By Parvin Tell, Tehran Times
TEHRAN-The campaign for car-free Tuesdays, which is gaining momentum across Iran, was actually mounted last November in Arak, a city overburdened by its too many pollutant industries.
Entering into its 22nd week on coming Tuesday, the campaign was kicked off by Mohammad Bakhtiari, 25, who has majored in architecture and is a member of a local NGO with 1,000 members known as "the guardians of the environment of Arak city."
Mohammad, whom I caught for a phone interview when riding his bike Friday in Arak, said, "With air pollution getting worse, I did not like to sit back doing nothing. I thought everybody is responsible for this problem. And I was thinking of a way to involve more people to help with it.
Mohammad vigorously added, "The best was to encourage people to rethink about the use of their cars. Thus, I drafted a poster for car-free Tuesdays and shared it on social media for two weeks."
"Meanwhile, I went into the streets in Arak with the poster in hand and explained it in person to people. Within the first two weeks, a bike-riding campaign from [the city of] Rafsanjan joined the campaign. Very soon, TV channel one introduced the car-free Tuesdays during My Homeland Program. In the fourth week, I talked to Mr. Mohammad Darvish at the Department of Environment, who supported the campaign and introduced it wherever he went."
Before talking to Mohammad, I had gone to the Department of Environment on Thursday to see Darvish, head of the education and environmental contributions, to know more about the burgeoning campaign.
Darvish began by quoting Gustavo Petro, the mayor of Bogotá in Colombia, who had said, "A developed country is not a place where the poor have cars. It's where the rich use public transportation."
Introducing Mohammad Bakhtiari and his campaign, he explained that "70 million litter of fuel is used every day in Iran, 20 million of which is imported from outside. Figures show that 15 percent of the traffic in Iran is unnecessary. We are not looking for an ideal condition at all. But we win if we can cut that 20 million of import by stopping those pointless drives."
Tuesday was chosen because it is in the middle of Iranian week when traffic congestion is high and air pollution at peak, Darvish explained, adding, "If we succeed to bring Tuesdays' traffic under control, we can see its impact throughout the week."
A total 600 weeks have been planned for the movement to be internalized in the Iranian society and the first 100 weeks are set for having people to know about it, Darvish explained.
"Sixty percent of the people who know there is such a campaign have supported it. Our first step is to tell people that there is such a movement. The second step is to tell them why they should support it. The third step is to have incentives for those who join the campaign. And the fourth step is to push the government to carry out its responsibilities at a more rapid pace."
Darvish went on to say that "government must create safe bike routes; allocate subsidy for purchasing bikes and electric and hybrid motorcycles. Instead of expanding streets, constructing two or three floor highways or tunnels, the ruling body must move towards improving BRTs and public transportation. It also needs to make car driving more difficult for people so they opt for public transportation or bikes."
Asked how one can see the impact of the campaign on Tuesday's traffic, the environment official said air pollution and traffic congestion as well as number of accidents and traffic tickets are being monitored on Tuesdays.
Inquired if he sees any future for the campaign, Darvish's response was positive with a big smile in his face, saying "Iranians are unpredictable."
The official who rides bike to office and his sessions across the capital says "the campaign is a point of unity between the government and people; it promotes social capital and unity; it is different from other campaigns in that all enjoy the benefits. The movement is to change people's mindset, particularly the educated and the lovers of environment, to assume responsibility for their society."
Many officials, according to Darvish, have already joined the campaign including Mrs. Masumeh Ebtekar, the head of department, who uses subway and taxi on Tuesdays to go to her office.
"The Department of Environment is also paving the way for the campaign to be recognized among people. We have negotiated with insurance companies to give discount on third-party and body-part insurances to the drivers without traffic tickets on Tuesdays. We have also talked to municipality officials to specify some places in subways and BRTs for the campaign's posters which appear soon. Also, there are some companies and organizations like the Department of Environment which have planned some incentives for their employees who do not use personal cars for commuting between home and office," he explained.
This campaign will certainly broaden Iranians' cultural horizon, setting them as an example in the region where most of the countries are entangled in domestic conflict, the official concluded as he was watering the flowers in his office.
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