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EDITORIAL: While a month-long electric buses test run started in Lahore by the Punjab Transport Company (PTC) is said to be “going great”, Sindh Transport Minister Sharjeel Memon also inaugurated a similar trial run in Karachi on November 7 amid much fanfare, saying more e-buses would hit the roads in Karachi within a few days.

Introduction of this environmental-friendly means of public transportation in the country’s two most polluted cities, Lahore – which frequently competes with New Delhi to get the unsavoury distinction of being the world’s most polluted city –and Karachi, a city of teeming millions, cannot be welcomed enough. A major cause of the pollution in these cities being toxic emissions from vehicular traffic using substandard Euro- 4 fuel, introduction of emissions- free buses can become a game-changer. That though may not happen anytime soon.

According to an official associated with the PTC which is working in collaboration with BYD (Build Your Dreams), a Chinese electric vehicles manufacturing company, the data collected from the pilot project in Lahore for its feasibility, including capital investment and maintenance costs, is still being analysed with a view to developing e-vehicles market and setting up manufacturing facilities. Before the kickoff event in Karachi, Sindh Transport Minister had announced that the new e-buses would be charged via solar energy, and the company responsible for the project would also establish centres or stations where they would be charged.

That should allay the apprehensions of those thinking about recurring power cuts. But if and when the project will be fully functional is open to question considering that earlier the provincial government had kept giving dates after dates for putting more hybrid buses on the roads of Karachi. Also, it was in March of last year that the country’s first e-bus project was launched in that city, with the promise to increase the number of these vehicles to 100 by the end of the year.

Yet a year and eight months later, the project has been initiated afresh with just 50 e- buses. It is not known why it fell through the first time round. Talking to journalists in the present context, though, Memon said that these vehicles have been imported at twice the cost of hybrid diesel buses. Hence the government is negotiating with two to three big foreign companies to establish manufacturing plants in Karachi, which would also create employment opportunities for people. This surely is important, but it also means the new project is likely to remain stuck in trial phase for an indefinite period.

The cost may be a forbidding factor, but not when weighed against the price pollution exacts in terms of harm to public health. The commuters should be provided with an efficient, affordable, and cleaner transport service, which will also reduce the amount of traffic, including cars and motor cycles, and thereby the volume of hazardous emissions. All provincial governments are required to focus on combating environmental pollution as far as possible. The present exercise must not turn out to be a vanity project.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2022

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