March 01, 2003

Tehran on the Road to More Sustainable Transport

Site visits and consultations with city officials from both Bogotá and other Latin American cities provided the insight and inspiration for the commitment to creating a similar system in Tehran as a compliment to the growing number of sustainable transport projects already begun by the last two administrations.

“BRT provides a simple and elegant mode of transport that can quickly multiply our public transport capacity” said Ms. Zahra Sadrazam Nori, Mayor of the 7th District of Tehran, “Tehran suffers from high levels of congestion and air pollution and we are working hard to mediate these ailments with innovative approaches to the problem.”

Photo: Tehran’s BRT plan will complement its metro lines. 

With a population of 12 million by day and 8 million by night, Tehran is considered one of the most polluted cities in the world. The transport sector in Tehran is responsible for 60-80% of air pollution in the city and is growing rapidly. According to the Department of Environment of Iran, private passenger vehicles emit 1.4 million tonnes of hazardous gases into the air annually.

The National Institute for Tuberculosis and Lung Disease estimates that roughly 4,000 deaths per year can be attributed to Tehran’s particulate matter alone. Only 10% of the population currently own private vehicles in Tehran. As growing economic development is leading to greater car use, the problem only stands to worsen.

But the last twelve years have been marked by a new perspective on urban planning and management in Tehran that provides a great deal of hope. The eight year tenure of Mayor Gholam Hossein Karbaschi that ended in 1997 was marked by a 30-fold increase in city revenue, a 15 fold increase in green space and the start of construction of the city’s new metro system. He brought a new vigor to the city government that manifested itself in all aspects of the city’s functioning.

During Mr. Karbaschi’s administration, the city of Tehran undertook an extensive emission measurement analysis and started a number of measures to reduce emissions from the transport sector. These included switching of all taxis to LPG, converting buses to CNG, and installing an inspection and maintenance system for vehicles.

The City further created a traffic management and control system that includes monitoring of the major arteries via eighty traffic cameras placed around the city. The Department of Environment and the Ministry of Health also provide measurements of noxious emissions that are provided to all citizens daily.

In addition, the long planned metro system, envisaged during the time of the Shah, was put under construction. Though political turmoil removed Mr. Karbaschi from office, his vision and work ethic have lived on. The city opened its first metro line in March of 1999 and has since opened 60km of metro that are now used by over 600,000 riders daily. Another 200 km of metro lines are planned for the next ten years.

But even a completed metro system will not meet the growing demands for transport in the city.

“We are facing a situation where there is simply no more space on the road. There is such a high demand for public transport that neither our buses, taxis or metro can expect to provide enough supply in the near future” says Mr. Ali Reza Ghaffar Khorzani, Secretary of Transport of Tehran, “we believe a Bus Rapid Transport system could provide one way of easing the stress on the transport system and provide a strong compliment to the metro”.

The city is currently working with international partners to embark on the BRT planning process.

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