From car-free days to pollution-free cities: Reflections on clean urban transport in Rwanda

  • East Africa is home to some of the world’s fastest growing cities and levels of traffic congestion, air pollution, and vehicle accidents are rising. Rwanda, with its rapidly growing urbanisation rate, faces a major challenge: to decouple the growth of cities and urban mobility from air pollution.
  • Using high-quality data, this policy paper adds to existing research on air pollution in the transport sector by using two natural experiments which reduce urban traffic flows considerably: car-free days and the COVID-19 lockdown.
  • We find that the quantity of PM2.5, the typical measure of air pollution internationally, was reduced by 15% on car-free days.
  • We also find that the full COVID-19 lockdown in 2020 reduced air pollution by around 33%, and the partial lockdown which allowed cars but not motorcycles reduced air pollution by around 21%.
  • These results emphasise the high significance of the transport sector for air pollution levels, and the need for further action to address air pollution from the sector.
  • This paper includes policy reflections on key actions that can support the economy while helping keep the air clean.