The government has largely given up on trying to purge the streets of motorcycle rickshaws, one of the leading causes of air pollution in the city, The Express Tribune has learnt.
There has been a large increase in the number and use of motorcycle rickshaws in poorer areas of Lahore in recent years because they are cheap to use and operate, and because of the absence of other forms of public transport, particularly buses.
But they play havoc with the environment, a fact recognised by the Punjab government and the Lahore High Court. In 2005, the court gave the government until December 2007 to remove all 2-stroke rickshaws (auto and motorcycle) from Lahore’s roads. The same year, the government launched the Chief Minister’s Green Punjab Scheme to provide subsidies for the purchase of 4-stroke CNG rickshaws.
Although many drivers of 2-stroke rickshaws subsequently converted to 4-stroke rickshaws, many did not because of complex economic reasons. But over the last couple of years, there has been a sharp rise in the number of motorcycle rickshaws in Lahore. The production of motorcycle rickshaws rose 142.6 per in 2010-2011 over the previous year, according to a 2010-2011 economic survey cited in an earlier report in The Express Tribune.
Lahore Transport Company (LTC) Chairman Khawaja Ahmed Hassaan said that the LTC would start efforts to phase out motorcycle rickshaws from 2013, after it starts the Bus Rapid Transit System: a thousand CNG buses running on a 27-kilometre track along Ferozepur Road.
Until then, the little vehicles will continue to blacken the air. “They contribute about 60 per cent of the air pollution in Lahore,” said an officer monitoring traffic for engine fitness.
Ali Raza, an EPD inspector, said that a device used to check smoke quality usually tests motorcycle rickshaws at 80, with 100 being the highest level on the scale. The smoke is black and contains high levels of unburnt carbon, nitrogen oxides and particulate matter, he said. Motorbike rickshaws also emit noise at volumes of 95 decibels, he said. The Motor Vehicle Ordinance permits volumes of up to 85db.
In a study titled Vehicle Pollution Control, about 6,000 vehicles from 20 districts of Punjab were tested for smoke and noise pollution by the regulatory authority on environment degradation of the EPA.
According to the study, motorcycle rickshaws have a smoke-emitting capacity of 66.3 per cent, compared to 5-8 per cent for a four-stroke motorbike or rickshaw. The smoke emitting capacity goes up by 15 per cent if the engine is more than a year old.
Motorbike rickshaws are cheap to ride on because they can seat a lot more people than ordinary rickshaws, but the heavy load also affects their engines. Younas Zahid, the deputy district officer for the environment, said that when these vehicles seat up to eight passengers, the engine can be rendered unfit in two to three months, which makes it belch out even more unburned hydrocarbons. According to a Transport Department survey, there are between 50,000 and 70,000 motorbike rickshaws in Lahore.
Seeking anonymity, a senior EPA officer said another reason the government was reluctant to crack down on motorcycle rickshaws was electoral considerations. “The Punjab government will not take any step towards eradicating motorbike rickshaw use for fear of losing voters,” he said.
Transport Secretary Captain (retired) Muhammad Yousaf refused to comment on the issue, while Minister Mujtaba Shujaur Rehman did not answer calls made by this correspondent.
LTC Chairman Khawaja Ahmad Hassaan said work to “amicably phase out motorcycle rickshaws” would begin in 2013, after the Bus Rapid Transit System starts operations. But he added that rickshaws met an important need. “We cannot afford to impose an outright ban on motorbike rickshaws despite its environment disadvantages. We have to plan and act strategically,” he said.
He said that he had held a dozen meetings with representatives of motorcycle rickshaw drivers in the last two years to discuss ways to replace them. The latest plan, he said, was for the government to provide soft loans to owners of motorbike rickshaws for the purchase of Suzuki carrier trucks. “These are eco-friendly replacements easy to manoeuvre in narrow lanes like in the Walled City,” he said.
He said that buses could not run on narrow streets like inside Bhaati Gate or Lohari Gate so rickshaws or other small taxis would be needed even when there were enough buses.
Ejaz, a motorbike rickshaw driver, said that he preferred his vehicle to a four-stroke rickshaw because its engine was more robust and reliable.
Published in The Express Tribune, April 23rd, 2012.