Since the late 1990s, Gurgaon, on the periphery of New Delhi, has become the preferred destination for scores of multinational corporations looking to set up new offices. They employ hundreds of thousands of people, a great many of whom drive to work. As a result, according to police estimates, there are about 12 lakh vehicles on Gurgaon's streets for most of the work day. Congestion is intense and the air quality is dire.

On Tuesday, however, things were a little different. There were 10,000 fewer cars on the roads and the air in the Cyber City area had 21% less PM2.5, a pollutant emitted by vehicles.

This was the result of the city police's Car Free Day initiative, which aimed to encourage residents and visitors to use public transport. Four stretches were selected for the first edition of the event.  To help them make that decision, public parking for vehicles was banned for the day.

The city’s Rapid Metro ran 41 extra trains to carry the extra load, while shuttle bus services plied from the metro stations to provide end-to-end connectivity. With this event, Gurgaon aimed to show other Indian cities that burgeoning vehicular growth could indeed be controlled.


Delhi quickly followed the example, announcing that October 22 would be observed as the capital’s first Car Free Day. It aims to hold such an event every month. To begin with, though, restrictions will be observed only on a single stretch, from the Red Fort to India Gate.

Despite the evident benefits, the Gurgaon plan wasn't without its problems. Even as the city’s police commissioner and many professionals working at MNCs ditched their cars and took to cycling, the city still experienced traffic snarls at some places.




Moreover, regular commuters also complained that the effort wouldn't be sustainable unless Gurgaon built a functional public transport system.

Nowhere to go

Not everyone is convinced that car-free day is such a good idea just yet.

“These initiatives are good at building public awareness and they propel people to think about the effects of their vehicles on the roads and on the environment,” said Anumita Roychowdhury, Executive Director at Centre for Science and Environment. But, she said, the government needs to think of long-term solutions as well.

“There’s a dire need to integrate public transport systems in our cities,” she said. “The future strategies will require more thought into who’s getting preference on the roads. We need to incentivise public transport users by allowing special lanes for buses, cyclists and pedestrians.”

If cars have to be taken off the roads then commuters must be provided with convenient alternatives, she said. “The authorities should think about limiting parking space on certain days, increasing charges and imposing high fines on offenders who break traffic rules,” she added.

This was echoed by all transportation experts to whom Scroll spoke to.

Just a gimmick?

“These are all tamasha days,” said Sudhir Badami, a transportation analyst in Mumbai. “The concept is fine but the practicality is not in place here. This is good for photoshoots but we are missing out on planning long-term solutions to the problem of traffic.”

Badami believes that providing a boost to public buses is one of the surest way to ease congestion on the roads and discourage cars. He firmly supporters the creation of Bus Rapid Transit systems.

“Metros can only run in major areas of the city,” Badami said. “The problem of traffic needs to be solved from the interiors where only buses are able to reach effectively. If there’s a facility to park cars at Bus Rapid Transit networks, then many car owners would prefer commuting by buses to their offices on the other side of the city because buses will automatically be running faster than cars on the road.”

The cost of alternatives must also be considered before barring cars from the road, he said.

“You ask people to take metro but that’s simply not affordable for the average citizen who earns hand-to-mouth,” he said. “Buses are cheaper and can carry up to 250 people at a time. If there’s enough public information about the timings of buses and an end-to-end connectivity, popularity of cars will fall.”

While integrating public transport systems sounds like a no-brainer, analysts also have quicker solutions in mind that could effectively boost ridership in public transport systems.

“The authorities can try to install make-shift corridors for buses to ply rapidly on busy roads during peak hours,” said Roychowdhury from the Center for Science and Environment. “Information Technology can also be used effectively to disseminate information about traffic and the means of public transport available to commuters at different times of the day.”

She concluded, “Ultimately, road space will have to be rationed according to public benefit priorities if we are to reach anywhere.”