Of climate change, motorcycles and lethal smog


AS the world genuinely feels threatened by climate change, it is a shame that Lahore is, probably, the world`s most polluted city. Given this ancient city`s history this is a shame.

Research shows that motorcycles are more fuel-efficient than cars because they emit lesser greenhouse gas carbon dioxide. But then the fatal difference is they emit far more smog-forming hydrocarbons and oxides of nitrogen as well as the extreme toxic air pollutant carbon monoxide. Research shows that five cars equal the smog-forming emission of one motorcycle.

Let us examine the threat to smog from motorcycles to our city. But first be aware that smog forms most where motorcycles ply, plus cities near the sea with sea breeze as the saviour which blows the smog away. In cities far from the sea the smog just grows.

The Punjab Police computer records tell us that for the city of Lahore it has 4.2 million motorcycles for a population of 14.4 million. The average number of persons per house, call it household, is seven persons.

This means that there are 2.06 motorcycles per household in Lahore. Given these official figures, it means every household has over two motorcycles each, with some areas almost three per household.

Why is this so? The reason is that our local government virtually does not exist, and they have completely failed to provide local transportation. The same is true of other Pakistani cities, including Karachi.

In 1947 when Partition took place, Mr. M.A. Jinnah among his first orders were for Lahore, and other cities, to have an efficient transport system for the poor.

He assigned Mr Zulfiqar Taha to set up the LOS, and buses were assembled in Lahore. In our youth everyone used buses, or bicycles. Smog never existed.

In 1971 after the Bangladesh tragedy, the then prime minister ordered buses from Sweden for Lahore as the old LOS buses suffered from parts theft and disinterest, what to speak of other ills. Also, from the LOS coffers a massive loan was forced by an official institution which bankrupted the LOS. That loan was never returned.

The powerful got away with it. The poor be damned.

Today Lahore, according to official records, has 66 metro buses. Another source, official it seems, claims that the total number of buses in Lahore is 650. Our sources claim that the real operating number is barely 120 buses. One would not like to speculate about what happened to the rest. Amazingly, the Quaid-i-Azam then instructed that once the road transportation was sufficient, work must be planned for an underground system. But with him went his dreams.

Let us undertake a comparative look at other world cities. It might provide us a road map for the future.

Take a city like London with a population of 7.7m, almost half the size of a wildly expanding Lahore. It has 8,600 buses plying 675 routes.

Public transportation in London started in 1829 with horse-drawn omnibuses. At a very rapid speed all buses are being converted to electric. In 1912 the first electric underground trains started. As car ownership rose the number of buses declined from a high of 10,250. Now cars must pay emission cost s and their number is falling.

Let us look at another example from the sub-continent. Take an Indian city like Kolkota, once known as Calcutta, with a population of 15 million plus, very much near the bursting Lahore. This historic city has 40,000 private and public transport buses and another 6,000 minibuses. Given this the city has approximately one million motorcycles. But then Kolkota has an underground train service with 26 stations servicing 31.3 kil-ometers. Of recent given that the city is surrounded by water, it now has a series of underwater lines.

Take a city like Karachi. Last week the ad hoc government added 80 buses to the city`s fleet taking it to a shameful 300 buses. Imagine a city of 17.3 million persons with just 300 buses. The result is that motorcycles abound, what to speak of a rise in crime rates.

Over the last few years, several proposals have been put forward by bus companies for Lahore. Strangely, all of them have been returned as being `unworkable`. Just what is wrong? Why does Lahore not have a large electric fleet of double and single decker buses to help the people out. The cost of a posh SUV equals the cost of a double decker bus. The more the buses the fewer will be cars and the lethal motorcycle numbers.

The existence of these 4.2m lethal smog-creating motorcycles have changed life in Lahore in a massive way, and all solely because the police and the bureaucracy being unable to enforce the law. There are several ills that flow from these massive police failures. Firstly, they are unable to stop underage teenagers from driving motorcycles at neck-breaking speeds. Added to this is the undeniable fact that they refuse to wear helmets. In the walled city narrow lanes their speed has created a massive menace.

But the most tragic and sad outcome of these speeding youngsters is that kite-flying, an ancient Lahore tradition, has been banned by a set of illiterate politicians.

With the police totally at fault a social custom, and now a massive tourist attraction, has been killed off.

But one cannot solely blame the police for this sad outcome. With buses not available and with the city expanding beyond control, using bicycles by even the poor seems out of the question. My wife and her elder sister used to go to college on bicycles, and no one dared to pester them. Now with unlicenced motorcyclists, our social norms have dropped to shameful levels.

Without buses what possibly could people do to solve their daily transport problems? Distances forbid bicycles. Motorcycles are rapid and economical. With two or three per household, it is possible to move from one place to another. But then long distances are still difficult on a motorcycle.

Also, the fact remains that the number of deaths from kite strings is less than what one can count on our fingers.

All the deaths are because unlicenced youngsters withoutometers. Of recent given that the city is surrounded by water, it now has a series of underwater lines.

Take a city like Karachi. Last week the ad hoc government added 80 buses to the city`s fleet taking it to a shameful 300 buses. Imagine a city of 17.3 million persons with just 300 buses. The result is that motorcycles abound, what to speak of a rise in crime rates.

Over the last few years, several proposals have been put forward by bus companies for Lahore. Strangely, all of them have been returned as being `unworkable`. Just what is wrong? Why does Lahore not have a large electric fleet of double and single decker buses to help the people out. The cost of a posh SUV equals the cost of a double decker bus. The more the buses the fewer will be cars and the lethal motorcycle numbers.

The existence of these 4.2m lethal smog-creating motorcycles have changed life in Lahore in a massive way, and all solely because the police and the bureaucracy being unable to enforce the law. There are several ills that flow from these massive police failures. Firstly, they are unable to stop underage teenagers from driving motorcycles at neck-breaking speeds. Added to this is the undeniable fact that they refuse to wear helmets. In the walled city narrow lanes their speed has created a massive menace.

But the most tragic and sad outcome of these speeding youngsters is that kite-flying, an ancient Lahore tradition, has been banned by a set of illiterate politicians.

With the police totally at fault a social custom, and now a massive tourist attraction, has been killed off.

But one cannot solely blame the police for this sad outcome. With buses not available and with the city expanding beyond control, using bicycles by even the poor seems out of the question. My wife and her elder sister used to go to college on bicycles, and no one dared to pester them. Now with unlicenced motorcyclists, our social norms have dropped to shameful levels.

Without buses what possibly could people do to solve their daily transport problems? Distances forbid bicycles. Motorcycles are rapid and economical. With two or three per household, it is possible to move from one place to another. But then long distances are still difficult on a motorcycle.

Also, the fact remains that the number of deaths from kite strings is less than what one can count on our fingers.

All the deaths are because unlicenced youngsters withouthelmets at fast speeds invite trouble. All the death, less than two dozen a year, are in areas where kites are flown. The number is smaller than those hit crossing a road.

So here we have a situation where one set of problems no buses for the poor and middleclasses each connected to another. There is absolutely no doubt that our rulers, of every ilk and shade, have been unable to solve the problems of the people. All this, additionally, has led to a massive income disparity that further deepens the problems of transportation, as also of a cynical social behaviour mismatch with the reality of our age.

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