Allergic to Bangkok: How can an automobile fix this symptom?


1. Cause and the effect of PM2.5
In the past few years, Bangkok has been facing ultra-fine dust and smog problems in the beginning of the year. The main factor is a ‘temperature inversion’, in normal condition smoke and fine dust from combustion and burning will lift to the lower temperature atmosphere and wind starts blowing away, but the inversion has another layer of warm air which is similar to big dome covering above the higher atmosphere hence the smog is trapped and cannot be carried away by wind causing the smog and particulate matter.

It has been said that ‘particulate matter 2.5’ as known as PM2.5, which has a diameter of less than 2.5 micrometers or one-twenty fifth of human hair, is smaller than nose hair to filter. PM2.5 can cause severe respiratory disorders and bloodstream. It carries toxic and heavy metal matter from the air to invade the vital organ system and may risk chronic disease.

The direct causes of PM2.5 are diesel engine combustion, open-air burning, factories, and constructions. However, there is an indirect cause of the chemical reaction in the atmosphere called ‘Photochemical Smog’  (figure 1). The reaction has Nitrogen Oxide (NOx), from diesel and gasoline engine combustion, as a substrate combines with Volatile Organic Compounds (VOC), such as vapour chemical in bottled spray, white smoke from incomplete combustion in a two-stroke engine, and strong sunlight as a catalyst. Then the result is a toxic gas, which consists of Ozone (O3) and Peroxyacyl Nitrates (PAN). O3 may irritate human eyes, skin as well as causing the lung inflammation. Whereas, PAN also a toxic gas but can evaporate at high temperatures. Moreover, O3 could react with VOC and create PM2.5 besides unsolvable vehicle emission from congestion in Bangkok in which it becomes a normal matter in people's lives. 

2. The solution to reducing PM2.5 in road transport
The way out of PM2.5 issue, which easier said than done, is reducing the origin of the ultra-fine dust. According to the Pollution Control Department, in 2019 revealed that road transport accounts for 73% of the PM2.5 level in Bangkok (figure 2). Therefore, the electric vehicle is the new key to decrease gas emission from cars.  This proposal has not yet concrete spread out due to the condition of the electric vehicle price.  Although the idea of using electric vehicle works, it may take a long period of replacing 11 million vehicles in Bangkok. Consequently, the sustainable solution to reduces traffic congestion is to limit the number of cars along with the public transportation increase.

In the past, traffic problem was solved by constructing more roads but the study found that the more empty roads, the more cars arise which means providing more roads is not the solution. Furthermore, vehicle performance in the market with a high fuel economy rate and the stable energy price could be the cause of the ‘Rebound effect’ which means people increasingly using their cars due to the cost of using a vehicle per distance becomes lower and causes more traffic congestions and air pollutions.

2.1 Limit the number of vehicles on the road
The sustainable solution to reduce car consumption is the government attracting more people by monetary and non-monetary measures. The monetary measure, through tax policy, with a person who causes the external effect on social which called ‘externality cost’; including all cost of air pollution effect, road congestion, the chance of accidents. Hence, the car owners would consider more thoroughly using their cars by the reason of externality cost. The monetary measures in other countries are fuel tax and parking fees in the public area. The driver would consider the lowest cost of travel such as a private car, public transportation, bicycle, and walk resulting in the reduction of fuel consumption and pollution decrease while the reduction of the excise tax rate on vehicles with high energy saving rates will apply to new vehicles only. The non-monetary measures could reduce car consumption such as working from home, video conference meetings, flexible working hours, etc. The government could attract investors by tax incentives related to information and telecommunication system investments.

2.2 Providing adequate public transportation
Another solution in parallel with the above measures, is to provide adequate public transportation in terms of quantity and quality. Bangkok, a lack of urban planning same as big cities in other countries, with the city characteristics are not divided into grid plan and have many long alleyways resulting the bike taxis or minibusses are still needed, apart from the rail and bus transport systems on the main routes, and become challenging for the governor.  At present, with the high technology of telecommunication, it is more convenient to use the application as a platform to connect between the users and taxi service providers. Such a new platform business as a service in which the government should revise regulations to support both new ones and existing ones with the most advantage for the passengers in terms of price, convenience, and safety.

