Reducing Air Pollution from Urban Passenger Transport: A Framework for Policy Analysis

27 Pages Posted: 20 Apr 2016

See all articles by Mark T. Heil

Mark T. Heil

EPA Headquarters

Sheoli Pargal

World Bank - Development Research Group (DECRG)

Date Written: August 1998


A policy considered in isolation may be ineffective because of the countervailing impact of other factors. And the success of a policy may itself lead to perverse incentives. Thus it is important to design complementary policies that support the original goal. Controlling air pollution from urban transport requires attention to land use planning, transport needs and modes, and air quality.

Air quality is declining in urban areas, in part because of the rapid motorization of societies worldwide. To combat the problem, various pollution control strategies have been used or proposed for urban passenger transport. Heil and Pargal develop a simple framework to analyze these strategies.

The virtue of this framework is its simplicity and its separation of factors. The authors examine the point of impact of different policy levers and categorize different instruments in a way that should help policymakers choose among them. The framework explicitly recognizes behavioral incentives, especially the fact that offsetting changes in consumer behavior can often undermine the original intent of particular policies. Among the findings:

Policies aimed at improving transport efficiency often improve air quality at the same time.

But supply-side policies to relieve traffic congestion sometimes conflict with supply-side measures to control air pollution. Improvements in roads and traffic, for example, may increase private motorized traffic conditions, making it difficult to assess the net effect of the improvements on air pollution.

There seems to be considerable scope for low-cost solutions to air quality problems associated with the transport sector. Inexpensive, low-technology solutions, such as establishing bus lanes or paving dirt roads, substantially improve both transport efficiency and air quality.

Behavioral change is difficult when viable transport alternatives are unavailable. A viable public transport system is essential to reduce transport-caused air pollution in densely populated areas.

Fuel and emission standards should become stricter over time. Standards should be gradually ratcheted up to give domestic auto industries the incentive to develop and adopt cleaner technology.

This paper - a product of Infrastructure and Environment, Development Research Group-is part of a larger effort in the group to study the impact of motorization on air pollution.

Suggested Citation

Heil, Mark T. and Pargal, Sheoli, Reducing Air Pollution from Urban Passenger Transport: A Framework for Policy Analysis (August 1998). World Bank Policy Research Working Paper No. 1991. Available at SSRN:

Mark T. Heil

EPA Headquarters

1200 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W.
Washington, DC 20460
United States
202-564-9724 (Phone)

Sheoli Pargal (Contact Author)

World Bank - Development Research Group (DECRG) ( email )

1818 H. Street, N.W.
Washington, DC 20433
United States

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