Why mass-transit transport – BRT buses and MRT trains – are necessary for large cities.
Pakistan’s urban mass-transit transport is starting to get a facelift.
In a matter of three years (2013-16), citizens in three of its large cities – Lahore (12 million), Rawalpindi-Islamabad (6 million twin cities combined) and Multan (5 million) – were able to travel in clean, safe and air-conditioned Metro buses on dedicated road tracks on a 20¢ fare which is a fraction of what commuters pay in the developed world.
But we don’t need to get too self-congratulatory.
With the current infrastructure, in a population of over 200 million, fewer than a million a day will be able to ride these BRT buses.
Three small-length Metro bus routes in three cities only means that a large – very very large – population still uses public transport which is unreliable, decayed, unsafe and hurts your self esteem long before you reach your school, university, office or get back home.
In spite of this, Metro bus is a good beginning. And Pakistanis look forward to the whole country being wired in a network of mass-transit buses, Metro trains and intercity rail.
25 November 2016: PM Sharif arrives in Ashgabat on a two-day official visit to Turkmenistan. Sharif is leading a Pakistani delegation to the first-ever Global Conference on Sustainable Transport – 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development – being held at Ashgabat under the auspices of the United Nations.
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City traffic with 200 people:
177 cars 🚙🚗🚕🚓
200 bicycles 🚲🚲🚲
3 buses 🚍🚍🚍
1 train 🚎
— Wali Zahid (@walizahid) May 15, 2016
The next in line of mass-transit projects is Lahore’s 27km Orange Line Metro Train (OLMT, a Mass Rapid Transit, or MRT, project).
Built at the cost of Rs 154 billion, the train service is set to launch in December next year. Over 200,000 people will travel by Orange Line train every day through 26 train stations.
OLMT is currently facing delays because of a court order stopping civil works near 11 heritage sites that need to be protected. A review is under way.
One additional feature will be provision of free public WiFi service through 192 hotspots in three Punjab cities running Metro buses including Metro stations. PTCL is managing this WiFi service.
Then comes Karachi’s 21.7km Green Line Metro bus service (BRT) at a cost of Rs 24.6 billion through a federal grant. The fast-paced construction work is in progress, with half of civil works now complete.
Green Line is set to start service by end of next year. Nearly 350,000 passengers will use the service daily through 25 bus stations.
Green Line in Karachi (population: 20 million) is likely to be followed by 26km Yellow Line Metro bus service (BRT), a Sindh government project, at a cost of Rs 14.4 billion.
The Yellow Line will be financed by a Chinese loan (70 percent) and built by a Chinese firm, CUEC. It will start service by end of 2018. About 150,000 passengers will use the service daily through 24 bus stations.
In October, the federal government’s Central Development Working Party (CDWP) approved to conduct an engineering design of the Peshawar BRT project at a cost of Rs 1.25 billion.
The provincial KPK government had to seek CDWP’s approval due to the Rs 32 billion project’s foreign funding.
More on Pakistan’s travel infrastructure
In Lahore, the Metro bus service – the first in the country – was inaugurated on 10 February 2013.
The 27km Lahore Metro cost Rs 30 billion. Through 27 stations, nearly 200,000 passengers travel on Lahore Metro BRT buses every day.
In Islamabad, the 23km Metro bus service started on 4 June 2015. The inauguration went five months behind schedule because of political protests.
The Islamabad Metro cost Rs 44.7 billion. Through 24 stations, nearly 135,000 passengers travel on Islamabad Metro BRT buses every day.
While this BRT road and MRT train infrastructure is being built, the Pakistan Railways have tried to fix some of the intercity rail services.
E-ticketing has started on all railcar trains between Lahore and Rawalpindi and on Green Line Train from Islamabad to Karachi.
The Green Line train which covers 1,521km in just over 23 hours is creating an on-time reliable service. A reliable on-time train was unthinkable only a couple of years ago.
To upgrade the main railway line (ML-1) from Karachi to Peshawar including dualisation, the Chinese government and Asian Development Bank (ADB) have agreed to to lend Pakistan $8 billion. This is massive.
- The size of loans and financing
- Government subsidies on mass-transit services
- Repayment of loans
- Maintenance of infrastructure, buses and trains
- Upgrading, extension of infrastructure, buses and trains
- Security of infrastructure during political protests and terror attacks
- Improper use of free public WiFi
Have you seen CPEC & OBOR stories on this blog?
Which cities next?
So, which cities need to be next in waiting for mass-transit transport?
If population is any criterion, Hyderabad and Sukkur in Sindh; Faisalabad, Gujranwala, Sargodha and Sialkot in Punjab; Peshawar in KPK; and Quetta in Balochistan make the cut.
An authentic estimate about population in these cities is difficult to obtain as census hasn’t been conducted in Pakistan since 1998 for unknown reasons.
The UN estimates Pakistan as the sixth most populous country now (190 million) and in 2050 (310 million).
With a GDP of $270 billion, Pakistan is world’s 40th largest economy by GDP and 26th by GDP PPP. It is forecasted to grow to become 18th largest economy by GDP in 2050.
As part of China’s One Belt One Road (OBOR) initiative, the north-south $46 billion China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) connecting Chinese city of Kashgar bordering Pakistan’s north to Gwadar port in the south perhaps could set this city and intercity transport network in motion as a byproduct.
If this happens, the Pakistani landscape may look very different and semi-developed when the CPEC comes to full fruition in 2030.
By Wali Zahid
Wali recently gave a keynote at the Managing Megacity Karachi conference by George Mason University USA at University of Karachi, supported by US State Department.
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