Some say it is impossible to understand a city without using its public transportation system, but in Islamabad, one cannot even begin to understand the system itself.
Islamabad ‘the beautiful’, the nation’s seat of power, has been laid out according to a plan — the parks, the greenbelts, the sectors, the commercial areas, and roads. But one plan that was never implemented, even in part, is one that virtually every city across the world needs: a mass transit system. Bus stops are part of the city’s master plan, but you will hardly find them. They are strewn across the city in limited numbers, dwindling by the day, and are harder to find than the buses that are supposed to stop at them.
The city managers are promising that a Bus Road Transit System will be launched soon, but given the authority’s track record, one is inclined not to make much of the promise.
The authority chooses not to mention the much-vaunted 2008 Rapid Mass Transit System or the most recent arrangement for purchasing a fleet of buses that former Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani promised was to be on the roads by November 2011. If CDA fails this time too the lot of the growing commuting population will only worsen by the day as overhead bridges and underpasses fail to ease congestion of motorized traffic and reduce the daily addition of tons of pollutants to the city’s environment.
Peshawar is much better by comparison, but the dilapidated conditions of its public transport vehicles and ear-bursting rickshaws leave much to be desired. According to the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa environment department website, a noise survey at the main traffic junctions in the city found the noise levels to be between 90dB to 100dB, compared to the World
Health Organization’s acceptable limit of 85. The government identifies the two-stroke rickshaws and pressure horns to be the primary culprits behind the unacceptable noise levels.
In the twin cities, thousands of working men, women and students have been left at the mercy of private transporters. They are forced to travel between Islamabad and Rawalpindi on rickety buses and vans of all sizes and description. Hundreds more travel intra-city changing vehicles from stop to stop as routes have been so designed as to make the most from passengers.
Stuffed in vans, buses and Suzuki pickups, the commuters of the twin cities are exposed to safety risks, humiliation and reckless driving, all of which lead to a yearning for a decent transport system. Young women in particular face shameless harassment not only from the travelling public but also drivers and conductors. Their lot is the worst among the commuters.
Published in The Express Tribune, December 17th, 2012.
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