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Abrupt ALR implementation: solutions sought

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KARACHI:

Leading business leaders have presented a couple of proposals to find solutions to the problems arising in the wake of a sudden implementation of the Axle Load Regime (ALR) of the National Highway Safety Ordinance (NHSO) 2000.

The ALR, re-implemented on Nov 12, 2023, is hitting local trade, exports and imports. They said the authority concerned imposed the ALR and adopted a pitch that highways are being broken.

The previously implemented ALR in 2019 also caused disruptions in the supply chain of all commodities and products including rice, wheat, wheat flour, grains, feed, fertiliser, edible oil, cement, coal, steel, cotton and others.

They said billions of rupees have been spent on highways and motorways which cannot afford heavy transport. Implementing the ALR at once will trigger another wave of inflation.

Following sudden implementation of the new ALR, extra costs of essential commodities (fertiliser, edible oilseeds, poultry, fruits, vegetables, sugarcane, refined sugar, rice, wheat, grains and others) through commercial transport vehicles are estimated at around Rs263 billion per annum. To address the adverse effects on the economy, there is a need to draw up a policy through consensus among relevant industries and sectors for a phase-wise implementation of the ALR.

Pakistan has to scale up exports significantly to meet the government’s commitments, and export promises cannot be met without reducing the cost of transport. In turn, the cost of transport cannot be reduced without shipments via cheap waterways. Scores of traders, exporters, importers and others using highways or motorways are of the view that road users can pay maintenance costs of the highways constructed with bitumen, or pay construction cost of another extra RCC (Reinforced Cement Concrete) road lane built along highways as roads with asphalt do not suit heavy vehicular traffic.

Read Axle load management

They also urged the government to set up Waterways Development Authority to construct waterways at less than half the cost of ML-1 (which may transport a maximum of 30,000 tonnes per day), while cheap waterways can transport 300,000 tonnes or more.

For the fast growing transport requirement, new roads will cost many times more than the development of waterways. The Waterways Development Authority will propose legislation for overall rules and regulations as well as management, particularly to permit private sector investment (where citizens have already purchased land on waterfront but cannot progress as no legislation exists).

“Before fully implementing the regime, it should be realised that still much is to be done to immediately rehabilitate the existing road infrastructure. Motorways and national highways are not more than 5% of the entire national road grid but, importantly, cater to 80% of the road traffic. At the same time, the question arises whether the past and present governments revised and updated the National Trucking Policy 2007, or implemented the National Transport Policy 2017-18, or took appropriate steps as per the National Freight and Logistics Policy 2020,” said Seatrade Group of Companies Chairman Muhammad Najib Balagamwalla.

“Every new minister or secretary has this penchant to extract dormant files and attempt to resurrect the files lying deep in the crypts of bureaucracy. The intention is usually unbiased and legal but the ramifications are rarely visualised nor comprehended seriously. The priorities are skewed, especially when the nation is still facing the strains of a difficult economy,” he said.

While fulminating against the ALR, Lasbela Chamber of Commerce and Industry (LCCI) President and Salt Manufacturers Association of Pakistan (SMAP) Founding Chairman Ismail Suttar said transportation cost of salt is more than its (salt) value. The authorities concerned raise this issue from time to time. Goods vehicles carry the same load of around 70 tonnes or above, but police enjoy a party while taking cuts and bribes throughout the way from the port to the destination in the country or vice versa.

He said the ALR should be ignored, if it is implemented strictly, there would be scarcity of food, as there are not ample goods vehicles in the country, estimated at just 350,000 vehicles.

“Implementing the ALR will require a fleet of more than double at around 700,000 goods vehicles forthwith, pushing up fuel consumption, tyres demand, pollution, vehicular traffic, trigger a new storm of inflation and above all vehicles cannot be imported overnight and the country will need millions of dollars to purchase them. Therefore, there is a need for a long-term policy to implement the ALR,” he said.

Leading auto expert and author of “Steering the Pakistani Wheel” Murtaza Mandviwala said the regulators have to reset their view on the automotive industry. “Affordable mobility of people and goods is critical for economic growth. Pakistan is left with road transport as the only form of mobility (having poor railroads, no waterways, a few airports and scarce mass transit).”

Meanwhile, sharing details of the ALR, the business leaders said approximately 350,000 units of various axle trucks are plying across the country with a majority of them being three-axle (10 wheelers) and six-axle (22 wheelers).

A trailer used to carry 55 tonnes to 80 tonnes of cargo and a highwall truck used to transport 30 tonnes of goods, but after implementation of the ALR, they are lifting 40 tonnes and 17 tonnes respectively.

Some of the users had to get a stay order from the Sindh High Court for Karachi only as there is no highway within the port city where goods vehicles can carry 55 tonnes and 30 tonnes, but vehicles going to the upcountry side have to follow the ALR of 40 tonnes and 17 tonnes respectively.

The writer is a staff correspondent

Published in The Express Tribune, April 1st, 2024.

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