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The Daily Star:Taxi drivers announce proposal to replace diesel engines

21 March 2002

Maha Al-Azar Daily Star

Taxi drivers said Wednesday that their proposal to replace the some           17,000 sooty smoke-sputtering vehicles running on low-grade diesel           with gasoline-powered cars by June will not burden the state’s Treasury.  United Association of Taxi Drivers and Transportation Services president Bassem   Tleis announced the proposal during a news conference at the General Labor   Confederation.

Under the plan, Tleis explained that the state-owned Finance Bank or any number of private banks would offer soft loans to drivers so they would be able to replace their diesel-powered vehicles with gasoline-engine cars. The government, however, would have to back such an enterprise so that the     banks would grant the required loans, he said.

Tleis said cars would be exempt from all required tariffs “for one time only,”       and drivers would expect their gasoline to be subsidized by the government.  “We call on the government to offer (drivers) gasoline at a reduced price …       not to exceed LL10,000 per 20-liter tank of gasoline,” said Tleis, adding that       it would be up to the government to monitor the distribution of the gasoline       and prevent the emergence of a black market.

Currently, there are 33,298 taxi or service vehicles, in addition to 4,000         minibuses. Of these, some 17,000 cars are diesel-powered.  MPs had passed Law 341, which calls for a reduction in air pollution by the         transport sector, on Aug. 6, 2001 , sending taxi-drivers’ associations into         frenzied demonstrations.

As a result, Interior Minister Elias Murr undertook to delay its implementation,           promising to find a fair solution to the impasse.  The law included clauses that specified deadlines for phasing out diesel-engines           from the transport sector, with the exception of trucks and large buses, as           well as reinstituting the road-worthiness test, which was suspended almost           three years ago.

Currently, motorists are required to pay mecanique fees at the bank, but do             not have to subject their cars to inspection.  “Little” of Law 341 has been implemented, Beirut MP Mohammed Qabbani told The             Daily Star, “We have done our part as MPs, now it’s up to the Cabinet to implement             the law,” he said.

Qabbani, who is a member of Parliament’s Environment Committee, said he and               a number of other MPs had addressed the Cabinet last week with an official               question about why they have not implemented the law.  “The next parliamentary session is April 29. If we don’t receive a satisfactory             answer by then, we will transform the question into an inquiry,” he added.  Qabbani criticized both the Public Works and Transport Ministry and the Interior             Ministry for the delay.

Environmentalists have often explained that diesel-powered cars in Lebanon               are polluting for two reasons. First, the engines are not made for road vehicles               but for heavy-duty agricultural equipment. Moreover, the diesel on the market               is meant for use in heating and not in the transport sector.  Environmentalists have said they wanted Law 341 to include a clause that would             allow the use of natural gas as fuel, as it is the least polluting among the             three fuels.

“We wanted them to              think long-term,” said Hala Ashour, a member of Green Line, a local non-profit               environmental organization.  According to Ashour, there was increasing interest in natural gas as a source             of fuel, “but there is no law currently on the books that governs that.”

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