Colombo should learn from mistakes of Delhi, avoid pro-car policies

* Colombo suffers from diesel  emissions
*Lower diesel prices; a perverse  subsidy for the rich

By Ifham Nizam

A top regional scientist says Sri Lanka should avoid excessive importation of cars as Colombo was facing detrimental health and environmental conditions.

New Delhi based Centre for Science and Environment Research and Advocacy Director Anumita Roychowdhury says South Asian cities have the chance to grow differently and avert the increasing air pollution crisis that produce dangerous chemicals by encouraging bus use –public transport- non motorized transport and walking.

Speaking at a media workshop titled `The Challenges of Air Quality and Mobility Management in South Asian Cities’ yesterday in Colombo, she said that governments must not encourage pro car policies and lax emissions standards roadmap.

She stressed that Colombo must not repeat Delhi’s mistakes. According to her Delhi has not been able to solve its problem of pollution and congestion by building more roads and flyovers for cars.

"The city has more than 21 per cent of its geographical area under road space, yet roads are totally gridlocked. Peak hour traffic has slumped to below 15km/hour. Cars and two wheelers in Delhi occupy 90 per cent of the road space but meet less than 20 per cent of the travel demand. More roads, therefore no answer," she added.

Roychowdhury believes both Colombo and Delhi need second generation action. Leapfrog in vehicle technology and fuel quality, fuel economy, fuel economy regulations, scaling up of public transport, integrated multi model transport options and car restraints and walking are the key recommendations.

She says recent studies indicate that nearly Rs. 22 billion to health damage costs owing to auto diesel emissions in Colombo. Diesel vehicles are responsible for 96 to 89 per cent of sulphur dioxide and dangerous air particulates –PM 10 from the transport sector, she added.

Roychowdhury says Government s in South Asia earn much less from excise on diesel used by cars, compared to petrol. While revenue losses per litre of diesel will be compounded with the increase in diesel car sales, diesel car owners will be laughing their way to the car showrooms, given lower diesel prices. She added: "This perverse subsidy to the rich comes at an enormous cost to public health."

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