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Global Concerns, Local Impact: Automobile Issues in London, Delhi and Beijing

Beijing air pollution

Beijing air pollution

Pollution and congestion in Delhi, London and Beijing may have an impact on worldwide automobile demand and therefore production right here in Detroit.

London has been limiting congestion in its center district for several years, charging people a hefty £11.50 per day (the equivalent of $16.31) to drive in the central district.

As it is, London has very low car ownership. Its population of 8 million people owns 2.6 million cars, with 70% of households in London not owning a car. In addition, the average age of obtaining a license has been inching up. At this point, less than 30% of London residents between the age of 17 and 20 have a driver’s license.

Taxi usage, shared car services and schemes, Uber usage and of course the London tube all provide alternatives to private cars.

Delhi

India’s pollution problem is actually greater than China’s. Of the 20 cities in the world plagued with the highest air pollution, 13 of them are Indian cities.

Delhi is often cited as the world’s most polluted city and their most polluted days are typically in the winter, as residents light fires to hear their homes.

Just this past week, Delhi enacted “even and odd” days; one could only drive a car with an even numbered license plate on even days and vice versa. Schools were also closed, so that the empty school buses could be used to supplement the increased need for public transportation. In addition, trash burning was abolished. Large diesel vehicles were also prohibited from entering the city center.

There are mixed reports as to the success of the partial car bans. Some authorities say that it reduced air pollution by 13%; others say its ameliorative effect was as high as 50%. What is certain is there was a reduction.

Not all drivers were compelled to follow the ban: women drivers, high level politicians and judges were exempt. In addition, motorcycle riders continued to drive apace. Motorcycles far outnumber cars in Delhi, although their air pollution output is smaller as well.

India’s testing season in its schools is in March. There will be much political pressure to keep schools open and allow everybody to get to school as they approach testing days.

Indian authorities and municipal leaders are beginning to investigate investing in public transportation infrastructure and utilizing reduced traffic days in the future.

Beijing

Beijing is another of the most polluted cities on the planet. This fall, following a week of incredibly heavy fog, Chinese authorities closed schools and resorted to every other day usage of cars. They enacted “even and odd” days,  just like Delhi did, where driving privileges were linked to the final number on your license plate. Beijing may enact more of these days. There is also talk of increasing bus usage or even creating other public transportation infrastructure.

Cars are just part of the Chinese air pollution problems. Their coal generated electricity is also concerned a rather “dirty” energy source.

Despite the one-way nature of information in the Chinese government, there appears to be a growing awareness of the dangers of air pollution among the middle class. They are also receiving information from expatriates in the country as well as non-Chinese business people and tourists, who complain bitterly about the pollution when visiting. Some American and European companies report that their employees are refusing to bring their children to China for work assignments there, due to health considerations of the regularly high air pollution.

The complexities of pollution and congestion may change buying habits and usage habits throughout the world, which could reverberate back in Detroit.