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Clearing the air pollution in Iran

Amin Mohseni-Cheraghlou's picture
Also available in: العربية | Français

The cold season is here and just like previous years in the past decades the residents of Tehran and several other large cities in Iran such as Tabriz, Mashhad, and Isfahan are suffering from high levels of air pollution. Just in the first week of February and in the last week of autumn, the schools in Tehran were shut down for almost the whole weeks because of dangerously high levels of air pollution and similar measures were also taken in Tabriz, Urmia, and Mashhad. In this short space I would like to talk about a potential and practical measure to address the crisis of air pollution in Tehran and other populated cities of Iran. But, fist some statistics: One would think that such drastic conditions would create enough impetus for the residents of these cities as well as the officials to come up with practical solutions long ago to improve the quality of air in large Iranian cities. But for the past three decades that has not been the case and to the contrary the overall behavior of the public and the policies put forth by the officials have contributed to the worsening of air pollution in these cities year after year. I will not get into why this has been the case. Instead, I would like to use the rest of the space I have to talk about a solution, which I think is the only efficient, fair, and effective measure that could address the crisis of air pollution in large Iranian cities.
The proposal is simple: implement a dynamic tolling system for using personal vehicles and channel those proceeds to expand and deepen the network of green mass transit system which operate on natural gas and electricity.
To be effective and fair, the toll amount should depend on a combination of the following factors:
  • The amount of pollution a car emits.
  • The traffic conditions.
  • The quality of air.
Given the available GPS and ICT technologies, implementing such a dynamic tolling system is feasible and relatively inexpensive. In turn, such a tolling system will reduce the number of cars on the roads, especially at times and locations the city is suffering from severe traffic congestions and/or high levels of air pollution. In turn, having less personal cars on the road has at least three main inter-related benefits:  
The proceeds of a dynamic tolling system would have to be channeled towards expanding the capacity, routes, and frequency of “green” public transportation such as busses operated on natural gas or battery and metro. This would ensure the sustainability and acceptability of a dynamic tolling system while also minimizing the impact on the public’s transit needs.
It is long overdue for relevant policymakers to let go of the decades-old inefficient and ineffective policy of “even-odd” license plate numbers and focus on figuring out the detail of how to implement a dynamic tolling system. Again, let’s not forget that the annual economic and human cost of air pollution in Iran is estimated to be at least $13 billion and about 20,000 premature deaths, respectively. There is much to be gained, not least the clearing of the air!

*This article was produced by an independent author and the views expressed are those of the author alone, and do not represent either the views or policies of the World Bank.

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