16 August 2002
Maha Al-Azar – Daily Star
Environmentalists have decried Parliament’s decision to extend the diesel ban to 24-seat buses as a “political” move that lacks vision. “The whole issue of the ban is unfair,” said Ali Darwish, who heads Green Line, a local environmental group. “Either they should ban diesel for all vehicles or they should allow everyone to use it.”
Law 341 for curbing air pollution from the transport sector had originally called for banning diesel-powered mini-buses accommodating up to 16 passengers by July 15. But mini-bus drivers and owners have protested the move that would rob some 4,000 families of their main source of income, prompting the government to reconsider its strategy.
Darwish argued that by banning diesel-powered mini-buses seating up to 24 and ignoring larger buses, MPs were actually causing an economic crisis while doing little to fight environmental pollution. “Mini-buses and 24-seat buses were providing a much-needed cheap service for poor and remote areas not serviced by bigger buses,” he said. “If bigger buses are allowed to operate on the available diesel, they would still be causing pollution.” “The way this issue is being handled leads us to think that there’s a plan to give advantage to private companies that run buses with more than 24 seats,” he added. While mini-buses are for the most part owned by individuals, there are several privately owned companies that operate larger buses. “These are all random political decisions, not based on any vision,” Darwish complained.
During Parliament’s Wednesday session, five MPs proposed lifting the ban and importing a cleaner, more environment-friendly diesel. The MPs argued that the ban had caused an economic and social problem and did not solve pollution as the larger buses were not included. But Parliament did not adopt this proposal, deciding instead to keep the ban and expand it to include buses that can accommodate up to 24 riders.
But Darwish and other environmentalists want to see the government address the pollution problem in a more comprehensive manner. “This is not about diesel versus gasoline,” said Hala Ashour, an environmentalist active on the air pollution issue. “A complete land transport strategy should be laid out,” she said. “This would be based on a policy that would budget for promoting public transport instead of the current attitude that encourages consumption and car use.” “That includes imposing taxes on increased car use and incentives for using public transport,” Ashour said.