The Urban Transport Crisis in Emerging Economies

Part of the series The Urban Book Series pp 127-143



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In Iran with its still vast oil reserves it is a particular challenge to ensure that the cities develop in a more sustainable way. There is little order in the way different land uses are arrayed across the urban landscape. Most Iranian big cities have vast tracts of informal, inadequate housing, their transport networks are filled to capacity and suffer intolerable congestion from cars, motorcycles, and trucks. At the same time, a considerable share of people cannot afford a car and depend on poor public transport systems and poor walking and cycling conditions. Most contemporary development, as opposed traditional development, is very car-oriented because fuel is so cheap. In many cases, urban planning is very ineffective and land uses scatter into areas that are entirely unserved by public transport. The transportation sector is the main source of air pollution in metropolitan areas such as Tehran, Isfahan, Shiraz, and Ahwaz and represents a serious threat to public health. This chapter discusses Iran’s urban transport official policy frameworks, the integration of urban transport and urban planning policies, environmental concerns, social justice and accessibility issues, public transport finance and decision making. While there is an increasing agreement over policies which might create more sustainable urban transport outcomes in Iran, there are severe obstacles to policy implementation, including a complex institutional structure and inadequate legislation. Recommendations include: harmonizing national and local government sustainable transport strategies; implementing car restrictions in cities nationwide; embracing carless doctrines in land use planning and prioritizing non-motorized transport modes; and establishing public transport priority development corridors.

Iran’s urban population (currently 70 % of the total) is increasing at an average annual rate of about 3 % and is expected to continue to do so during the next decade. The country includes one megacity (the capital, Tehran) and several large cities. Cities with more than one million inhabitants are categorized locally as “metropolitan areas”: Tehran (8.2 million), Mashhad (2.8 million), Isfahan (1.9 million), Shiraz (1.6 million), Karaj (1.6 million), Tabriz (1.4 million), Ahwaz (1.1 million), and Qom (1.1 million) (Statistical Centre of Iran (2012). The focus of this chapter is on these metropolitan areas, which have reached income levels that can support high rates of car ownership and usage. Tehran is the most densely populated metropolitan area and tends to influence transport policy on a national scale (Allen 2013).