Are Pakistani cities prepared to handle new traffic CPEC will bring?

Published: February 4, 2017


China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) could be a game changer for Pakistan but if the cities are not prepared to deal with the influx of financial benefit and economic wellbeing this initiative will bring their way, then the effects could be quite negative and even perhaps damaging to the overall prosperity.

We all know the poor state of public transport in cities across Pakistan. Except for Lahore which has seen focussed efforts to improve public transit in recent times, other cities like Peshawar, Quetta, and Karachi have been neglected for far too long. If simultaneous plans are not put into work soon to upgrade urban transport, the results could prove disastrous and counterintuitive to CPEC’s efforts.

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One doesn’t need to look further than India to gauge the importance of good transport system for flourishing economies. Our neighbour has an admirable network of roads, railway, and local airports supporting economic activity from across the country and an efficient public transport system to funnel the activity. If we look towards Europe and North America, the blueprints for an efficient city public transport system were put in first before setting out on a state-to-state or city-to-city network of roads, railway, and seaways which highlights its significance.

The point to stress is that when CPEC infrastructure will be in place, it will channel unprecedented economic opportunity from across Pakistan into major cities, bringing with it thousands of people both from within the country and outside trying to take advantage of the economic boom. This will equate to thousands of more cars, homes and businesses adding to the existing traffic chaos notorious to these major cities.

Our cities, compelled under commercial intensification and trying to meet the needs of the population, will find themselves in a crisis far worse than anyone can imagine. The challenge to funnel this influx efficiently while dealing with new business and residential developments will be a nightmare and could result in an environment that encourages anarchy and heightened disillusionment by internal and external interests.

For example, given the chaos an extra one hundred vehicles cause to known bottlenecks in our cities, imagine on a conservative note what a ten thousand more vehicles – taxis, rental and private cars – coming in would do.

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Martin Wachs, an American transport expert, said infrastructure investments are prescribed to stimulate the economy in the short term by creating construction employment and to foster longer-term economic growth by making the transportation system more efficient and reliable.

Construction of CPEC-related road and transportation networks has created many jobs and will continue to do so in the coming years but it would be a huge mistake to interpret that employment as the system’s only contribution to the economy. Workers who are taking salaries from the construction program are benefitting but far less than the travellers and shippers of goods who will use these facilities every day for decades. Their combined value to the Pakistan’s economy over the future will easily dwarf the benefits from initial construction jobs.

A good public transport system is essential since it connects communities with businesses, connects businesses with businesses and makes trade and economy sustainable. Workers living in suburbs that could not hope of working in cosmopolitan centres are able to travel and earn a living which then has a multiplier effect. More people travelling easily equate to better opportunities, competitive services and industry growth.

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For Pakistani cities, reliable transport is the single most significant economic driver for the functioning of communities, businesses and industries. The strategy should support a system that must be easy and convenient to use, fast, safe, clean and affordable. Some great examples are Seoul, Singapore and Hong Kong well known for their excellent transport systems. A small cit­y like Lyon in France has a very good system as well as León in Mexico, Pereira in Colombia, La­gos in Nigeria and Ahmedabad in India which have developed good sys­tems and attracted sustainable economic development. One doesn’t need to rely on stats here; a visit to these countries reveals how a functional public transport system contributes positively for the wellbeing of the local and national economy.

A 2015 report prepared by the United States National Economic Council and the President’s Council of Economic Advisers stated that: a high quality transportation network is vital to a top performing economy. Investments [in this sector] by previous generations of American’s from 1806 up until the 90’s were instrumental in putting the country on a path for sustained economic growth, productivity increases, an unrivalled national market for good and services, and international competitiveness.

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Ideally, well-chosen transportation investments can advance both long-term productivity growth and short-term job creation. But the bigger challenge here is to know, which transport system works best for Pakistan. The importance of choos­ing the right transport system is significant here as there is little value in a city opting for a high-cost system if a smaller, less expensive one could do the job. We don’t have to go for bling rather a practical system that takes into account the idiosyncrasies of our cities. A key feature is to integrate multiple technologies such as metro rail, light rail, bus rapid transit and basic bus services.

If the right decisions are not taken in the immediate future, CPEC prosperity will arrive at our doorstep like unexpected guests and the inhabitants of these cities will be left to deal with it ill prepared as were the residents of Dublin, Ireland during the Celtic Tiger Economic Boom in the 1990’s where poor public transport was perceived negatively.

If the authorities and the concerned citizens fail to step up to these challenges, this could end up being the lost opportunity of the century and one Pakistan most certainly cannot afford to lose.

Ali Lawati is a transportation consultant and a published author.

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Reader Comments (9)

  • Ali khan
    Feb 4, 2017 - 2:13PM

    Well written article. This is a right time that both provincial and Federal government adopts agressive strategy to introduce a network of transport facilities throughout the country. It also needs to introduce strict regulations for drivers and should make the insurance of the cars compulsory. New traffic force need to be launched with latest traffic control systems. Recommend

  • Vectra
    Feb 4, 2017 - 2:25PM

    But will CPEC bring traffic in the 1st place as some Pakistani commentator here was saying that since 3 months of CPEC inauguration not a single truck from China has passed through it???Recommend

  • Nkhan
    Feb 4, 2017 - 2:53PM

    These so called panama goons dont care about rest of the Pakistan…. they just need cut backs and their percentage on projects…. if they make 100 cpec in Pakistan… if leadership does not change nothing willRecommend

  • talat
    Feb 4, 2017 - 3:29PM

    pakistan already have loans approx $74.6b, you want to take more and build the things yet not needed,
    let it flow, money will change everything including transport system and our life.Recommend

  • Lumdheeng
    Feb 4, 2017 - 4:27PM

    Let the CPEC bring the economy first, than think of handling the new traffic. Did any containers started to come at Gawadar port?Recommend

  • Arfeen Khan
    Feb 4, 2017 - 5:16PM

    Well, its more common for people to talk negatively about positive things
    Ali sb. be a Pakistani
    if you cant do good, dont do bad eitherRecommend

  • Ajmal Kasuri
    Feb 5, 2017 - 8:26AM

    The question should be: Are Pakistanis prepared to handle the tsunami of dollars coming their way with the completion of CPEC, not to mention the influx of immigrants into Pakistan from Western countries? Because that is exactly what will happen. I would implore my Pakistani brothers to make necessary arrangements for bigger and secured safes in their homes to house the money from the bonanza that we are about to experience from this unprecedented project.Recommend

  • Yul47 London
    Feb 5, 2017 - 9:04AM

    Pakistan should consider erasing duties on motor cars and commercial vehicles by phasing out vehicles more than 15 years old. In the interest of safety to the travelling public, newer vehicles would be road worthy and will improve air quality in the big cities. When visiting Pakistan, I carry a mask as it is difficult to breathe at times with so many vehicles emitting black diesel fuels into the environment. The Government should consider taxing vehicles six monthly or yearly based on its use. Recommend

  • aafat
    Feb 5, 2017 - 2:01PM

    Top article. Just wondering though WHO among out ‘leaders’ has the VISION to even THINK about the points raised on this excellent piece.
    Ans: NO ONE.
    Because VISION and SINCERITY are BOTH MISSING …Recommend

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