Is the odd-even system in Kathmandu working? Depends on who you ask

Sunny Mahat

Sunny Mahat

Is the odd-even system in Kathmandu working? Depends on who you ask

Based on multiple social media posts bashing this system and our discussions with those directly affected by it, we can say most people reckon the odd-even system is unnecessary, irrational, and even counterproductive

“Does anyone know if the odd/even rule is still applicable?”

“How strict is the traffic checking for the odd/even rule in Kathmandu?”
“The odd/even system has no meaning when everything else is open in the city.”

“There was no checking yesterday so I took out my bike today. But the traffic police caught me.   This is so unfair.”

“How long do you think the odd/even system will be enforced? We’re having so much problems with conveyance every day.”

If you are a regular social media user, you might have read one or more of these complaints. Ever since Nepal ended its first lockdown in the third week of July, a vehicle rationing system had been in force in Kathmandu valley, home to one-thirds of vehicles registered in the country. (There are roughly above 1.1 million vehicles in the valley).

The vehicles with odd or even numbers are allowed on the streets corresponding to the Nepali dates: odd numbers on odd dates and even numbers on even dates. The rule exempts vehicles used for emergency services and transport of food and essentials.

This odd/even system was one of many measures the government introduced for the management of Covid-19 pandemic in Nepal. And like most of its efforts, this rule has also not gone down well with common folks. Especially with the economy only just starting to come back to life, the consensus on the odd/even system is negative. After coming across multiple social media posts bashing this system and then talking to people directly affected by this rule, we can say most of them reckon this rule is unnecessary, irrational, and even counterproductive.

Odd rule

“Time for odd even rule to go… we cannot resume economy without proper mobility,” Rohit Marwadi, a young businessperson, recently posted on his Facebook page. In a further conversation with Marwadi, he revealed how the odd/even system has hampered his business and raised operating costs.

“I am into churpi production and sales. Constant travel around the city is a must for us,” Marwadi says. “As our mobility has become limited due to this odd/even rule, we’ve had transport troubles and our operating costs have soared.”

Marwadi has given his motorcycle to one of his staffs so that they have bikes with both odd and even plates. He himself uses ride-sharing services to go to work. His other staff have also been managing accordingly, he says.

“More than myself or my business, I am more worried about those forced to use public transport or pay comparatively more than usual fares for ride sharing services and taxis, which they might not be able to do,” Marwadi says.

Like Marwadi, most people are unaware of how the odd/even rule is helping fight Covid-19. It has reduced traffic to an extent in all three cities of Kathmandu valley, but its direct impact on infection-reduction is unproven. Nor has the government published any findings that show the effectiveness of the odd/even system in breaking the infection chain.

“Public compliance works more than any of these rules,” says infection prevention specialist Manish Basistha. “Even if there are 10 people out there, and all of them comply with safety measures, the disease-spread is minimal. But even if there are only five people and none of them are compliant, the risk increases disproportionally.” So the number of people going to work or out there in the public does not matter so long as they are compliant with healthcare protocols. In short, Basistha believes the odd/even system is neither effective nor necessary, especially with people openly flouting basic protocols on public transport and public places.

Tricked by your brain?

Even the spokesperson for the Metropolitan Traffic Police Department, SP Rameshwar Prasad Yadav, does not sound confident about the effectiveness of the vehicle rationing system in decreasing Covid-19 transmissions. “The basic idea is to reduce crowds in public areas. This is why the government wanted us to implement the odd/even system,” says Yadav as he tries to explain that the traffic police is only doing its part. “It is not our decision anyway. We only do as instructed.”

As for alleged irregularities in traffic checking for odd/even compliance, Yadav claims it is deliberate. The traffic police relocate their checkpoints frequently so that people do not find a way around them. Also, during rush hours, the checkpoints might be relocated to avoid congestions in busy areas. “It’s also human psychology. People who get caught think the checking is strict but people who don’t get caught think there’s no checking at all.”

But the fact is, Yadav clarifies, 44 units of traffic police are deployed at 137 different places in the Valley and around 1,000-1,200 vehicles are stopped for non-compliance every day. Some of them are let go with a warning while others are penalized, depending on the situation.

Asked if it is wise to force people who own vehicles into public transport, Yadav replies that the odd-even rule has been imposed for the greater good. “Only around 10 percent of people own vehicles in the valley. This system is for the rest,” Yadav says. “And since we are doing this to control infection, we also request the people to comply. Please do not go out unless absolutely necessary.”

No lockdown plans

Janak Raj Dahal, CDO of Kathmandu district, has the same request. The vehicle rationing system has been introduced to cut public mobility but it can work only if the public complies. “People need to share at least half the responsibility at a difficult time like this,” Dahal says. “We are not enforcing these measures just to harass the public. It is for their own good.”

On the effectiveness of the rationing system, Dahal claims that despite constant complains and negative public perception, the odd/even rule has helped manage traffic and control unnecessary movement in the valley. He is aware of the problems surrounding rule enforcement and the inconvenience for vehicle owners but the priority right now is Covid-19 management, he explains.

Based on our conversations with government officials, it is safe to assume that the vehicle rationing system will be in place for a few more months.

Another general concern—the lockdown—is also not on the cards, unlike what has been rumored, government officials explained. “We have not been informed about a third lockdown yet,” Dahal says. “There has as yet been no discussion on this in the District Disaster Management Committee, so the possibilities are slim.”

On contacting the Home Ministry about the vehicle rationing system and the rumored lockdown, joint secretary and ministry spokesperson Chakra Bahadur Budha dismissed the concerns, saying the rationing system was the CDO’s call and the home ministry had nothing to do with it. On the lockdown, Budha blamed the media for spreading rumors and creating unnecessary panic.