Hats off to Shahbaz Sharif, the Chief Minister of Punjab, who has spearheaded the execution of the biggest ever development project in the 3,000-year history of Lahore. With the inauguration of the Metro Bus System (MBS) on February 10 (tomorrow), the road to progress will be open.

The construction of the 27-km long track from Gajju Matta to Shahdara has not only connected the two far-flung destination points with one single thoroughfare, it has also accomplished the biggest, longest and a cost-effective development project in the history of this great metropolis.

The plying of articulated buses under this system will provide not only a safe and swift mode of transport to the commuters, it will also give them a sense of being honoured and respected. Indeed, its completion will usher in a new era in Pakistan, especially in Lahore, and will become a big leap towards the provision of civic facilities of international standards.

It is encouraging that the project has been completed with a minimum cost of around Rs 30 billion, an amount nine times less than the underground project as planned by the previous provincial government. It is to be noted that the feasibility study of the underground, Lahore Rapid Mass Transit System (LRMTS), as suggested by the previous provincial government, estimated the cost at Rs 250 billion. Definitely, the current economic situation did not allow it. Therefore, the PML-N government, which believes in optimum use of available resources, selected the MBS that is easy to supervise, maintain and repair. It must be kept in mind that the project has a compatible capacity for future expansion when required.

Its early completion (i.e. within a short span of just one year) has beaten the record of even its mother country Turkey, where a 42-km long metro system took three years to complete.

The MBS includes the construction of a 8.6-km long overhead bridge, the biggest in length in Asia, to ensure an easy and fast flow of traffic on the already existing roads in the region. The pre-cast Tranzums, i.e. pre-fabricated parts of the bridge, are used for the first time in Pakistan. Forty-eight units are raised from Tamasil Centre, Ferozepur Road to Nohar Wala Chowk, Lytton Road. Each unit weighs 90 tons and is 9.8 metres long, 2.7 metres wide and 2.2 metres high, which are placed on the upper edges of the 5-metre high pillars prepared for the bridge. The girders and slabs arc placed over to complete the bridge completion, without any shuttering material.

One hundred and fifteen buses, having three times more capacity than the normal buses, will be running on the MRS corridors shortly, out of which 45 buses have already reached Lahore, after they landed in Karachi from China. Keeping in mind the local traffic system, they are converted into right steering ones. Each bus is 18 metres long with 150 passengers capacity, having separate compartments for ladies and gents. It will cover the 27-km distance from Gajju Matta to Shahdara within 45 minutes, which seems quite impossible in the prevailing congested traffic in the city. The designed speed of metro bus is 40 kms per hour. The timetable for these buses is prepared in such a way that a bus will be available at each station after every three minutes. It will carry 8,000 passengers per hour and, thus, will be able to transfer at least one lakh persons in 14 working hours per day.

A latest ticketing system is also being introduced at each station, along with other necessary facilities for the passengers. It is ensured that the fares should remain within the reach of the common man. Free journey for four days in a week will be offered to the Lahoris for four weeks after the inauguration.

Another important feature of the project is the construction of 32

overhead bridges, one at every km of the main carriage way on an average, for the pedestrians. The bridges have automatic staircases to facilitate the passengers. Eleven parking places have also been included with the MBS corridor to facilitate the parking of the public vehicles of the passengers, who opt to reach the station on their own vehicles to travel by metro bus for a long distance.

The MBS will change the lives of the ordinary people, who will be able to reach their workplaces in the shortest possible time and will be able to perform more efficiently. This initiative, therefore, will bring a social and economic revolution for the city and its dwellers. In short, it is an affordable initiative that will go a long way towards reducing emissions and traffic volume. It will offer a safe, reliable and comfortable transport, while saving time and fuel. Indeed, the provincial government deserves the credit for being the first to initiate a new concept of public transport in Pakistan, a first step towards modern town planning and urban development.

The writer is a freelance columnist.