LAHORE - The Punjab government on Sunday launched a metro bus system in Lahore, the country’s first major urban public transport scheme.
The 30 billion rupee ($300 million) project, completed in collaboration with Turkish company Al-Buraq, will ferry up to 12,000 passengers an hour along a dedicated 29-kilometre roadway from the suburbs to the city centre, officials said.
Thousands of well-wishers lined the way as Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif and Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Bekir Bozdag launched the service by riding the 27-station route, decorated with Pakistani and Turkish flags.
Inaugurating the Metro Bus Service (MBS) project, Shahbaz Sharif said it was a historic day for Pakistan and the whole nation as this project is a milestone towards transforming Pakistan into developed country in the real sense.
A general election is due in the coming months and the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), led by CM Shahbaz’ brother Nawaz Sharif, will hope the new scheme gives them a boost going into polls, as well as easing traffic on Lahore’s busy roads.
Commuters in country’s other major cities without their own cars rely on an ad-hoc network of privately-run buses, minibuses, taxis and motorised rickshaws to get around.
The design of the new bus stations is similar to the Metrobus service run by Al-Buraq in Istanbul, with the addition of a nine-kilometre elevated roadway through the centre of Lahore to avoid the city’s congested roads.
Building work was completed in under a year and the CM hailed the Turkish cooperation. “Turkey gave us lot of concessions in materialising this project. Had we contacted any other country they would have charged millions of dollars,” he said in his speech. “This is a clean and dedicated transport system which will be equally used by rich and poor.”
As many as 25,000 workers toiled round the clock to complete the scheme in under a year, said Lahore Development Authority Director General Ahad Khan Cheema. He said the system had the capacity to carry up to 12,000 people an hour.
Iftikhar Ahmed, 45, a government employee, said the new system – which will be free for the first month – would make commuting much easier. “Earlier we had to change two to three buses to reach our office, now we will be at our destination on time,” he said.
The Lahore scheme is not the first transport operation to be run in Pakistan by a foreign company. South Korea’s Daewoo has a network of bus routes including a popular express service between Lahore and Islamabad noted for its reliability. But it the first intra-city service launched with foreign help.
Student Muhammad Arsalan, 23, said he was pleased the Turkish company was involved. “It is good that the project will be run by a foreign company and we can expect a proper mechanism to avoid any delays,” he said.
CM Shahbaz said Pakistan was achieved after great sacrifices under the dynamic leadership of Quaid-i-Azam but it was tragic that the gap between the rich and the poor of country has been increasing since its inception. He however said the metro bus system was the beginning of a new journey of minimising this divide as the poor too would now enjoy the travel facilities at par with those enjoyed by the affluent.
The inaugural ceremony, held at a bus depot constructed for metro buses, was also attended by Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Bekir Bozdag, Istanbul Deputy Mayor Ahmet Selamet, Turk Ambassador Baber Hazlan, PML-N President Nawaz Sharif, Leader of the Opposition in National Assembly Ch Nisar Ali Khan, Punjab Assembly Speaker Rana Muhammad Iqbal, ambassadors of more than 50 countries.