Bus Rapid Transit project: a monumental absurdity

The project has destroyed the existing road infrastructure of Peshawar


Rustam Shah Mohmand February 07, 2019
The writer is a former ambassador and former interior secretary

The previous government of K-P conceived and began to implement a project popularly known as a ‘Bus Rapid Transit’ that would create infrastructure for running buses between the eastern and western boundaries of Peshawar.

The idea behind the introduction of a new bus service is to facilitate commuters by providing cheap and comfortable transport from one end of the greater Peshawar area to the other.

The question is: whether and to what extent would the addition of a bus run on hourly basis bring about a tremendous improvement in the transport sector for the common man? Would the addition of one bus, run every hour or half an hour, change the whole urban transport scenario when there are already more than 5,000 vehicles plying this route every day? And at what cost? At a staggering cost of Rs80 billion! And about 40 per cent of this huge amount is a debt on which interest has to be paid.

That is one dimension of this monstrous scheme that is designed more for symbolism and less for the actual benefits that would accrue. The other equally disturbing aspect of this disastrous scheme is that it has destroyed the existing road infrastructure of the city. And the damage is going to be permanent.

The main artery — that was a fairly wide road allowing a two-lane traffic, has been partitioned in the middle to create space for running a bus, thus reducing the width of the main Peshawar-Jamrud road. This has added more agony and suffering for the daily commuters. A journey from Peshawar city or cantonment to Hayatabad that once took only 15 minutes now consumes one hour!

Even if it is conceded that some commuters would benefit from the metro bus service, the enormous costs would far outweigh the marginal benefits to just five per cent of the total number of passengers making the intra-city travel every day.

But even the benefits are illusory. Because the metro bus plying the main road would not connect to any residential locality or workplaces. The journey would terminate at the end of the main road, leaving commuters stranded and running to catch rickshaws and mini-buses to reach their destinations. That would be more costly and more time consuming. So then would there be any net saving of time for anyone?

Surprisingly other options for providing better quality transport to people within the greater Peshawar area were not explored or considered. The existing northern and southern bypass roads could have been improved.

Modern, comfortable buses could have been procured that would have facilitated travel for thousands of commuters travelling between different stations on a daily basis. It smacks of some insidious motive.

The idea of introducing a bus service—about 40 buses running every day for just five per cent of the commuters in a city of more than four million people at a horrendous cost of Rs80 billion would appear to any observer to be wholly bizarre and incomprehensible.

More disturbing is the predicament of the civil society that has not protested against the execution of such an inexplicably economically destructive project. The people who authorised and approved the project have been able to get away with it.

Sadly there is no accountability for a crime of such magnitude perpetrated against the rank and file citizens by a government which had a legitimate claim to rule, based on an election victory.

So Rs8,000 crore having been invested to run one bus, in addition to thousands that are currently operational, after having destroyed the well managed road infrastructure, causing anger, inconvenience, frustration to the ever-increasing population and resulting in more pollution, more congestion! The cost in terms of the man-hours lost for everybody as a consequence of this project is incalculable.

Launching such a project at such cost, at the expense of the city’s infrastructure, of the time wasted, of the health problems caused — all this could only happen in a country where the concept of holding the rulers to account is absent or where institutions and systems are not in place to prevent the approval of such projects.

Published in The Express Tribune, February 7th, 2019.

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