According to the WHO report (2008-2013), Peshawar is one of world’s 20 most polluted cities, already disfigured with flawed urban planning and management presenting a dismal state with the construction of Peshawar BRT. Contrary to PTI’s claim that BRT will change the lives of people in many ways, unbearable traffic congestion, road blocks and closure of alternative routes ending in long hours of commute time where destinations are only a few kilometers away is how the life has so far been changed. Though success or failure of BRT project will be evaluated later on from the perspective of sustainability, its direction is set right from conception and continue over an entire span of project life on several factors.

Undoubtedly, Peshawaris desperately need an effective and sustainable transport system to replace the existing obsolete transport system that has marred the city’s landscape, a cursory reflection at the BRT’s PC-1 “stated objective” is clearly seen addressing this issue. Nonetheless, the question about achievement of the objective, especially, during its planning and execution process is still there. Numerous and continuous alterations in its design have questioned its reliability where time is one of the crucial factors. Mega projects must not be executed in a “hurry” as construction processes require a minimum time for the placement of materials, compaction, concrete strengthening and testing etc. This has happened to Peshawar’s BRT where the Government’s claim to make the busses running on the track in mere six months now appears as a task that only Aladdin’s lamp could accomplish. To make an execution “technically sound”, it is highly recommended that time must be given to ensure quality as a principle of sustainability. It must not be compromised for any political mileage which the PTI has already done by rolling out BRT late in its fourth year, and insisting to launch it by April 20, 2018.

Having said that, sustainability and reliability is only going to thrust this multi-million dollar project into shambles; owing to a dismal support infrastructure. This ill-planning results in negative public perception that BRT is an “uneconomical and non-feasible” idea as often discredited by the Chief Minister KPK, Pervez Khattak in case of Multan BRT. Peshawar BRT has begun showing the same signs, such as lack of co-ordination, abrupt and frequent changes in the conceptual design that have now surfaced even before calling it a success story. Started initially with work in “three shifts a day” and progress reports evaluated on a weekly basis, stakeholders realized that all gains were possible through speedy execution. It is to safe say that the stakeholders kept on writing cheques the BRT can’t cash. This environment has exerted immense pressure on quality assurance teams also and now this is very evident that at various junctures, designs are remodeled and work pace has slowed down resulting in further delays. It is highly likely that deficiencies will also start appearing soon after BRT gets kicked off. Therefore, authorities must ensure quality of infrastructure, as for people, this would be an asset and would stay longer in memories.

Peshawar BRT has been facing management challenges since its construction in providing alternate routes as we see the routes along the Circular Ring Roads are in no way enough to cater to the traffic passing by. It finally needed the pounding of the Peshawar High Courts gravel that led to reopening the alternate routes which were blocked years ago. Similarly, long before the launch of the BRT, it was noted that no contingency plan was in place due to already opened gutters alongside the University Road. Despite assurances, no significant public awareness campaigns are supported to educate public from heavy dust and smoke caused by construction. A sustained outreach and communication campaign to educate public on health and safety perspectives is critical except that the government is only seen doing that through a few newspaper advertisements and hoardings. One wonders if the Trans-Peshawar Company has even considered of a community awareness program for this project. If so, then it is yet to be seen. In Tanzania, the “Dar-es-Salaam Bus Rapid Transit system (DART)”, the company responsible for managing its BRT won the “Sustainable Transport Award, 2018”for running a sustainable health and hygiene sensitization campaign for the communities and construction workers along its BRT construction. It focused on the dangers of commuters passing through road sides which exposed them to carbon emissions from motor vehicles and other issues of health and safety. Environmental factor is critical for BRT’s sustainability as construction of BRT on contrary has impacted over the Peshawar Beautification Project. Likewise, distraction resulting from relocation of utilities such as water pipelines and electricity lines, interference with drainage patterns, delays in transportation besides grave city landscape disfigurement have creating havoc in the public life of the residents.

Due to delay in completion which would have an economic impact, the executive’s maintenance behavior is nothing more than casual which is a function of anything when it gets retarded. This factor has to be incorporated through a sustained maintenance mechanism. De Sitter’s (1982) Law of Fives fits well here. It suggests that $1 spent for correct design and construction is as effective as $5 in maintenance during pre-deterioration stage, $25 in local deterioration stage otherwise $125 as major repair due to deferred maintenance of units. The numbers though not absolute, clearly indicate the intensity of financial impact due to negligence once the BRT is operational. Apparently, no arrangements are built into the proposed BRT project to set up an improved asset inventory system.

Ultimate success for Peshawar BRT will only be possible if institutions manage it without wasting a second and by employing enough measures to ensure the timely, confident and fluent running of the first bus on the track. Thus, socio-economical sustainability becomes a challenge emanated from environmental failures. Though it is an ill-thought-out decision to run BRT on subsidy, fixing high fares for commuters doesn’t seem like a long term solution either. This may cause social reaction, careful deliberation with major stakeholders needs to be undertaken at this stage before the outbreak of an anti-PTI sentiment in public. Still, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Government claims that Peshawar BRT is constructed at a cheaper cost than Punjab and Islamabad with zero subsidy, sustainability is a multi-faceted criteria not ensured through finances only. It starts at planning phase; goes through quality construction and prevails throughout the life of the project. Part of its success will be tested later but only the project’s careful planning will make a real impact. To make sure that it becomes a “Third Generation BRT”, sustainability is to be integrated holistically. BRT will be a test case for PTI in the election this year.

 

Dr. Shamaila Farooq, is serving as Director Media and Publications at University of Engineering and Technology, Peshawar.   Dr. Sagheer Aslam is a professor of sustainability at the National Institute of Urban Infrastructure Planning, University of Engineering and Technology, Peshawar.