Electric buses have been running for a number of months in Pakistan’s largest metropolis, and thousands of people have used them to save money on petrol. The introduction of these buses was motivated in part by a desire to lessen Karachi’s air pollution, but can the switch to electric buses really make a dent in the city’s pollution levels?
Many urban planners and environmental scientists are sceptical that this small number of electric buses can make a substantial difference, and they have advocated for a far larger and more comprehensive revamp of the transportation system.
As the number of cars on the road continues to rise (30. 7 million in Pakistan in 2020, up from 9. 6 million in 2011), cities like Peshawar and Karachi have launched initiatives to encourage more environmentally friendly modes of transportation. The fifty electric buses in Karachi have a passenger capacity of at least seventy and can go for 240 kilometres (149 miles) on a single charge. With a full charge, it can travel up to 240 kilometres.
The present fleet of electric buses, which cost $15 million, was purchased by a transport business and is being operated by that company for eight years before the Sindh province government takes ownership.
Secretary of Sindh’s Transportation and Mass Transit Department, Abdul Haleem Shaikh, has stated that negotiations have begun with the Asian Development Bank (ADB) for a loan of approximately $30 million to fund the purchase of an additional 100 buses.
To dissuade people from using their smoke-emitting automobiles and motorbikes, “we want to provide them with emission-free, comfortable, and luxury buses along with trained staff,” he stated.
Pakistan has been hit hard by extreme weather events including heatwaves and forest fires in recent years, and the country is still trying to recover from record-breaking floods that occurred in 2022.
At least 40% of Pakistan’s polluted air is emitted from vehicles, according to the country’s climate change ministry, but air pollution remains one of the country’s most pressing environmental concerns. 500,000 electric motorcycles and rickshaws, plus over 100,000 electric automobiles, buses, and lorries, were all part of a plan announced by the government of Pakistan in November 2019.
It is currently unknown how many are out there in total. Pakistan has pledged to increase its efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the years running up to 2030, when it hopes to have sold a third of all vehicles and trucks and half of all motorcycles and buses that are electric.
Peshawar is getting a brand new public transport system, and as part of that, the province administration is getting away of the old buses and replacing them with diesel-electric hybrid vehicles.
In addition to the fifty new e-buses, the government of Pakistan has been deploying a fleet of two hundred fifty vehicles in Karachi that run on bio-methane derived from water buffalo excrement.
Some commentators have criticised the bus programmes in Karachi, both new and old, saying they do not do enough to reduce pollution. According to Muhammad Toheed, associate director of the Karachi Urban Lab at the Institute of Business Administration, a better focus would have been reducing the overall number of automobiles and motorbikes on the roads and raising public awareness about the impact of air pollution.
A person who drives or rides a bike to work without air conditioning or other pollution controls “does not realise what cruelty he is committing with the environment,” he said.
According to Yasir Husain of the Darya Lab, an environmental consulting group, at least 1,500 e-buses, not only 150, are required to significantly reduce emissions in Karachi. “The government also should provide soft loans through easy financing to promote the use of e-bikes and e-rickshaws,” added Husain, who also founded the advocacy group Green Pakistan Coalition.
The city’s transport secretary, Shaikh, conceded that the introduction of 150 new electric buses would not significantly cut air pollution on their own, but he cited the city’s bio-methane vehicles and the 29 traditional bus routes as additional factors.