Urban Transportation in IRAN (Part I)

by Morteza Aminmansour

As urban growth continues in Iran encompassing many of the secondary Cities, the stress on urban systems and on urban liability can be expected to grow markedly.

Transportation is vital to the dynamism of a City and the well being of its citizens, without access to good passenger and freight transportation services, economic development stalls.

Rapid urban growth, is putting increasing stress on transportation systems. Among the problems cities are grapping with in the transportation arena: maintenance costs, skyrocketing investment, growing traffic congestion, escalating air pollution diminishing access of the poor to transportation services, rising levels of oil dependence.

The traditional pattern of investment in urban transportation systems has been first in road infrastructure and the transportation systems (traffic signals).

As cities grow, the existing infrastructure fosters transportation demands being met by personal automobiles, further fueling demand for expanding the road-based system, which, in turn, stimulates the development of urban sprawl.

In general the traditional pattern of road - based transportation system investment in Iran is becoming prohibitively very expensive. With sprawling urban populations and emerging middle class, car population is growing rapidly (major cities like TEHRAN, ISFAHAN, SHIRAZ, TABRIZ.

Since the car populations in Tehran for example has risen and already substantially higher than other Iranian cities. Especially in urban areas, the impact on cities and their vitality has been profound. Vehicle ownership in Iran in last 25 years has been growing at more than twice. The consequence is an ever-growing demand for additional road building to absorb the growing fleet of cars.

Since Iranian government still finance road-infrastructure building from public funds, and the demand for those funds has grown in recent years; some administrations are beginning to look for alternatives to finance transportation infrastructure. As is being implemented in several countries in the world, to lower-cost transportation infrastructure options. As a matter in fact, one of the initial motivations for Iran to develop its highly innovative transport system was the lower cost.

Another consequence of rising vehicle populations, as been rapidly deteriorating air quality. In most of the highly polluted Iranian cities (TEHRAN, ISFAHAN, MASHHAD), the transport sector accounts for at least half of the pollutants produced, and usually much more.

The impact on human health of these pollutants is substantial, especially when they exceed recommended maximum limits (in winter).

For example, in the city of Tehran the levels of total suspended particulate - a major contributor to lung problems and violate European Union guidelines and World Health Organization (WHO) air concentration guidelines for nitrogen oxide.

They are also the most rapidly growing source of greenhouse gas emissions, including carbon dioxide, chlorofluorocarbons, nitrous oxide and carbon monoxide in the region.

With road infrastructure continually lagging the growing in number of vehicles on the road, speeds in urban areas have consistently dropped, especially in the city centers. The economic impact of such congestion can be substantial.

Not only does congestion have an impact on economic development, but also it exacerbates air quality and energy consumption problems as well.

Lower travel speeds and frequent stops and starts produce greater fuel consumption, and greater emissions of noxious substances than freely flowing traffic.

Transportation sector in Iran is one of the largest consumers of oil and one of most rapidly growing, particularly in the country with strong economics that are seeing rapid increase in their car population.

As the cities grow and sprawl, including Tehran, Shiraz, Bandar Abbas, Mashhad, an inevitable development is the establishment of slums at their outskirts.

One of the consequence of this development is that the poor inhabitants of these slums find themselves increasingly isolated from access to the city centers and hence isolated from access to jobs, thereby locking themselves into a life of poverty.

Access to transportation services to enable them to gain employment is critical to addressing this problem. Even as slums are growing, the road-based infrastructure that has helped define the structure of these cities has taken hold, giving preference to personal cars while minimizing investment in sufficient and affordable public transportation and non-motorized travel options, the primary options available to the poor.


1) Towards sustainable urban development, Environment, Urbanization (Rabinovitch, Curitiba).

2) Approaching metros as potential development projects (Washington DC, World Bank).

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