The wheels on the bus go round and round…


Why we need to improve Pakistan’s transport system


Pakistan’s transport system remains inadequate and inefficient, and the passengers continue facing mobility and transport accessibility issues. Though there have been numerous developments in the transportation system – such as construction of mega flyovers, overhead bridges, and novel public transit systems such as Metro buses – the problems of traffic congestion and inconvenience in commuting are frequently evident. This is indeed an alarming situation, which is majorly attributed to weak and ineffective urban transport planning in Pakistan, and calls for immediate attention for its improvement.

It is unfortunate that the larger proportion of spending on the transport infrastructure in Pakistan is on privately owned automobiles, while a great deal of public funds are allocated for the provision of accessible and easy commuting opportunities for a small segment of the urban population. However, the development and improvement of the public transit systems, which is affordable by majority of the population remains neglected. The gaping lack of low-cost public transport particularly for high density Pakistani cities is not widely filled by the public or by the private sector.

In addition, the urban transport planners have failed to provide for transportation services considering the differentiated requirements of the commuters. Poor commuters demand safe yet affordable public transport services. In contrast, the middle class commuters require comfortable transport facilities such as well-managed, spacious and air-conditioned seating. This calls for the government to adopt a mechanism for provision of differentiated transport services for the commuters belonging to different echelons of the society; such as the poor commuters should be charged very low fares compared with market rates to be charged from the middle class commuters.

However, at present the transport authorities are bent upon providing standardized transit facilities for all the travelers though their purchasing power differs considerably. It certainly fails to meet the needs of the commuters belonging to various classes equally. The past efforts of the government to subsidize the private transit operators in the hope of charging low fares for all the commuters are deemed to be ineffective; as they fail to meet the commuters’ needs equally, which remains a strain on the scarce public resources.

It is indeed disillusioning to analyze this bleak picture of the transport sector of Pakistan, which though accounts for more than 11% of the country’s GDP but it still fails to provide quality and cost-efficient services to all equally. Besides, the transport infrastructure required for the common modes of travelling in Pakistan such as walking and bicycling does not widely exist.

A recent survey by the Japanese government on transport in Lahore has proven that 84% of the households in Lahore do not own a car, and nearly 40% of the trips made in the city are walking trips. In consideration of these statistics, it can be asserted that the transport infrastructure most commonly required for pedestrians, cyclists and motorcyclists remains neglected for development. There stands an inevitable need to build more roads, pavements, footpaths and sidewalks to facilitate the needs of the travelers using the common modes of travelling.

Another major anomaly evident in the transport infrastructure of Pakistan is inappropriate feasibility study of any project of transit system before its implementation. For instance, Lahore Metro Bus Project at present is facing inability to meet the travelling needs of commuters on all routes due to scarcity of buses. The number of buses on the Lahore Station to Green Town station route is supposed to be less in number as compared to the growing population requirements, which indicates poor planning and implementation of Lahore Metro Bus project. Such a grave scenario calls for a thorough realistic feasibility analysis, and effective planning for any transport project before its implementation to ensure ease of commuting for travelers in all areas equally in the future.

Considering the afore-mentioned issues characterizing the transport system of Pakistan, it is immediately required for the provincial governments to allocate adequate funds for improved planning and better implementation of public transit systems. The feasibility studies of future public transit projects – such as the ongoing work on Orange Line Metro Project – should be conducted with hindsight to avoid planning anomalies, and constraints of travelling resources in the future. The government should chalk out a stringent framework to fulfill the transportation needs of the commuters belonging to all the parts of the society equally. Additional funds and space should also be allocated for building sidewalks, and bike lanes to meet the needs of the majority of the commuters.