Breathless in Bombay

…is not just the name of a terrific volume of short stories by Murzban Shroff (mandatory reading if you come here): it is a condition that most residents here deal with daily.  But the government is actually beginning to do something about it, which should be highly embarrassing to their US counterparts.

This is a city full of taxicabs — 55,000 of them.  Municipal regulations mandate that every cab use CNG fuel, and as far as I can tell, the taxis actually abide by it.  (The buses still use diesel, which is typically Indian: make the private sector do something that the public sector doesn’t have to do.).  CORRECTION: See update below.

Which raises a question: if they can do this is Bombay, is there any reason why every taxicab in the United States — and in fact every bus — shouldn’t be on CNG?  The health and pollution benefits would be enormous: as my UCLA colleague Arthur Winer has demonstrated, children’s exposure just from riding diesel buses to school has potentially devastating health impacts.  And no, it’s no excuse to say it would be too expensive: 85% of the Indian population lives on less than $2 a day.  If they can do it with taxis, we should be able to do even more.

Americans like to tell other countries what to do.  Maybe we can learn from other countries once in a while.

UPDATE:  After investigating it further, I have learned that all the public buses are also running on CNG (some of the private ones do not).  So there is something else that the Indians have on us.

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Reader Comments

2 Replies to “Breathless in Bombay”

  1. Interesting post, Jonathan. Many U.S. government fleets are being converted to CNG, while CNG in private vehicles is very rare here (I take this to be the reverse of India’s situation). But even in the public sector, one of the main problems is that we allow old vehicles to stay on the road too long. So while new buses are generally cleaner and many run on natural gas, the old ones remain on the road even though we know they’re unsafe.

    Unfortunately, the CNG market in this country for non-governmental fleet vehicles has been hampered by a lack of fueling infrastructure (see, e.g., http://www.gearlog.com/2008/05/whatever_happened_to_compresse.php).
    Honda’s modest attempt to create a business in home-fueled CNG vehicles- through compression of natural gas from people’s home gas lines – tanked (pardon the pun) earlier this year: http://www.gearlog.com/2009/04/honda_deep-sixes_natural_gas_f.php. Although a new company is attempting to revive that business (see http://www.autobloggreen.com/2009/05/02/hondas-fuelmaker-finds-a-new-home/), its future doesn’t look too hopeful right now.

    Another point worth noting is that although CNG offers major health benefits over gasoline and diesel as a vehicular fuel, its greenhouse gas emissions aren’t much of an improvement. CNG is far better than those other fuels, but it won’t solve the climate change problem.

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About Jonathan

Jonathan Zasloff

Jonathan Zasloff teaches Torts, Land Use, Environmental Law, Comparative Urban Planning Law, Legal History, and Public Policy Clinic – Land Use, the Environment and Loc…

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