The Kenya Treasury recently revealed plans to implement a congestion charge on city motorists to combat traffic pollution. The charge will be a tax for every tonne of carbon emitted. The charge will target motorists in heavy traffic areas.
The goal of the tax is to make motorists use their vehicles less. But it may not be practical, it is expensive and it is punishing motorists for the lack of city planning.
Can a congestion charge reduce traffic pollution?
London has had a congestion charge since 2003. Traffic pollution increased when average speeds decreased and vehicles increased. Studies show that the congestion charge did reduce traffic pollution. However, there was an increase in NO2 due to the increase in diesel vehicles that are exempt from the charge.
It’s safe to assume that the charge will only serve as a means to increase state revenue rather than reduce pollution.
What can effectively combat traffic pollution?
In most cities, vehicle use is at an all-time high. Some reports suggest Nairobi will have 1.35 million registered vehicles by 2030. Furthermore, 10 million vehicles have used the Nairobi Expressway since its commissioning in 2022. In Nairobi, a congestion charge would only be an austere tax on motorists.
Some more effective ways to combat traffic pollution include:
1. Robust mass transit system
Mass transit systems are a great way to reduce traffic congestion. This includes creating adequate public transport infrastructure such as trams, subways, trains, and buses.
The current public transport system in Nairobi is highly ineffective. Most buses are uncomfortable for passengers. Terminuses in the Central Business District are located far away from each other. They’re also crowded and unsafe. Furthermore, buses need to fill up before they set off. For routes that aren’t busy during off-peak hours, it may take too long to get to a destination.
A city investing in timed buses that run all day can help reduce traffic pollution because fewer people will need to use their cars.
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2. Safe pedestrian and bicycle paths
Many workers use bicycles to get to work. However, the lack of dedicated bicycle paths makes it dangerous to use bicycles in cities. As a result, more people are likely to use vehicles. Cities with safe bicycle paths that are also weather-friendly enable more people to use bikes rather than cars, reducing traffic pollution.
It also reduces road accidents and boosts the health and fitness of citizens.
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3. Low emission zones
Denmark, Finland, and other European countries have designated low-emission zones within cities to eliminate traffic pollution. Heavy-duty vehicles must have filters in these zones to reduce particulate matter emissions. It’s illegal to drive without filters in these zones.
4. Incentivize low-emission vehicles
Traffic is the leading contributor to air pollution in cities. The continued use of fossil fuel-based vehicles is one of the main reasons. Studies show that the best way to reduce traffic pollution in cities like Nairobi is to avoid travel, shift transport demand, and improve vehicles.
More manufacturers are creating more efficient vehicles with fuel use, which leads to lower emissions. Moreover, people can switch to hybrids or electric cars. The government can incentivize the switch by subsidizing the costs of low-emission vehicles. This would encourage more car owners to make the transition.
Successfully reducing traffic pollution needs an investment in better infrastructure and for individuals to be more conscious of their mobility. For any future cities planned, a more holistic development that invests more in trees, bicycle and pedestrian tracks, and low-emission mass transit can help reduce air pollution.
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