Besides, Thailand Development Research Institute (TDRI) has submitted the policy recommendation for the digital platform (application) with the matter of the fact that a digital platform for transport service providers can provide benefits to passengers with greater convenience and lower costs for service providers but the disruptive technology would reduce the market share of traditional taxi services and lower the overall profits of drivers. Hence, TDRI suggested that the government should be monitoring the platform owners, considering the pricing power, the right to access customers’ personal data, price transparency, also prohibiting the abuse of monopoly power. However, the regulations for traditional service and the new digital platform service could be different but creating equality for both service providers such as relaxing the ceiling price of taxi service, increasing control of the maximum price on application. In addition, the government must have the passenger's safety regulation and qualification for taxi drivers. The taxi drivers must hold public transport driving licenses and provide third party insurance and also have the commercial passenger vehicle registration.

2.3 Using low or zero-emission vehicles
Apart from public transport, other motor vehicles use is still necessary and they need to be less to zero exhaust fumes (the end of exhaust pipe). In the case of newly manufactured vehicles compliant with the enforcement of emission standards and motivation to use low emission vehicles such as increasing more use of electric vehicles especially the use in the public transport systems. Effective measures must be implemented in tandem with mandatory and incentive measures. One of the incentive measures is a carrot-and-stick approach, the use of a combination of reward and punishment to induce consumer behaviors, for example, providing subsidies for low emission vehicle users (a reward), at the same time, taxation from high emission vehicle users (a punishment). The measure with the carrot-and-stick approach allowing consumers to change their behaviors to use low emission vehicles through positive incentives. The implementation of this measure is in line with the ‘Revenue recycling concept’ in which the government may impose high taxes from high emission vehicles to establish the Low Emission Vehicles Fund (OLEV) avoiding the fiscal burden.  However the government's subsidy policy must be clearly specified the timeframe which should not be more than 1-3 years as it will increase the fiscal burden and prolonging the period will cause consumers hesitant.

Besides, using new technologies in next-generation mobility such as connected and autonomous technologies in newly manufactured vehicles which apart from improving conveniences and safety, also energy-efficient driving and traffic management (figure 3). The connected technologies are known as Vehicle-to-everything (V2X) that allows vehicles to communicate in real-time with its surroundings such as cars, traffic lights, and pedestrians. V2X could increase awareness of every nearby vehicle and reduce the risk of accidents such as emergency braking or connected vehicles are alerted to the presence of pedestrian crosswalks and vulnerable pedestrians in the vicinity ensuring the driver’s awareness and taking appropriate action avoiding accidents or traffic congestion. Nevertheless, the clean vehicles with new technologies would result in higher production and distribution costs with the possibility of short term impact on the market growth but in the long run, it would reflect the true cost of vehicle use and the consideration of the vehicle use more efficiently.

Whereas, the used vehicles must be inspected annually for emission measurements. However an annual inspection may be difficult in practice due to the lack of specialists and high precision tools. In many countries, using car age determination and taxation based on car age instead of annual inspection, and also establishing low emission zones in parallel to encourage the use of clean vehicles by using a mark for entering the zones such as a sticker, a different color of the license plate or RFID card and discourage high-emission vehicle use by paying the charge for driving into the zones. But the determination on the useful lives of vehicles must be concerned with the end-of-life vehicles (ELVs) management and disposal.
3. Conclusion
The tiny matter of ultra-fine dust causes the big issue in which the various parties have to be involved in the solution.  To ramp down the PM2.5 and air pollution cannot be accomplished by one party but the cooperation from all parties is needed. The road transport sector is able to react by reducing private car use, increasing adequate public transport and the use of low and zero-emission vehicles.  Including the government must provide information to the public on how to confront PM2.5 in the air and by these above solutions the PM2.5 and air pollution can be reduced.

Source: Automotive Navigator Magazine
by Next-generation Automotive Research Center, TAI 

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