- wealthy and connected iranians are hiring private ambulances to beat tehran's notoriously gridlocked traffic, the new york times reported.
- because motorists are required to make way for the ambulances, it's actually a rather genius traffic-jam hack.
- . . . except that using emergency vehicles for non-emergencies is strictly illegal.
financial inequality, as you're likely mighty aware, often manifests in different privileges for the haves than for the have-nots. a prime example is playing out in tehran, iran, these days: wealthy iranians are using ambulances to skip through the city's crushing traffic jams. the less fortunate, those without the means to hire a private ambulance, are stuck being, well, stuck in traffic.
the new york times reports that this practice of hiring emergency vehicles for non-emergency reasons is, as you might expect, illegal. unsurprisingly, many of the private ambulance firms—which pick up the slack from the government's ambulance fleet—denied to times reporters that they had ever participated in the transport of not-sick, moneyed people. and yet, there seem to be numerous accounts of iranian celebrities hiring ambulances to run errands, as well as educational tutors using them to make their class appointments.
these ambulances are intended to be used for both emergencies and sub-emergency medical needs, such as getting to critical medical appointments and to and from medical procedures. (government ambulances are said to be used only for direct, gotta-get-to-a-hospital-now emergencies.) trouble is, with rumors flying that the city's private ambulances are potentially being used for rich people's convenience, some citizens are refusing to make way even for ambulances with their sirens and flashing lights going. that's an issue for patients who are actually patients.
speaking of patients: they typically ride in the back of ambulances. as the times points out, it isn't immediately clear how these ambulance-hiring scofflaws are riding in the vehicles—as in, we have no idea whether they're in the back, on a gurney pretending to be patients, or sitting up front with the driver.
iranian officials are insistent that violators are subject to fines and prosecution, but then, tehran's police force doesn't seem to be able to crack down on this problem. they're apparently quite busy with other, more pressing issues, but even if they were to stop potential violators, that ambulance chasing opens up thorny issues—namely, slowing down an ambulance that might have a critical patient inside. also, the iranian police are apparently quite open to roadside financial incentives (bribes) and accepting them in exchange for making tickets disappear.
naturally, regular iranians are pissed. for a society in which rule bending is normal—see the aforementioned bribes, as well as boundary pushing on restrictive, religiously motivated laws limiting certain social behaviors and social-media use—the abuse of ambulance privileges is almost universally loathed. leaders are coming around to the notion of a crackdown, but no concrete plans or stepped-up enforcement have taken hold—yet.
for now, if you plan to visit tehran, plan on sitting in traffic. we don't suggest hiring an ambulance to skip the line.