Chairperson, Safe & Sustainable Travel Nepal (SSTN)
With increase of corona virus cases and chance of community transmission; government decides to reimpose odd and even number system effective from Shrawan 22, 2077 on the districts with more than 200 cases. Transportation mode are the considered as the transmitter of the virus and need to be cautious while using the various modes and means of transportation. Either we use vehicles or walk for any purpose; there is the chance of contact with the infected people. The government has put forth the odd-even intervention as one of the strategy to minimize transmission with the assumption that less people will travel, which means less people at work, market or any place; and thus will reduce the chance of transmission compared to that of full-fledged traffic flow. But will this really work in reality?
Employees need to reach to their work place no matter odd and even vehicle system exists or not. So, people are forced to leave their private vehicles at home in alternative day, and need to reach their destination either through walking, cycling, or using public transportation. This will even increase the risk of transmission unless other supporting action are being taken. People may walk up to 2-2.5 km, but not more. The culture of cycling is not common except from few cities and villages in terai part of the country. This leaves public transportation as the only available mode to travel; but can the added demand be addressed by public transportation maintaining the specified physical distancing?
The answer is a simple, NO and NO.
Odd and Even in all kind of vehicles is not the solution; at least the restriction should not be applicable to public transport. With odd and even vehicle system, around half of the vehicles will not be allowed to be in operation. However, no restriction is applied in the demand side as none of the organization are closed, those people need to rely on public transportation for the trip. This will increase the demand of public transportation service but if public transport vehicles are also needed to follow the restriction; the risks will increase many folds. Public vehicles will be even more crowded and physical distancing will be merely a joke. Rather the government should increase the number of public vehicles (at least discourage small vehicles) so that people can maintain physical distance and do not have to board on the crowded vehicles. The buses can be increased with the support of schools and colleges that operate their own buses to transport their students. Use of public transportation had a risk that corona infected user cannot be traced at current scenario.
Ride sharing will also likely to be another outcome of the system. Two staff working together but having vehicles with odd and even number plate or two neighbors having workstation at around same location, will try to share the vehicles. If the used mode of travel is car, the physical distancing will be easily maintained, but if the used mode is motorcycle, there will be physical contact and the transmission will be unavoidable of either of them is infected by corona virus . Only one person per motorcycle received negative slash back with the reasoning that corona will not be transmitted among family members just by riding same bike. However, Odd-even restriction will force people outside family to share the ride which is not desirable.
We are talking about 2 m clearance between passenger, which is not possible in case of tempos or auto. The decision regarding the operation of tempo is a critical one, operating them will increases the chance of transmission due to compact seating arrangement. There is high chance of being in contact with the other passenger; but at the same time the operation is linked with economic aspects of the driver and some being environmentally friendly means of transport.
Unless the organizations (private and government) think to lower down the human resources at work place, use online work system- Work from Home (WFH) to the extent possible and allow to travel only for very important meeting/visits with social distancing and other preventive practices, the chance of transmitting virus will increase. It should also be back up with strict restriction on social gathering, enforcement of physical distancing in public transportation, disinfection of vehicle before and after usage. Thus, implementation of odd and even vehicle system would not be as effective strategy as envisioned unless it is strongly tied up with all other supporting strategies.
(Note: The views expressed in this article are strictly personal)