“The motorbike has killed Asia,” says my well-travelled mate, The Guv.
I agree… almost. The motorbike, or specifically, its polluting exhaust, is killing Asia. The big, beautiful, ancient Asian cities that once were crisscrossed by bicycles and rickshaws, are now being choked by the fume spewing motorbikes and tuk tuks. Literally.
By the sixth day of my latest stay in Bangkok, I am feeling queasy. It’s not the water. It’s not the food (although the unprocessed, non-preservative food can be a bit of a shock to our systems). No, it’s the polluted air, that’s trapped in the small lanes and alleyways where the breeze can’t penetrate. I instantly felt better when back in my hotel room with the air conditioner on, which I avoid unless necessary. The guys working below in the Talat Noi laneway businesses, busily stripping back truck/bus/car/motorbike engines, often wear surgical masks. Most of the street cops are sporting a mask. I, the foreign visitor, stand out as the odd one.
Sure, motorbikes have been scooting about since the 1960s Vietnam War. But their presence is now increasing exponentially each year.
I noticed the looming danger in Beijing in 2008; Kuala Lumpur’s night sky was like pea soup in 2010. Now, 2015, and Sri Lanka is on course to become an island of motorbikes and tuk tuks. Even Kathmandu is full of them, says Guv. In Bangkok, the skytrain and rail system are doing their best; the commercial reliance on transporting via the Chao Phraya River’s huge industrial barges – plus its network of ferries – also has nobly tried to stem the tide. But the motorbike is taking over.
It’s just so cheap. And easy. A motorbike will get people and parcels from A to Z, through the alleyways and back lanes to avoid the congested main roads, for a fraction of the cost, and time, of a bus or a bicycle. These big Asia cities all have millions of spluttering, tiny 120cc motorbikes are old, out of tune, and are simply little pollution-making machines. They are run on the cheapest fuel available. It’s a different world to what we live in.
The people in these developing countries are barely surviving, they waste nothing, and most work two jobs, six days a week. So there is no way they will use anything other than the cheapest option, the little motorbike. They simply cannot.
We must make electric motors an option that’s cheaper than fossil fuel burners.