Economic solution to air pollution, traffic congestion

Financial Tribune- Instead of expanding roads and highways in Iran’s metropolitan areas, there has to be an increase in the cost of utilizing the existing roads, tunnels, highways and parking spaces.

If citizens pay for enjoying the benefits of leading an urban life, they will play an active role in solving the issues of traffic and air pollution, Iranian economist, Javad Sheikh, was quoted as saying by the Iran Chamber of Commerce, Industries, Mines and Agriculture’s news portal.

Excerpts of his write-up for the chamber follow:

In 1968, Garrett James Hardin published his article “The Tragedy of the Commons”, the number of citations for which surpassed 35,000 in a short time. Therein, he unveiled the reasons behind a problem with which Iran is struggling today, namely traffic and air pollution.

Iran is among countries that have spent a lot of money trying to solve these problems. The solution was put forward decades ago, yet our urban management has opted instead to tread a path not exactly governed by wisdom. The closing down of schools for a few days or expanding congestion charge zones (measures taken by Iranian officials) are temporary painkillers and not remedies.

In his article, Hardin talks about national pastures that are not an individual’s property. Cattle are grazed on these pastures, but since shepherds are not charged for this, they try to take the most advantage and graze their cattle as much as possible.

What comes about then is quite obvious. The pasture is destroyed before long. Moreover, the cattle don’t get beefy enough due to the excessive exercise while grazing in the area.

The same applies to conundrums such as traffic and air pollution that are the result of exhausting common resources such as air and urban public spaces. The solution is to not allow citizens use these common resources without having to pay for them.

Our urban management has failed in the past few decades to tackle the abovementioned problems. Instead of clinging to the scientifically proven solutions, authorities have chosen to build more roads, highways, bridges, tunnels and connect all these together.

On top of that, parking in city centers or elsewhere costs nothing or is very cheap. As a result, people find using their privately-owned cars easier and cheaper than using public transportation.

The urban management should, in fact, do the opposite of what is presently being done. That is, instead of facilitating the use of personal vehicles, its expenses must be increased. Car owners must be made to pay for using their vehicles in the city. This way they can compensate for the pollution and traffic they create.

Therefore, as long as the officials look at the issue from an engineering point of view, the tormenting situation will persist. But once they change their perspective and look at the problem through a scientific-economic lens, not only the solutions will be found but the expenses of battling the quandary will be reduced.

In the past 10 years, the number of cars commuting on Tehran’s roads has spiked—the number was 1.5 million in 2005. By the end of 2014, there were 213 motor vehicles per 1,000 people in Iran.

According to the latest statistics released by the Ministry of Industries, Mining and Trade, the figure is now 250 in Iran. The number is much higher in Tehran–estimated at 307 cars per 1,000 citizens.

In the first seven months of the current fiscal that started on March 21, 772,120 cars were produced in Iran, which means every day over 3,600 new cars entered the Iranian roads.