Electric Buses are operational in the biggest city of Pakistan for some months and so far thousands of passengers have used them to reduce their daily fuel expenses. One of the main reasons for introducing these buses was to reduce air pollution generated by Karachi, but are the electric buses enough to solve such an immense problem?
Environmental and urban experts have shown extremely skeptical opinions about whether this number of electric buses will have a significant impact and called for a much wider and more meaningful transport overhaul.
Concerns are growing over the number of vehicles on the roads – there were 30.7 million in Pakistan in 2020, up from 9.6 million in 2011 – cities such as Peshawar and Karachi have announced plans to promote greener transport. Karachi’s 50 e-buses can each carry at least 70 passengers and travel 240 km (149 miles) on a single charge. Capable of covering a distance of 240 kilometers with a single charge.
The current operating fleet of electric buses costs $15 million and was funded through a public-private partnership, with a transport company purchasing the buses and operating them for eight years before the Sindh provincial government takes over as owner.
The government is now in talks with the Asian Development Bank (ADB), seeking a loan of about $30 million to purchase an additional 100 buses, according to Abdul Haleem Shaikh, secretary of Sindh’s transport and mass transit department.
“We want to provide people with emission-free, comfortable, and luxury buses along with trained staff to discourage them from using their smoke-emitting cars and motorbikes,” he said.
Dramatic climate disasters from heatwaves to forest fires have struck Pakistan in the last few years, and the country is still recovering from unprecedented floods in 2022.
But air pollution remains one of the country’s main environmental concerns, with at least 40% of dirty air in Pakistan produced by vehicles, the country’s climate change ministry has said. In November 2019, Pakistan’s government set a target to bring a half million electric motorcycles and rickshaws, along with more than 100,000 electric cars, buses, and trucks, into the transportation system within five years.
The current overall number on the roads is unknown. Pakistan has a longer-term goal of ensuring that a third of all cars and trucks and half of motorcycles and buses sold by 2030 is electric, and has generally vowed to ramp up its efforts to cut greenhouse gas emissions in the years leading up to that date.
In Peshawar, the provincial government is taking old buses off the road and replacing them with diesel-electric hybrid models as part of a new public transport system.
And in Karachi, in a push separate from the 50 new e-buses, the government has been rolling out a network of 250 vehicles fueled by bio-methane produced from water buffalo manure.
Yet the bus initiatives in Karachi – both newer and older – have been criticized by some analysts, who say they do not do enough to lower pollution. A better focus would have been reducing the total number of cars and motorcycles on the roads, and creating more public awareness about the impact of air pollution, said Muhammad Toheed, associate director at the Karachi Urban Lab of the Institute of Business Administration.
“A commuter that uses his own smoke-emitting vehicle or bike to get to his workplace does not understand what cruelty he is committing with the environment,” he said.
Yasir Husain of the Darya Lab, a consultancy firm dealing with environmental issues, said at least 1,500 rather than 150 e-buses would be needed to have any impact in reducing emissions in Karachi. “The government also should provide soft loans through easy financing to promote the use of e-bikes and e-rickshaws,” said Husain, who is also the founder of Green Pakistan Coalition, an advocacy group.
Shaikh, the transport secretary, acknowledged that the 150 new electric buses would not do much to reduce air pollution in isolation, but pointed to the bio-methane vehicles and also highlighted the 29 traditional bus routes covering the city.