By Vahid Sepehri
October 23, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- Iran's parliament
recently approved the outlines of a government bill to expand public
transportation as part of a continuing official bid to curb the use of cars and
reduce costly fuel imports.
But the approval of the bill's framework
on October 16 was far from overwhelming, with 108 of the 209 lawmakers present
voting for its passage, "Etemad-i Melli" reported on October 17. That split
appears to highlight the divide between the government and detractors who argue
that gasoline rationing has been badly bungled and fear the government's
implementation of the new proposal will be no better.
The framework bill
to expand public transport and manage fuel use, as it's called, must still be
approved by the powerful Guardians Council, a body of jurists with broad
authority to vet legislation. But the framework's relatively narrow passage also
signals potential obstacles when the detailed legislation eventually comes back
The plan would commit the government to expand
railways and public transportation, take ageing cars off the road, and convert
gasoline-powered cars to dual-use vehicles that can run on gasoline and
liquefied gas (LPG). It also calls for improved highways, more stations to sell
liquefied gas, the manufacture of cars that run on LPG and support for the
production of hybrid and electric cars, and greater fuel efficiency in general,
"Etemad-i Melli" reported.
The framework bill urges the government to
help create conditions that will dramatically reduce the flow of private
vehicles on city streets. It advocates a goal of making buses and other public
transport responsible for 75 percent of all city traffic.
earmarks about $10.7 billion (10 trillion tumans) per year for its
implementation. Reformist legislator Hadi Haqshenas told his parliamentary
colleagues that the expenditure could represent half the entire state
construction and development budget for the next fiscal year from March 2008,
the financial daily "Donya-i Eqtesad" reported on October 17.
Some legislators warned of potential problems accompanying
the draft bill and the limitations of legislative initiatives with such broad
goals as "expanding public transportation and limiting fuel use across Iran."
Minab representative Ali Moallemipur argued that the bill would channel funds to
large cities at the expense of smaller constituencies, compounding problems in
rural districts. Moallemipur claimed such districts are already facing fuel
shortages under the current restrictions, in place since June.
legislator from Lahijan, Iraj Nadimi, chided the government over the absence of
a comprehensive policy on fuel use and transportation -- and stressed that
specific plans in that area must be "focused," "Etemad-i Melli"
The bill was defended in parliament by Iran's interior and
transportation ministers. Transportation Minister Mohammad Rahmati said public
transportation is presently "very weak" in cities and between cities, adding
that the country needs 10 years to strengthen its transportation infrastructure.
Interior Minister Mostafa Purmohammadi said the framework is in line with the
current five-year (2005-10) development plan and the "20-year perspective,"
which sets out Iran's midterm development goals. Purmohammadi sought to deflect
criticism at this stage by saying parliamentarians' queries can be addressed
once the bill is debated in all its details.
The public-transportation framework is part of
ongoing efforts to curb fuel use and costly gasoline imports. But in barely
disguised rebukes of the government, some lawmakers have observed --
particularly in recent months -- that legislation is helpful only when it is
Members of parliament have repeatedly criticized
President Mahmud Ahmadinejad's government for failing to fully implement the
current law restricting fuel use -- known as Addendum 13 (to the budget for the
year to March 2008). That legislation allows Iranian drivers a monthly quota of
100 liters of gasoline at a heavily subsidized price (100 tumans, or roughly
$0.11) while allowing further purchases at a higher price. But authorities still
have not announced the higher price, essentially blocking any legal sales of
gasoline beyond subsidized levels. The situation has reportedly fueled a
bustling black market for gasoline, and some observers claim that traffic has
crept back to prerestriction levels -- at least in the capital, Tehran.
Amid debate over the new framework bill, detractors argued on October 16
that the new public-transportation bill has nothing that is not already in
Addendum 13 to curb fuel usage, "Donya-i Eqtesad" reported. Minab legislator
Moallemipur said the problem is not a lack of legislation but rather a "problem
of implementation." He said Addendum 13, as implemented by the government, has
led to fuel shortages and inflation -- something the government promised would
not happen. Moallemipur claimed that black-market fuel is sold in Tehran for 200
tumans a liter (about $0.21) and about five times that price in the southern
port city of Bandar Abbas. He called that an illustration of the government's
negligent implementation of current legislation.
A Question Of
Meanwhile, the reformist daily "Etemad" observed on
October 17 that the basic problem with fuel remains. Fuel is subsidized and thus
wasted, it said, and Addendum 13 has merely sought to reduce the economic cost
of subsidies by restricting gasoline use. "Etemad" observed that state
development plans seek to phase out subsidies, not restrict fuel use. The paper
also estimated that Iran has spent about $17 billion in the past three years on
imported gasoline and gas oil, a heating fuel, which it has sold at subsidized
prices to Iranians.
A Shirvan representative and member of the
parliamentary Energy Committee, Hossein Afarideh, has painted a similar picture
of natural-gas waste. Afarideh said a cubic meter of gas costs about $1.30 in
Iraq, $1.10 in the United Arab Emirates, $0.70 in Saudi Arabia -- and $0.08 in
Iran. He said Iran is not exporting gas because it cannot manage consumption at
home and has no "comprehensive energy plan." Afarideh said this national asset
is being "burned away" and, with current consumption levels, "all the gas in the
world" might not be enough to meet Iranians' demand. He claimed that "the wealth
that [might otherwise] be used to create jobs has been destroyed [due to a] lack
The buzzwords among Iranian parliamentarians and
officials are "energy use" and fuel "management" -- notions that are being
interpreted differently depending on people's economic ideas. Some Iranian
politicians appear to think the market should be given a greater regulatory role
-- like a seemingly thriving black market in gasoline. Others, including members
of the Ahmadinejad government, seem to think that consumption can be curbed from
above -- with an emphasis on reduced consumption rather than price
liberalization, which they fear could fuel already persistent inflation. The
framework bill appears to highlight the government's determination to force
Iranians to reduce waste while it maintains a hand in their social and economic