Pakistan is looking to put half a million electric vehicles on the roads over the next five years under an ambitious new National Electric Vehicle Policy approved by the Prime Minister Imran Khan. Part of the government efforts to cut air pollution and mitigate climate change, the policy envisions 30 percent or more of the national motor fleet – including motorcycles, rickshaws, buses, trucks and cars – running on electricity by 2030.
Since 1997, the Pakistani motor fleet has seen explosive growth taking it from 0.8 million to 4 million over two decades. There has been an attendant rise in air pollution in urban areas composed of 38.8 percent of toxic motor vehicle emissions. A recent study by researchers at Harvard University says even a small increase in long-term exposure to air pollution particles can lead to an 8 percent jump in the rate of deaths caused by respiratory illness.
“Pakistan must learn and take drastic measures to limit the increase in air pollution”, says Syed Muhammad Abubakar, an independent environmental researcher based in Lahore. “Otherwise, the lives of many will be at risk.”
According to Abubakar, the transport sector is responsible for more than 40 percent of the air pollution in the Punjab province. There is “no time to lose” in cleaning up the air in Pakistan’s cities, especially in the midst of Covid-19, he said.
Addressing concerns about the cost of electric vehicles, climate advisor Aslam said the policy includes incentives for their owners, such as removing yearly registration fees and a 50 percent discount on motorway tolls.
“In a country where large cities routinely suffer high levels of air pollution, the benefits to Pakistan’s environmental health will also be significant,” he added. Each electric vehicle produces 65 percent fewer pollutants than traditional petrol powered engines, he said.
According to the latest World Air Quality Report, Pakistani and Indian cities dominated the most polluted cities in 2019. Much of that pollution is due to rapid motorisation, environmental experts say.
The blue skies citizens witnessed during the coronavirus lockdown showed “the extremely strong nexus between congested vehicular traffic and air pollution, especially in urban centres”, Aslam said.
A turn towards the EV can certainly help lower air pollution. “The rest of the world is adopting this technology and it is pollution-free. The sooner it comes, the better it is for everyone,” said Shaukat Qureshi, general secretary of the Pakistan Electric Vehicles and Parts Manufacturers and Traders Association (PEVPMTA).
This policy will presently be implemented on the most common transportations in urban areasmotorbikes, buses, trucks and rickshaws whereas cars will be saved for a later stage, as stated by Malik Amin Aslam, climate change advisor to the prime minister.
Not satisfied with this stance, Shaukat Qureshi, says leaving out cars while initially implementing the policy is like a wedding party without a groom.
Hussain, who works as a driver for a family in Gulberg district, earning about PKR 20,000 a month is looking forward to driving an electric motorcycle on the prospect of saving PKR 4,000 every month. “It would be a substantial saving for me to switch to an electric motorbike,” he said.
While the electric vehicles may be environment friendly and economical in terms of saving upto PKR 25,000 monthly in fuel costs coupled with oil and filter maintenance, affording them is hard for the families with low income as the price range starts from PKR250,000.
However, Mian Ali Hameed, marketing director at Sazgar Engineering Works Limited, enthusiastic to launch electric rickshaws in the Pakistani market, confirmed that the purchaser can recover the purchase cost within a year.
This March, Karachi became the first Pakistani city to run electric buses. Sindh Minister for Transport Owais Qadir Shah inaugurated the project under public-private partnership. The electric bus will run from Tower to Sohrab Goth and the fare for one stop will be as low as Rs10. The project will begin with 10 bus stops. Sapphire Group’s bus has a capacity of 37 seats.
Addressing the inaugural ceremony, the provincial transport minister said that the electric bus would be run on a trial basis. By the end of this year, Shah said, the number of these environment friendly vehicles would rise to 100. He said that progress had also been made on the Sindh government’s own bus projects.
Pakistan’s climate changes woes are vast and the National Electric Vehicle Policy is unlikely to tackle them on its own, but it looks like a promising piece of the overall puzzle. The immediate question, however, is putting the policy into action. It is to be hoped all elements of the government will work towards that end and make a success of the initiative.