As a general rule, Pakistan’s major cities are badly in need of major public transport projects. The overcrowding, pollution and inconvenience caused by the absence of buses and trains have led to chaos. In the abstract, then, Punjab government’s Lahore Metro Bus Service project, which has now been inaugurated, is a step in the right direction. Modern public transport is the need of the hour in our cities and this was the first concerted project to turn that into a reality. This does not mean, however, that the project should simply be praised and not subject to greater scrutiny. The first issue is one of cost. Although the official cost of the bus service project is Rs30 billion, there are many projections which say it could be higher.
Then there is the question of maintenance. Right now, not all of the 45 buses are in working condition and many of the escalators are not functional. Obviously the provincial government was in a rush to inaugurate the project. With elections coming up, it wanted a major development coup, which would be the bedrock of its re-election campaign. Also, the provincial government should account for all the businesses that were affected by the creation of the bus routes and provide proof that they have been compensated for their losses.
It is unfortunate that even major development projects in Pakistan are carried out on an ad hoc basis. Before the PML-N government came into power in Punjab, the PML-Q had done a feasibility study on creating a light rail system in Lahore. Those plans were scrapped as soon as the PML-N was voted into office. How do we know that a new provincial government won’t do the same after the next elections? The PML-N will also have to answer the charge that most of its development is Lahore-centric. That aside, this should be a worthy public transport model for Pakistan’s other large cities to emulate.
Published in The Express Tribune, February 12th, 2013.