EghtesadOnline: The early reopening of schools this year on Saturday amid the spread of the novel coronavirus has brought with it heavy traffic jams in the capital city of Tehran.
According to Tehran Police Chief Brigadier General Hossein Rahimi, the city has witnessed heavier traffic jams in the rush hours since Saturday, as schools reopen earlier than in other years.
Schools normally reopen on Sept. 22, but with Covid-19 spreading nationwide, the government has opted for an earlier reopening, YJC reported.
“Traffic congestion in Tehran has increased by 8% compared to the past week,” Rahimi said, adding that the number of passengers using the subway and bus fleet has seen a 10% increase.
Commutation has surged in the metropolis, despite the fact that not all students have shown up in schools. Hence, greater road traffic congestions and crowding in public transport fleet of Tehran are expected when more students start attending school.
Some officials believe that the announcement of the early reopening of schools was so sudden that urban managers did not have sufficient time to take measures to manage the commuters and provide them with special transport facilities.
The early start has also raised concerns among families about the safety of their children amid the coronavirus pandemic.
President Hassan Rouhani on Saturday morning gave an online speech marking the physical return of students to schools across the country, pointing out that education will continue “even under the harshest of circumstances”, his website reported.
“School is an environment. We cannot bring that environment to homes with applications [software]; the right path for education has been chosen,” the president declared.
Health experts believe that the most effective tool for minimizing the risk of infections spreading into schools is by restricting in-person learning.
Over 386,658 cases of Covid-19 and 22,293 fatalities were reported nationwide as of Monday.
Ailing Transportation Sector
The need for streamlining the metropolis’ public transportation fleet and equipping Tehran subway with more trains, a long-term concern among municipal bodies and citizens, is being more strongly felt with the reopening of schools.
Experts blame the deficiencies on the officials’ mismanagement of resources and economic hardships caused by US sanctions that have limited Iran’s international interaction since the summer of 2018.
The Iranian rial is steadily losing its value against the greenback. On Monday, the US dollar was traded at 245,700 rials in Tehran while it hardly fetched 42,000 rials in March 2018.
Consequently, buying new vehicles and subway trains from foreign resources has become difficult. In addition, domestic manufacturers do not have an adequate volume of parts to boost production.
According to Mohammad Alikhani, the head of Tehran City Council’s Transportation Commission, a train wagon cost 50 billion rials a couple of years ago, but now the price has reached 200 billion rials, which Tehran Municipality cannot currently afford.
Mohsen Hashemi, the head of TCC, has also repeatedly expressed disquiet over Tehran subway’s shortfalls.
“While the subway lines have been extended around the city by 80 kilometers in the past several years, not enough trains have been added to the metro network,” he said.
The renewal of Tehran bus fleet has the same story. According to Tehran Municipality, the city requires at least 9,000 buses to offer decent transport services to citizens.
This is while the number of operating vehicles in the bus fleet hardly reaches 6,000, over half of which is ready to head for the scrapyard.
These factors have derailed schemes for overhauling the transportation fleet. However, with the help of the government and automakers, urban planners are devising solutions to implement these schemes.
The city’s deficient public transportation, which fails to fulfill urban transportation demand, has once again raised the debate over the cancellation of traffic restrictions in Tehran, letting the citizens to freely use their vehicles for commutation.
During a Saturday meeting of Tehran City Council, it was suggested that the traffic schemes can be waived for reducing the risk of Covid-19 infection and observing safe social distancing that are easily violated in crowded subway trains.
Officials speak of cancellation of traffic schemes as in the previous two rounds of waiver, first from late March to June 6 and second from August 1-21, the initiative proved to be ineffective in reducing subway passengers, only adding to the traffic jam.
Alikhani, who had opposed the waiver of traffic rules, believes that the cancellation of traffic schemes is not beneficial for the public.
He said that with no traffic limitations in the central part of the city, people are encouraged to commute via private vehicles, increase unnecessary travels and raise the Covid-19 transmission rate.
Currently, three traffic schemes are underway in the capital, including Air Pollution Reduction, Air Pollution Control and the so-called Traffic Scheme. Each enforces different rules and restrictions on vehicles plying the capital’s streets to ease air pollution and traffic congestions, and fines drivers violating these rules.
Air Pollution Reduction bars dilapidated two- and four-wheelers from plying the city’s roads. All the vehicles in the metropolis are required to undergo automotive inspections and receive a technical certificate showing that the vehicle meets automotive and emission standards. Those who are found in breach are fined.
Air Pollution Control is the other scheme running in the capital since the beginning of summer. As per APC, each vehicle can enter a "restricted zone" in central Tehran for free for a maximum of 20 days each season, or 80 days a year.
Spread over 88.5 square kilometers in central Tehran, the zone is bounded by Imam Ali Expressway in the east, Navvab Expressway and Chamran Highway to the west, Besat Expressway in the south and Hemmat Expressway in the north.
Another so-called “Traffic Scheme” in central Tehran was enforced in an area limited by Motahari Street in the north, Shariati Street in east, Kargar (west) and Shoosh (south) whereby cars, except public vehicles, are barred from entering the area between 6 a.m. and 7 p.m. Entry by privately-owned vehicles will attract a fine.
With the reopening of schools and the return of traffic congestions and air pollution to major Iranian cities, the fate of these traffic schemes hangs in the balance.