Gurgaon has been working hard to secure alternative arrangements for commuters and the people of Gurgaon on Tuesdays. In a meeting with the autorickshaw union, it has been agreed upon that those using this transport will not be overcharged by the drivers. Auto drivers have been asked to remain in the vicinity of metro stations, making them more accessible to those using the train service. More signage shall also be put up to accommodate pedestrians and cyclists. Tie ups with corporates shall be undertaken to promote walking/cycling to work. One of the greatest challenges faced by the police in this drive is the creation of awareness. The great distances and lack of easy public transport in Gurgaon make fool-proof implementation of Car Free Tuesdays a major challenge. Why Car Free Day? Delhi and Gurgaon, part of the National Capital Region (NCR) are among the most polluted places in the whole world. In Delhi, an air pollution study has found the PM 2.5 (particulate matter) levels to be about 13 times the acceptable safe standards across the nation. Gurgaon is not far behind either. The city has about 232 two wheelers and cars per 1000 inhabitants. The number of vehicles plying to and from Gurgaon (work commute etc.) is also exceptionally high. Air pollution is now a major concern for people living and working in Delhi and Gurgaon. Unless initiatives are taken to reduce the number of vehicles in use, these cities could soon be facing an alarming health hazard. Can Gurgaon Make it Happen? The first Car Free Day observed by Gurgaon on September 22 was quite a strained affair. In real terms, however, it is only the beginning of the city’s campaign against traffic congestions and pollution, apart from being a green-friendly effort by the citizens. According to statistics from the Gurgaon Traffic Police Department, over 3 lakh people are employed in the city’s growing corporate sector offices. In the five zones that are to remain Car Free, some 65,000 cars are estimated to travel each day. Decongesting these five zones on Tuesday, a weekday, is expected to make a huge difference in easing the traffic situation. The exercise is no doubt an uphill task but it is the combination of responsible citizens and effective policing that can make it happen. Will Other Cities of India Follow? Hyderabad, another major IT/ITES hub in the country, has been working on decongestion and promoting use of car pools, cycles, and public transport since August 2015. By September 22 this year, it is estimated that there are about 10,000 cars less on the streets. Car Free Day was a major hit in Hyderabad. Following Gurgaon’s footsteps, Delhi, the national capital declared October 22 as Car Free Day. Given the volume of cars on Delhi streets, however, the stretch between Red Fort and India Gate was the only zone kept car free. Delhi is working towards declaring the 22nd of every month ‘car free day’. Bangalore, too, took some interest in the Car Free Day initiative. HSR Layout was cleared of all cars and vehicular traffic for a day and more such drives may be in the pipeline. Most Indian metropolitan tracts may benefit from emulating Gurgaon’s smart move. The savings in terms of fuel and time, and the reduced pollution should be adequate motivation.