Governments should tackle air pollution by banning old cars

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Air pollution continues to be a serious problem in many cities around the world, in part due to a steady increase in car use. In order to contain such a trend and persuade drivers to abandon their cars in favor of public transport, authorities are increasingly relying on limits on car use. Some places have prohibited drivers from using their vehicles on certain days of the week. Good examples of such driving restrictions include Athens (where restrictions were introduced in 1982), Santiago (1986), Mexico (1989), São Paulo (1996), Manila (1996), Bogotá (1998), Medellín (2005) ), Beijing (2008) and Tianjin (2008).

These restrictions can, however, create perverse incentives by inducing people to purchase additional vehicles. This not only increases the number of vehicles, but can also encourage people to buy higher emission vehicles. that of Mexico Hoy No Circula program – which in 1989 prevented drivers from using their vehicle one day a week – confirm these fears. The ban did not significantly reduce air pollution.

But there is one aspect of driving restrictions that has received little attention but can be found in some recent restriction programs: namely, vintage-specific restrictions, or more specifically, restrictions that differentiate cars by their pollution rate. In 1992, for example, Santiago reformed its restriction program to exempt all cars equipped with a catalytic converter (a device that turns toxic pollutants into less toxic gases) from the existing restriction that prevented all drivers from using their vehicles. car one day a week. This exemption ended in March 2018 for all cars built before 2012. Mexico City has also introduced several reforms to its restriction program. In today’s restriction program, new vehicles are exempt for their first eight years.

Vintage-specific restrictions are also included in recent European programs. The German authorities, for example, have adopted low-emission zones in several cities since 2008. In 2016, the city of Paris banned any car built before 1997 from driving within its limits on weekdays from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. London, Paris and Rome are another type of vintage-specific restriction.

Of all the possible variations of a driving restriction policy one could think of, the simple ban on older cars represents a radical departure from earlier designs. By allowing drivers to avoid being injured by the restriction not by buying a second car (and perhaps an older and more polluting one) but by switching to a cleaner car that faces lighter or unrestricted restrictions, vintage-specific restrictions have the potential to significantly reduce air pollution.

How do these vintage-specific restrictions work in practice? Existing research suggests that it is best for policy makers to design driving restrictions based on the type of cars people buy, never the number of cars they drive.

By affecting purchasing decisions, a vintage-specific restriction can generate significant welfare gains by shifting the composition of the fleet to cleaner cars. Emission rates vary greatly from car to car. This is why, in most cities, older cars are responsible for most of the pollution. A driving restriction that places a uniform restriction on all cars regardless of their pollution level (such as banning driving one day a week) will certainly lead to significant welfare losses. Such a uniform policy not only succeeds in getting old cars off the road, it also lowers their prices, extending their lifespan and hampering new car sales.

Image Credit Featured: Rush Hour Traffic by quinntheislander. Public domain via Pixabay.


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