Managing motorcycles: Opportunities to reduce pollution and fuel use from two- and three-wheeled vehicles

For millions of people living in large cities in the developing world, two- and three-wheeled motorcycles offer convenient, affordable access to motorized transportation. Nowhere is this trend more evident than in Asian countries, where motorcycles comprise up to 95 percent of motor vehicles on the road. Two-wheelers generally offer flexible personal mobility while three-wheelers fill the gap for larger families and commercial transport. Once dominated by bicycles,pedestrians, and buses, urban areas around the globe are transforming to accommodate growing ranks of motorcycles.

Increased mobility from two- and three- wheeled vehicles carries a hefty societal cost, however. Air pollution is a major public health concern. The rapid growth of two- and three-wheelers, especially cheap and easy to maintain two-stroke models, has contributed to severe deterioration of the urban environment. Motorcycle populations in Asian cities, and increasingly in cities in Africa and Latin America, are significant and growing. Energy demands are also growing as transportation systems motorize. For those nations who cannot satisfy increasing demands for fossil fuels with local resources,this sets up a pattern of costly oil imports. Energy consumption also translates into increasing carbon dioxide emissions and mounting concerns about climate change. From altered weather patterns to agricultural impacts to increased transmission of diseases, these impacts pose the greatest challenges for developing countries. And worsening traffic congestion and accidents raise concerns regarding traffic safety.

As mobility continues to increase with affluence worldwide, eliminating unintended consequences from transportation will become more urgent. Cleaner, more energy efficient, and safer motorcycles would not only improve public health and the environment, they could also play a role in a more globally sustainable passenger transportation sector. Much of the regulatory focus on motorcycles to date in India, Thailand, and China has centered on strategies to reduce conventional motorcycle emissions. Some of these policies, especially those that led to the phase-out of two-stroke motorcycles, have had additional benefits of improving motorcycle fuel economy and reducing carbon emissions. Regulators, however, are quickly realizing that further gains in both emissions and fuel economy will require more targeted policies.

The purpose of this report is to identify how nations can best manage their growing ranks of two- and three-wheelers. National and local decision makers will need focused and well-designed policy tools, including regulations and incentive strategies, to improve the environmental performance of these popular vehicles. The policy guidance provided in this report stems from the cumulative experience of regulators and other experts in the field. While the recommendations are primarily aimed at countries that are just beginning to regulate motorcycles, this report may also prove helpful to policymakers who are seeking to improve motorcycle policies that have already been adopted.