Economy, Domestic Economy

Snubbed and Sidelined

Import tariffs on bicycles have increased by 300% in recent years.Import tariffs on bicycles have increased by 300% in recent years.

Air pollution and schools’ shutdown and gray cities—the same themes run through the second half of each year (October-March) in Iran.

Rain and praying for winter to pass while you are gasping for air seem to be the only solutions to this recurring problem. Iranian transportation officials are also sitting on their hands, as if they are unable to work out a plan to tackle this critical issue.

Every year, some 1.7 million passenger cars are manufactured in the country while 50,000 are imported. Between 400,000 and 800,000 motorcycles also enter the domestic market annually, reads a report by the Persian daily Shahrvand.

This is while only 150,000 bicycles come on the market—most of which are not sold and sent back to the warehouses.  

“That cycling is not considered a serious mode of traveling is the main fault of our transportation system. Lack of suitable infrastructures and safety are major challenges ahead of Iran’s few cyclists. The funny point is that on top of not providing incentives for the use of bicycles, we impose higher import tariffs on bikes than cars. Tariff rates of 65% drive up bicycle prices,” said deputy minister of roads and urban development, Pirouz Hanachi.

“We might occasionally see bicycle lanes in cities but they are by no means sufficient to regard cycling as a mode of transportation,” he added.

  Hefty Price Tag

Domestic production of bikes is almost zero and their imports amount to one-fifth of motorcycles.

In the meantime, billions of dollars are spent on the auto industry. An advisor to the Transportation Commission of Iran Chamber of Commerce, Industries, Mines and Agriculture, Anoush Raham, said traffic in Tehran carries a price tag of nearly $407.6 million for the country on a yearly basis.

“Worst of all, motorcycles, the very epitome of air pollution, have become a solution to the city’s traffic problem,” he said.

Because of Tehran’s heavy traffic, many commuters who need to get somewhere quickly prefer to take a motorcycle instead of a taxi.

On average, one million motorcycles generate 286 tons of carbon monoxide, 100 tons of sulfur dioxide and more than 7 tons of nitrogen dioxide every day.

Raham then cited the example of the world’s cycling nirvana: the Netherlands where bicycles outnumber residents and in Amsterdam and The Hague, up to 70% of all journeys are made on bikes.

“European countries are replacing regular bikes with hybrid and electric ones, whereas we are still dragging our feet about whether to design a cycle lane for a district or not,” he said.   

  Prohibitive Tariffs

According to the head of the Association of Bicycle and Motorcycle Salespeople Association, Mohammad Khadem Mansouri, Iran is home to only two bicycle factories (located in Qouchan and Qom), “the founders of which are now the country’s biggest importers of bicycles”.

“Import tariff rates on bicycles have increased by 300% in recent years. The government imposes a 15% tariff on electric bikes and 65% on regular ones. Such high customs duties and limited demand have forced importers to buy the cheapest Chinese bikes, for fear of losing their existing customers. Under the circumstances, Chinese bicycles are at times sold three times their value in Iran,” he added.

“As long as the streets are in thrall to motorists and there is no investment in decent infrastructures, whatever we do to energize bicycle market is just like treading water,” he said.

Bicycle is a pollution-free mode of transportation, as motor vehicles have been the fastest growing source of carbon dioxide all over the world. But in recent years, bicycle as a convenient means of transportation for short distances was given the backseat in Tehran and other cities.

The greenest and most sustainable forms of transportation are trains, bicycles and, of course, walking.


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