When we think of transport, we are often distracted by large infrastructure projects. The odd link-road here, motorway there and overpass beyond, so to speak. Quite often, transport gets tied to infrastructure, which it is. But that’s not the only thing transport is about. There is one issue, at least, that scarcely gets noticed: safety; about what happens once that transport infrastructure is in place. Safe Communities Pakistan, an NGO working to improve traffic safety in Punjab, compiles a Road Traffic Accident (RTA) diary based on accidents responded to by the Rescue 1122 Emergency Services in the province every day.
On April 5, for instance, the RTA diary recorded 541 traffic accidents in Punjab. These were spread over every one of the 36 Districts of the Province. Three lives were lost, 456 victims were seriously injured and 238 received minor injuries. Ninety-eight of the 541 accidents affected pedestrians, 377 affected passengers and 222 affected drivers. A total of 80 accidents took place in Lahore, involving 108 people, placing the provincial capital at the top of the list, followed by 60 accidents with 69 victims in Faisalabad. In total, 452 motorbikes, 46 autorickshaws, 54 motor cars, 23 vans, five passenger buses, 13 trucks and 84 other types of vehicles were involved.
On April 4, the RTA diary recorded that 497 traffic accidents took place with incidents reported in every one of the 36 districts. Seven people lost their lives, 373 victims were seriously injured and 209 received minor injuries. Eighty of the 497 accidents affected pedestrians, 313 affected passengers and 196 affected drivers. A total of 119 accidents took place in Lahore, involving 142 victims, placing the provincial capital at the top of the list followed by 58 accidents, involving 66 victims in Faisalabad. In total, 403 motorbikes, 41 autorickshaws, 50 motor cars, 18 vans, 12 passenger busses, 13 trucks and 55 other types of vehicles were in involved.
I’ve been receiving the Safe Communities RTA diary every day since March 22. The steady stream of bad news about accidents and casualties never ebbs. Every evening, when I get the diary via email, I can’t help but think of the countless tragedies that unfolded that day, which could have been prevented by the application of one word: safety.
The Urban Resource Centre in Karachi also compiles regular Road Accident Reports. This and the RTA diary read exactly the same: a steady, unsympathetic counting of hundreds of accidents and the loss of a handful of lives every day.
The recent brutal sexual assault of a female commuter on a bus in New Delhi sparked outrage and concern worldwide. It brought into light the lack of security faced by women who employ public transport. This is not a South Asian phenomenon. Women in more ‘developed’ nations are not immune from violence on public transport either. Women make up more than half the public transport users on a global level; their safety should be a of paramount global concern. But have you ever heard someone talk seriously about this subject?
EMBARQ, a transport blog, has prepared a list of demands as part of their Safe Transport for Women Initiative. These include that transport authorities recognise the gender differences and needs of their ridership; that safe public transportation be provided to women of all socio-economic classes; that the government be held accountable for providing safe transport to women; that transport providers be held accountable for acts of violence against women who use public transport.; that public transport providers include women in their transportation planning process in order to address and meet their needs.
Public transport for women in Pakistan is more or less non-existent. The Urban Resource Centre in Karachi also has surveys and interviews of female commuters. Reading them, one feels that these women should be given medals of bravery just for the act of getting to work or school in the morning. It shouldn’t be this way.
Without safe and reliable public transport, nearly half of our population — women, children, senior citizens and the handicapped — are effectively rendered immobile and unable to participate in social or economic activity. In Lahore, the Lahore Project estimates that female unemployment is greater than 90 per cent. Imagine what would happen to the economy, to the vibrancy of our cities, if women and children, for example, were safe in the knowledge that their movement through the city would be safe and respected?
Transportation and transportation issues are about far more than infrastructure. They touch upon one of our more valuable and less recognised fundamental rights: the right to movement and mobility. Development schemes that fail to take into account how they restrict mobility and imperil safety need to be reassessed.
Published in The Express Tribune, April 7th, 2013.
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