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Blog: 20 Karachiites, 1km, public transport and air pollution

A thought experiment on reducing emissions

SAMAA | - Posted: Dec 1, 2020 | Last Updated: 2 months ago
Posted: Dec 1, 2020 | Last Updated: 2 months ago
Blog: 20 Karachiites, 1km, public transport and air pollution

File photo: Online

Pre-Covid snazzy bus-hailing apps surfaced in Karachi and became popular. While they have since been forced to suspend operations, it is worth considering their contribution to the transport sector in the hope that if and when they do return, they will renew our debate on public transport models and air pollution solutions. 

These bus-hailing services became popular because they let people book a seat to travel in dignity and some comfort. Fares were affordable to many and the service was reliable. They gave women even more options in mobility. 

But there was the question of whether bus-hailing apps caused less air pollution than other means of transport (private cars, old bus services like the W11, rickshaws, motorcycles, ride-hailing apps). One such application, Air-Lift Pakistan, explicitly stated in its mission statement that one of its aims was to implement greener commuting practices. Nevertheless, many people have been critical whether buses actually reduce Carbon emissions (CO2e) given that they run on more fuel.

Emissions of harmful gases like Carbon Dioxide play an integral part in causing air pollution and consequently, climate change in any country. In Pakistan, emissions are raising alarm bells. According to the GHG Emissions factsheet of Pakistan, the transport subsector is the second main driver of energy sector emissions growth. 

The National Economic and Development Study (NEEDS) reported in 2011 that the number of privately owned vehicles in Pakistan went from 2 million in 1992 to 9 million in 2011. And the Pakistan Journal of Meteorology in 2017 states that fuel consumption of domestic vehicles contributes to 69% of CO2e. 

If these applications actually reduce emissions significantly as they claim they do, they could bring about a revolution in combatting air pollution in Pakistan. 

There is no one definite answer to the question of what the cleanest way to travel in Karachi actually is. A multitude of factors together determine the carbon footprint after a trip taken. These factors include the build or model of the vehicle, the fuel, the distance traveled and the speed. So I decided to estimate the amount of CO2e for different means of transport in Karachi that it takes to carry 20 people over 1km under very specific circumstances. Some standards such as a specific vehicle model for every type of transport, the average amount of people per vehicle and type of fuel were considered. 

I took the fuel to be petrol, for which the average mass of Carbon dioxide released is approximately 2.32kg when a liter is burned, according to sources such as Auto Smart and ComCar

I assume a bus from the bus-hailing applications to be the Toyota Coaster, which travels around 7.2 km per one liter of petrol. I took the car to be a Suzuki Mehran, traveling around 14 km on average per liter. The Sazgar Rikshaw travels 30km per liter on average. Lastly, I took the Honda CD70 motorcycle which travels on average, 32km per liter. I assumed that on average, 20 people can travel by one bus, 10 cars, 10 rikshaws, and 20 bikes. All of these numbers may vary by a certain degree in a realistic scenario.

The mileage was taken into account in order to work out the CO2e when a specific vehicle travels one kilometer. The mileage was 323.6g CO2e for one bus, 1664 for 10 cars, 777 for 10 rikshaws and 1456 for 20 bikes. 

20 Karachiites, 1km, public transport and air pollution

The conclusions appears that if individuals did switch to shared transport instead of private vehicles, they can drastically reduce vehicular emissions. Buses can indeed potentially be the cleanest means of transport. However, at this point, people are not switching to them in enough numbers to leave a cleaner Carbon footprint. 

But it isn’t as simple as that, despite the fact that the 70-rupee fare of these bus-hailing services seems like an inexpensive option to people who can afford it, a lot of minimum wage workers can’t pay that amount for one-way travel. There are other exceptions as well, delivery services might prefer bikes for quick and uninterrupted work while the rich might prefer to travel by their own cars for privacy and convenience. 

One possibility to curb the cost and make clean transport more accessible is using the 80-seater wide-bodied government buses. Looking at the estimates above and keeping in mind the impact that 24-seater buses make, think about the impact these bigger ones could have. Make the buses electric and you further reduce emissions. 

An EU study based on expected performance in 2020 found that an electric car using electricity generated solely by an oil-fired power station would use only two-thirds of the energy of a petrol car travelling the same distance, according to the Guardian

In conversation with The News, Abid Omar, the founder of Pakistan Air Quality Initiative (PAQI) confirmed the aforementioned analysis by saying, “Mass transit should be accessible to millions. What the app-based services are providing highlights the government’s failure in providing a basic public service. The government should incentivise such companies, so that they can reach a scale that contributes to reducing air pollution and thereby improving human health.”

What we can establish is that we need to rethink our carbon foot-print and what causes it to be as high as it is. And surely this is reason enough consider making some lifestyle changes. 

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