Public Transport Problems and Tehran’s All-Pervasive Smog
EghtesadOnline: The inefficient public transportation network in the Iranian capital has been repeatedly blamed for exacerbating Tehran’s suffocating air pollution, which recently hit the emergency level.
The worsening air quality has forced schools and universities to shut down and sent hundreds of people to medical emergency rooms.
The poor quality of public transportation services is one of the factors frequently blamed by experts for the deteriorating air pollution.
The city’s transport system comprises taxis, buses and the subway network, the first two of which are mostly dilapidated as both fleets’ average age is over 10 years, Financial Tribune reported.
Besides, the more efficient subway system is still under construction and the operating lines are usually overcrowded, making subway commute a nightmare, especially during the rush hours.
Still many prefer the train congestion over choking from toxic air in some old four-wheelers.
Naimeh, a school teacher who suffers from a respiratory disease, said she has ended up with dizziness and faints after being overwhelmed by the squeezing crowd.
"Yet, with my special health condition and the terrible air pollution out there, I have no choice," she said.
Roya, another citizen from west Tehran, said the area lacks proper bus services and the fulfillment of officials’ promise of expanding the subway network will take decades.
Criticizing officials for their irresponsibility and inefficiency, she said, "They keep telling the media that cabbies are prohibited from raising taxi fares. This is while at least where I live, all the taxi drivers, without an exception, overcharge passengers by at least 50% under the pretext of exorbitant expenses."
Public dissatisfaction is not limited to the citizens and even drivers of public vehicles have a lot to say.
In November, the Iranian government tripled fuel prices overnight. The decision led to widespread protests throughout Iran. While the officialdom claims that the 200% hike in gas prices would not affect other markets and services, the cost of living has gone through the roof in Iran with the prices of every commodity and staple at least tripling.
There is no end in sight for the plight of Iranians, as they grapple with economic headwinds caused by US sanctions to indolent policymakers that have no solution for the country’s woes.
Oil Minister Bijan Namdar Zanganeh told the media on Tuesday that the impact of fuel quality on air pollution is trivial, "which has also been verified by the experts of the Department of Environment".
He added that high-quality gasoline is supplied in Iranian metropolises.
“The air pollution has other reasons,” Zanganeh stressed.
He recommended converting vehicles to CNG-hybrids as a workable solution to help car owners reduce both their expenses and toxic emissions.
Elham Eftekhari, a member of Tehran City Council, addressed a meeting on Sunday and said failed strategies like closing schools cannot remedy the ailing situation.
Last autumn, officials took credit for traffic schemes implemented in the capital, saying that their tactfulness resulted in a satisfying air quality. But they ignored the fact that if people in Tehran were able to breathe, it was thanks to the helping hand of Mother Nature.
“Everyone with eyes can see how poorly the acclaimed traffic scheme has fared. Even the mayor is praying for wind to sweep away the smog,” the councilor added.
Eftekhari noted that 14 organizations are in charge of “maintaining air quality” in the capital city, only one of which is Tehran Municipality.
Echoing the same sentiments, Afshin Habibzadeh, a deputy head of the city council, said studies have revealed that the density of sulfur in the air has had a tenfold jump compared to the previous year and this illustrates that the industrial units operating in the capital are using mazut, a heavy and low-quality fuel.
"This issue, along with substandard vehicles made by local automakers, should be addressed by the Industries Ministry," Habibzadeh said.
Pointing to the untapped potential of Tehran’s subway system, Habibzadeh said by realizing its full capacity, the metro can move eight million passengers instead of two million.
"The completion of the subway requires 3,000 wagons [each train consists of eight wagons] which together with other equipment, requires a budget of 1 quadrillion rials [$7.7 trillion]," he said
Morteza Alviri, the chairman of the High Council of Provinces, emphasized that managing urban commutation and accelerating the completion of subway network can improve the air quality of Tehran.
He said that in the 1980s, a comprehensive plan was designed by Tehran City Council with a 10-year perspective to combat the city’s air pollution.
"Over 35 promising projects were designed, but lack of budget nipped the plans in the bud," Alviri said.
Other experts talk of converting the whole transportation network into CNG or electric-powered systems to ensure that the carbon footprint of urbanization will gradually be erased.
But pessimists believe all these solutions are too luxurious for a country facing a whole array of crushing US sanctions.
Urban managers believe that the severe trade embargo has hampered the expansion of Iran’s public transportation fleet. Plans to purchase new buses and add more trains to the city's subway network have ground to a halt.
In spite of these failures, the mayor still insists on populist, face-saving moves like conducting bike riding campaigns and taking the subway to work, in hopes of encouraging the public to let go of their convenient private cars and use the ailing pubic services to commute.
Speaking at a meeting in Tehran Chamber of Commerce on Tuesday, Tehran Mayor Pirouz Hanachi said TM is changing focus from urban construction to developing the public transport system.
"With air pollution worsening in the metropolis, we cannot resort to one or two solutions, but all possible measures should be taken simultaneously," he said.
He said employing stricter traffic rules, phasing out dilapidated vehicles, adding electric bikes to transport options, monitoring the industrial sector, completing the subway network and renovating the public transportation fleet are all necessary for Tehran.
Over the past few decades, mayor after mayor has failed to address the issues effectively, making excuses for their inefficiency.