EghtesadOnline: Air pollution annually costs Tehran residents $2.6 billion, an official with the Department of Environment says.
According to Behzad Ashjaei, breathing toxic emissions costs people in Tehran $2.6 billion per year, which means that air pollution inflicts a loss of $300 on each resident of the capital, he told ISNA on Sunday.
The population of the capital city was over 8.6 million, according to the latest census statistics released by the government in 2016.
"The financial damage can be significantly curbed if people become more aware and careful about the technical conditions of their vehicles, regularly change their catalytic converters and use public transportation for daily commute," Financial Tribune reported.
Ashjaei said curbing the chronic traffic congestion and air pollution in Iranian metropolises is impossible unless the general public is motivated to give up on their passenger vehicles and use public means of transportation.
“Across the world, vehicle emission standards have become more stringent compared to two decades ago. This has greatly helped increase the technical quality of vehicles and consequently improved air quality, mostly in developed countries,” he said.
However, environmentalists and government officials still insist on the public reducing their car usage.
"The fewer the vehicles on the streets, the less will be the air pollution," he said.
Noting that air pollution in Iranian metropolises is mostly blamed on substandard domestic vehicles, Ashjaei said, "Technically speaking, factors such as topographic features of the land, climate conditions, driving habits of residents and fuel quality affect the severity of air pollution in cities."
Consistent with the issue of the poor quality vehicles, Masoud Tajrishi, a deputy head at DOE, told reporters that unfortunately, local automakers have been trying to sidestep regulations requiring them to install catalytic converters on their vehicles.
A catalytic converter is an exhaust emission control device that reduces gas emissions from an internal combustion engine into less but more toxic pollutants by catalyzing a redox reaction (an oxidation and a reduction reaction).
"The automakers are circumventing the relevant rules under the pretext of post-sanction limitations and import difficulties," he added.
Tajrishi said the solution is to tap into the huge potential and expertise of the local professionals and academics, not ignoring the laws.
He emphasized the necessity of boosting the local production of catalytic converters and said there are no excuses for the automakers' shortcomings.
Besides all the arguments over standards, experts believe that other factors like the public culture of vehicle use should be modified.
According to statistical studies conducted in Iran, four vehicles are plying the streets for every 10 people.
The figure is not noticeable compared to a developed country like Japan that boasts eight vehicles for every 10 individuals. However, residents of big cities in Iran have long been struggling with air pollution and nerve-racking traffic jams.
Experts, such as Ashjaei, believe that these problems have less to do with the number of vehicles and more with the public culture of using vehicles.
"Low-price fuel and inefficient public transport system encourage the public to use their cars for everyday commute," he said.
In developed countries, vehicles are sold at comparatively lower prices, but fuel is so expensive that people prefer to take a taxi or bus or use the subway.
By emulating this model, Ashjaei said, wrong policies in the field should be changed.
Urban managers say over 15 million people commute daily in the capital city of Tehran, many living in the satellite cities around the metropolis.
Ashjaei believes that if the wrong policies are modified and the public transportation system is expanded, air pollution and traffic congestion can be curbed in the long run.
Ashjaei further said inefficient public transportation systems in most Iranian cities need to be streamlined in order to motivate the public to give up on their cars for the daily commute.
Tehran’s transport fleet has about 6,000 buses, half of which is dilapidated and ready to be phased out. This is while the city needs at least 10,000 efficient buses to deliver decent services.
The capital's taxi fleet has about 80,000 vehicles, 17,000 of which have already outlived their usefulness and contribute to the worsening air pollution in the expanding city.
The under-construction subway system, however, is doing a commendable job in reducing the traffic burden, especially in the central parts of the city.
But this is only limited to the capital, as other Iranian metropolises are deprived of eco-friendly means of transportation, although some minor developments have been made in Isfahan and the shrine city of Mashhad in Khorasan Razavi Province.
While the urban infrastructures in megacities are have a long way to go, officials are cutting the use of personal cars and promoting the culture of using public transportation through social events and campaigns.
For instance, on the recent occasion of World Car-Free Day held internationally on Sept. 22 in some major cities, Iranian municipalities held public biking and mini-marathons to underscore the necessity of protecting the environment and promoting the culture of using public transportation, especially in major cities.
In addition to these events, municipalities offered discounts on the fares of public transportation, including buses and subway.
Still, an improvement in air pollution and traffic congestion cannot be expected unless such motivating initiatives and events are held more frequently to promote public transportation in major Iranian cities.