LAHORE - Decorated with ribbons and flags, multicoloured motorcycle rickshaws frequently speed along streets in every nook and corner of the city.

Most of them are smoky, noisy and risky for travelling but they are considered the cheapest and easiest mode of transportation. Motorcycle rickshaws, commonly known as Qingqis, facilitate thousands of commuters every day. However, a debate about their advantages and disadvantages has been continuing since 2000, the year the first motorcycle rickshaw was introduced in Punjab. Besides Lahore, thousands of Qingqis run in every city and town of the country and are a source of livelihood for millions of households.

According to a survey conducted by the Lahore Transport Company (LTC), the city’s transport regulator, in 2013, the number of motorcycle rickshaws is 38,000. However, a cautious estimate by some officials of the Transport Department and LTC is that around 90,000 three-wheeler are operating in the city.

The Sindh High Court had slammed a ban on Qingqis in 2015, but it was set aside by the apex court in its March 2017 verdict. The Supreme Court, however, made it clear in its verdict that motorcycle-rickshaws other than those approved by the authorities would not be allowed to operate in the country. The court also directed the authorities to ensure quality of transport vehicles and safety of passengers.

However, the authorities have failed so far to transfer these rickshaws into safe and secure public transport vehicles in Lahore as well as other cities and towns of the country.

Although the LTC has taken some steps to streamline the operation of motorcycle rickshaws, efforts are needed to manage them properly. “We have developed 10 zones in Lahore where Qingqis can operate. Almost 60 routes have been created in the given zones for their free operation,” said Nasir Hussain, spokesperson for the LTC.

An auto or motorcycle rickshaw can operate on the road only after its registration with the Excise and Taxation Department. Also, he said, a certificate of fitness from the Vehicle Inspection and Certification System (VICS) was required to allow them to run on the road. Motorcycle rickshaws of five companies have been allowed to operate on various city routes, he said. But, despite all claims and efforts of the LTC, one can see most Qingqis are unfit for travelling and they do not meet safety standards.

About advantages of motorcycle rickshaws, an operator said it was less expensive to operate than most automobiles and faster than autos. “It gives a good space for cargo and passengers,” he said. Passengers say a Qingqi ride costs less than a taxi ride or even a bus ride and above all a Qingqi picks and drops a passenger at any specific location unlike buses. But some people believe motorcycle rickshaws generate more pollution than most other forms of transportation. They say that Qingqis are noisy and create severe problems for other traffic on specific routes.