Transport sector to take years to be modernised

IFTIKHAR ALAM

Transport sector is an important component of the economy and a common tool used for development.

The current situation of Pakistan’s transport, be it road, air or rail, is not even “satisfactory” and may takes years to develop and modernise it.

Of train, air and road, the condition of the latter, being a common and major mode of transport is miserable. Although some positive steps were taken by Punjab, KP and Sindh governments during recent past to provide better transport facilities to public, a much work has yet to be done. People in  Balochistan, federally administrated tribal area, hilly Gilgit Baltistan and AJK are worst hit by lack of public transport facilities. Major portion of the road infrastructure in these areas is also wretched.

Of all federating units, the people in Punjab, the most populated province, comparatively enjoy a better road infrastructure. But, the provincial government yet needed to improve the public transport facilities at both the inter and intra-city routs.

Unchecked heavy fare collection by powerful transporters from poor commuters, the dilapidated condition of majority of buses, punctuality in their departure and arrival from different destinations and unavailability of better transport at some routes leading from major Punjab cities to small towns are main issue to be resolved at inter-city routes. Overcome the shortage of public transport and improve the decaying condition of already plying transport are the main challenges at intra-city routes in Lahore, Rawalpindi, Faisalabad, Multan and Gujranwala.

 Although Punjab government successfully launched metro bus projects in three cities, the thousands of daily commuters in Lahore, Multan and Rawalpindi yet face hurdles to reach timely at their destinations during their daily routine travelling as metro buses ply at single specific route. Punjab Chief Minister Shehbaz Sharif has announced to launch the metro bus project in all big cities in future but the improvement of the condition of already available vehicles and raise their number is also much needed job to be done. The reality is that the transport managers, during the two tenures of the incumbent Punjab CM, mainly focused to improve transport facilities in Lahore. But, it looks the city of more than 11 million population requires another five year to be “proud” of having modernised transport system. The major hurdle in modernising city’s transport sector is the replacement or phasing out of the smoky, noisy and risky motorcycle rickshaws. Commonly known as Qingqis, these three-wheeler facilitate thousands of commuters every day. However, a debate about their advantages and disadvantages has been continuing since 2000, the year the first motorcycle rickshaw was introduced in Punjab. Besides Lahore, thousands of Qingqis run in every city and town of the country and are a source of livelihood for millions of households.

According to a survey conducted by the Lahore Transport Company (LTC), the city’s transport regulator, in 2013, the number of motorcycle rickshaws was 38,000. However, a cautious estimate by some officials of the Transport Department and LTC is that around 90,000 three-wheeler are operating in the city. The Sindh High Court had slammed a ban on Qingqis in 2015, but it was set aside by the apex court in its March 2017 verdict. The Supreme Court, however, made it clear in its verdict that motorcycle-rickshaws other than those approved by the authorities would not be allowed to operate in the country. The court also directed the authorities to ensure quality of transport vehicles and safety of passengers.

However, the authorities have failed so far to transfer these rickshaws into safe and secure public transport vehicles in Lahore as well as other cities and towns of the country. Although the LTC has taken some steps to streamline the operation of motorcycle rickshaws, efforts are needed to manage them properly.

Besides all the issues and challenges, the introduction of around 200 Speedo Buses at city routes with cost of around Rs two billion and soon-to-be operational orange line metro train project are considered the main contributor to modernise Lahore’s urban transport in future and set an example for other provincial governments to be followed.

Unfortunately, the Speedo bus service so far failed to attract passengers due to its complicated e-ticketing system. But officials are sure about the success of the buses in future. Equipped with all modern facilities, Speedo buses can be seen everywhere in Lahore but without commuters at a time when every rickshaw, mini bus and coaches and other public transport are packed with passengers. The new bus service could not succeed due to its “complex system” introduced by Punjab Mass Transit Authority (PMA). Since no passenger can travel on Speedo without having smart card, majority of daily travellers are unaware from where to get it and how to use it. On the other side, three out of 27 sets of orange train have reached the provincial capital from China and 90 per cent of remaining 24 sets are set to arrive here within a month as it is expected the project will become operational till the end of January. Around 90 per cent development work at project was already completed.

Every train when becomes operational will consist of five coaches and capacity to transport 1,000 passengers in one trip. Thus, more than 27,000 passengers will be able to travel on 27 metro trains in one trip. One train is set to make 10 trips in a day and hence relying upon the authorities’ claim, it is estimated that more than 250, 000 passengers will daily travel through metro trains when they will fully start their operation in the city.  The metro train will operate at a commercial speed of 80 kilometres per hour and cover the end to end (Ali Town to Dera Gujjran) 27 kilometre-long journey in just 45 minutes. A  Chinese company has been given task to operate metro trains for initially five years.

Punjab CM Shehbaz Sharif repeatedly said that Orange Line Metro Train was a major project of public interest which is meant for whole of the country.

 

 

 

 

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