Lahore Metro

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Three questions to begin with

 

While Karachi dreams about it in Tughlak House of Sindh Secretariat, Lahore takes a lead in Shanghai. According to the media reports, a Chinese company will launch Pakistan’s first ever metro train in Lahore with an estimated cost of 1.6 billion USD. The civil works on 27.1 km Orange Line of Lahore Metro will start in November this year and end in 27 months. This will facilitate 250,000 commuters per day between Thokar Niaz Baig and Dera Gujjran. The ridership is expected to be doubled in 2025 — the time when Lahore emerges as a megacity and an economic powerhouse on the global map.

How long will it be beneficial for the economy, community and culture of the city, how are the urban planners thinking about the corresponding challenges to the metro in a broader land use planning and what is their take on future support to the metro system? These (and other) issues require an in-depth analysis. It is definitely more than just having a cool and expensive project in the city. In this regard, we put forth three questions:

First, is it just a mega urban project or a complete plan for transit oriented development (TOD)? TOD is a multidimensional approach to community development that creates neighbourhoods with a blend of residential, business and leisure activities located around a public transport facility within a walkable distance. This primarily aims to increase usage of public transport, thus reducing road congestion and improving air quality of the city. TOD keeps in view the critical factor of economic development of the area that surrounds each transit node. The nodes are highly important as they become vital spaces of public interaction. It is here that malls and markets flourish, exhibitions and concerts are organised and public art is displayed.

We will have to build Lahore vertically even if we are badly pitted against the culture of having a ‘dalaan or vehra’ in our houses. Making the city compact and designing every township to have affordable housing, work, entertainment and retail elements are the questions to be addressed vis-à-vis public transportation choices.

If we look at the proposed route of the Orange Line, as it moves to the old parts of Lahore, TOD model becomes more compatible to these areas due to population density, interconnected street pattern and mixed land use. We have to see how we further plan to engage private sector and community to boost socio-economic life of the populated neighbourhoods and remodel less populated parts that fall on the Orange Line to fit in the TOD policy.

Land use considerations pose the second question: Are we placing our Metro in a broader agenda of city planning or not? Lahore is constantly expanding horizontally. The city government is allowing the urban sprawl to woo real estate investors and to collect urban revenues through this. For example, Lahore Development Authority (LDA) has recently announced its LDA City on 45,000-60,000 kanals of land, stretching the city further on Kasur Road. Quite similar are other developments from the private sector housing schemes. What is happening here is that we are making the city auto-dependent, our roads congested and the atmosphere polluted day by day. This paradoxical practice has to be stopped if we talk of improving public transit. We cannot think of adding more lines and stations in an expanding city like this. This involves costs to be borne by the general public, the low income commuters. We will have to build Lahore vertically even if we are badly pitted against the culture of having a ‘dalaan or vehra’ in our houses. Making the city compact and designing every township to have affordable housing, work, entertainment and retail elements are the questions to be addressed vis-à-vis public transportation choices.

If we want our metros to ply in future, we will have to charge a fee from the auto-users that throng the city roads and pollute environment with impunity. There are some global success stories to follow: Singapore’s Electronic Road Pricing (ERP), London Congestion Charge, Stockholm Congestion Tax and Dubai’s Salik etc. We have already a system of e-toll in place on the motorways. The same can be replicated in high motorised and congested zones in the city. Let us call them our new e-Chungis to support public transportation in Lahore.

Third question relates with imposing economic, social and environmental costs on car owners. Are we ready for the road congestion pricing while we are building Lahore Metro? No. Seriously, this is not a first world talk. If we want our metros to ply in future, we will have to charge a fee from the auto-users that throng the city roads and pollute environment with impunity. There are some global success stories to follow: Singapore’s Electronic Road Pricing (ERP), London Congestion Charge, Stockholm Congestion Tax and Dubai’s Salik etc. We have already a system of e-toll in place on the motorways. The same can be replicated in high motorised and congested zones in the city. Let us call them our new e-Chungis to support public transportation in Lahore.

Lahore Metro project cannot have a solo existence. It will be successful if it is planned with the multi-pronged policies of community centric transport and city development, it creates its own support base through the fee imposed on those who don’t use public transport and our urban managers constantly solicit feedback from the service users. Tough political decisions on this horizon will bring high gains in the future.