Thousands of vans, mini-buses and buses, including 38 new buses imported by the First Bus Service, could be forced off the roads after the Oil and Gas Regulatory Authority (Ogra) ordered CNG stations not to supply fuel to vehicles whose gas cylinders are fitted on the roofs or under the seats.
Ogra says that the decision was made for reasons of public safety after several incidents in recent weeks where passengers have been burnt to death after accidents involving CNG cylinders in public transport vehicles. The restriction does not apply to commercial vehicles whose gas cylinders are placed under the carriage, such as the recently introduced Foton buses in Lahore.
But the All Pakistan CNG Association (APCNGA) said there was no evidence that CNG cylinders mounted on the roof of vehicles were more dangerous than cylinders attached to the undercarriage.
“Some 50,000 buses, mini-buses and vans will be affected by this irrational decision,” said Captain Shujaat, the vice president of the APCNGA. “Ogra should not disregard international standards which allow CNG cylinders to be placed on the tops of vehicles.”
The First Bus Service (FBS), which started operations in Lahore in November, will be severely affected as it runs 38 new CNG-only buses on three main routes. Letters have been issued to all CNG stations to not sell gas to commercial vehicles that have CNG cylinders on roof tops or under the seats, said FBS General Manager Maqsoodul Haq.
Chief Operating Officer Muhammad Dastgir Baloch said the First Bus Service had imported the expensive buses at a cost of Rs7.5 million each at the provincial government’s urging. “They said that we should choose these buses because they were environment-friendly and fuel-efficient,” he said.
Baloch said that route number 1 on The Mall would be most affected as the company ran 30 CNG buses here. He said that FBS was pressing the Lahore Transport Company (LTC) to address the issue.
Foton Bus Service, a Chinese company, also started operations in Lahore in November and runs 56 new CNG-only buses. But the Foton buses carry cylinders under the carriage, which has apparently been deemed safe by Ogra.
Lahore Transport Company Chairman Khawaja Hassaan said that the company would move the Supreme Court on Monday against the government’s “irrational decision”.
He said that urban transport had never been a lucrative business and the CNG buses should not be treated as commercial vehicles. “This decision will discourage other investors from coming here and investing in the transport sector. Other countries are promoting environment-friendly transport, unlike here.”
Hassaan said that the CNG buses could run for a couple of days on reserves but would come to a halt by Monday or Tuesday.
Published in The Express Tribune, January 1st, 2012.