ISLAMABAD: A fresh crackdown by the City District Government Rawalpindi in Pakistan’s northeast to phase out two-stroke rickshaws may reach its logical conclusion, if such halfhearted drives of the past were not repeated.
The Rawalpindi district government has launched the campaign to do away with the two-stroke variety three-wheelers — popular in the congested parts of the inner city — to switch to a better engine.
“The four-stroke engine is more environment friendly than the two-stroke variation,” Awais Tarrar, Secretary District Rawalpindi Transport Authority (DRTA), said.
According to a study of the Pakistan-Environment Protection Agency (Pak-EPA), the two-stroke rickshaw emits two times more carbon dioxide and 37 times more hydrocarbons than a four-stroke rickshaw.
However, this is not the first time that a campaign to ban the two-stroke rickshaws has been launched in a major city, the Punjab government has been struggling to phase out the two-stroke rickshaws since 2005, after the Lahore High Court (LHC) ordered for introducing four-stroke rickshaws by the end of 2007.
Since then, the government policy hinged on loan schemes for rickshaw drivers to buy new, subsidized four-stroke rickshaws. However, according to a 2009 report of the Center for Public Policy and Governance (CPPG) on the Punjab government’s rickshaw policy, high maintenance costs, expensive spare parts and lack of trained mechanics for four-stroke rickshaws led rickshaw drivers to default on the loans.
The above factors resulted in the decline of demands for the four-stroke rickshaws, and almost six years after the court deadline expired, the two-stroke rickshaws still ply the roads of Rawalpindi.
There were 4,000 two-stroke engine rickshaws in Rawalpindi in 2007 when the DRTA stopped issuing and renewing their permits. (The count has not been updated since.). Tarrar said that some of the rickshaws have been phased out to smaller cities and towns.
Tarrar said that since the when the campaign has been resuscitated, the DRTA has converted over four dozen two-stroke rickshaws into four-stroke engines between February 11 and 17.
“I’ve been driving a rickshaw since Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s time,” said Younas, a rickshaw driver outside the Arid Agriculture University in Rawalpindi. “There is no way the two-stroke rickshaw is going away.”
Younas thinks the four-stroke rickshaw is a “failure”. His opinion is based on the associated costs of the four-stroke rickshaw.
The new rickshaws first appeared in Rawalpindi around 2006 and today there are around 3,100 Compressed Natural Gas (CNG) four-stroke rickshaws registered with the DRTA.
Umar Farooq, a rickshaw driver, who recently bought a new four-stroke rickshaw, said: “This rickshaw is more spacious than the old two-stroke. People prefer travelling in it.”
In return, Farooq charges the passengers Rs20-30 more than the regular fare. But he paid Rs195,000 to buy the rickshaw, which is steep because two-stroke rickshaws can be bought for less than Rs10,000.
Conversion from two-stroke to four-stroke costs around Rs30,000, the rickshaw drivers said. The cost includes the engine and changes to the body of the rickshaw. Installing a CNG kit incurs at least additional Rs20,000.
On top of that, a four-stroke engine’s spare parts are imported and therefore expensive.
“The 4-stroke gear box costs around Rs2,500,” said Ameer Khan, who runs a rickshaw repair and spare parts shop in Chah Sultan in Rawalpindi. “Comparable repairs for a two-stroke engine can be done with individual nuts and bolts which never exceed the Rs100-200 range,” Khan said.
Younas said there are no trained mechanics of the four-stroke engine available, which means the rickshaw might be out of commission if the mechanics cannot figure out the fault.
And so on the roads of Rawalpindi, the air pollution debate loses its feet quickly and is replaced by more pressing needs: livelihood and poverty. Any mention of emissions or smog is met with incredulous shakes of the head followed by the occasional “no one dies of pollution” rants.