Use of CNG cylinders: School van drivers observe day-long strike against crackdown on vehicles

Van drivers say petrol and diesel are too expensive for them to provide services

Our Correspondent January 11, 2019

KARACHI: School van drivers went on strike on Thursday to protest the traffic police's crackdown on their vehicles carrying CNG cylinders. Attendance in schools remained comparatively thin as many students failed to reach schools due to the strike. The protest ended when the drivers were assured that CNG cylinders, seized during the crackdown, will be returned. They agreed to resume operations from Friday.

Safety law

The crackdown on school vans with CNG cylinders began on Monday on the directives of Karachi Traffic Police Chief Javed Ali Mehar who expressed concern about the safety of school children after an incident on Saturday where a school van in Orangi Town caught fire due to a short circuit. Mehar recalled that the Sindh transport department had already banned CNG and LPG cylinders in school vans and said that the recent crackdown was initiated to ensure the implementation of the ban.

Protesters' demands

The van drivers marched from Lucky Star to Karachi Press Club where they held a protest against the crackdown and chanted slogans against relevant institutions.

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They demanded that the seized cylinders are returned. A van driver, Farooq, told The Express Tribune that the police was continuously bothering them with frequent searches of their vans. He said that the drivers were compelled to run their vehicles on CNG as petrol prices were much higher. We are not paid enough by the schools to run our vans on petrol, lamented Farooq, adding that parents are also unwilling to pay a higher fee for their services.

Temporary solution

The drivers agreed to resume services after receiving assurance from the police that their seized CNG cylinders will be returned. They did, however, threaten to resume protests if the police failed to keep its word.

"The police have given us surety that our cylinders will be returned soon and they will stop halting us on roads for inspection," said Farooq. "If they don't honour our demands the protest will begin again," he added. "For now, all van drivers will resume pick and drop services from Friday," he said.

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Citizens complain

Parents and children faced difficulties on Thursday as their regular commute was interrupted. Attendance in schools and colleges remained low due to the non-availability of vans. Parents said that the drivers refused to come at the last minute and as a result children had to skip school. They said they would be greatly inconvenienced if the strike continues. The parents also added that the van drivers who run their vehicles on diesel or petrol performed duties during the strike.

The ban

The Sindh Transport Department had banned the use of CNG, LPG cylinders in school vans way back in 2015. A notification issued then reads, "In partial modification of this department's notification, after the word 'CNG' wherever appearing, the word 'LPG', and after the words 'public service vehicles' wherever appearing, the words 'school and college vehicles' are hereby added with immediate effect."

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Another notification by the transport and mass transit department reads, "In exercise of the powers conferred by the Provincial Motor Vehicle Ordinance, 1965, the Government of Sindh proposes to make the following amendments in the Motor Vehicle Rules, 1969.

"Section 73-A is amended in the Motor Vehicle Rules, which states, 'Regulation and control of vehicles, contract carriages owned and managed by private colleges/schools. No vehicles owned or managed by schools or colleges for students shall operate without obtaining route permit and fitness certificate, and undergoing the process of commercial vehicles and contract carriages as laid down in these rules.

"A college or school vehicle or contract carriage shall adopt the yellow colour coding scheme to distinguish from other vehicles plying the road; ensure the availability of an attendant for the facilitation and safety of students; have an emergency exit, in case of a bus or van; install therein a fire extinguisher; not be overloaded by students; not use LPG as fuel or an oxygen cylinder."

Published in The Express Tribune, January 11th, 2019.


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