Progress is in transit

LAHORE: The tendency to stall development projects started by previous regimes is counterproductive as it impedes growth besides increasing the costs. It’s time it stopped.

The Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) government has at last inaugurated its first mega project –the Peshawar Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) after many hiccups. This project if properly ran would go a long way in accelerating growth in the capital of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KPK) just as the Metro Bus project did for Lahore. However, it’s only possible if the Peshawar BRT is run prudently in the interest of the poor masses.

Before launching their own, the PTI leadership had been an unforgiving critic of mass transport projects in urban areas.

The PTI government is very critical of the subsidy that the then Punjab government approved for operating the Lahore Metro. It claims that the Peshawar BRT would be operated without any subsidy but a cursory look at its business model reveals that it will have to either give subsidy or increase the fare substantially. The subsidy on Lahore Metro is based on daily passenger load of 150,000 workers boarding buses from each terminal of the route. Lahore is at least over three times bigger than Peshawar as far as the population is concerned.

Moreover commercially and industrially it is at least 10 times larger. The passenger load is based on this ground reality.

The Peshawar BRT like Lahore Metro is 27 kilometres long. The government expects 300,000 passengers to commute through BRT buses daily. Perhaps this estimate was based on the daily passenger traffic at Lahore Metro. However the sponsors of the project ignored the fact that passenger load had to be more at Lahore Metro because of large population and much higher industrialisation. They do not travel on Metro for leisure but they do it for reaching their workplace. In the same way passengers would use Peshawar BRT on daily basis for some purpose and not for joy.

The passenger traffic in Peshawar is likely to be no more than half of passenger traffic in Lahore. Operating it would definitely require proportionately the same or higher subsidy as provided at Lahore Metro.

Let us now analyse, whether or not the subsidy at Lahore Metro is justified. The Lahore Metro passes through the Lahore city from one urban periphery at Shahdara to another located at Gujju Mata 27 kilometres away.

The project reduced the commuting time for workers by almost two hours. In the past workers residing at one end of the route had to reach their work designation by changing transport at least two times. Due to congestion at city roads it took them almost two and half hours to reach work. The ride was uncomfortable and tiring. The workers had to do the same exercise to go back home after shift was over. In Lahore Metro they cover the longest distance of 27 kilometres in 45 to 55 minutes. Plus the buses are comfortable, fully air conditioned and operate smoothly on the road exclusively built for them (no brakes and almost no signals or traffic congestion).

This service used by the poor factory workers and those that do not have any other means of transport of their own. Hardly any car or motorcycle owner uses Metro. The workers reach their place of work fresh which has improved their productivity. They now give more time to their families has the commuting time has been substantially reduced.

The fare is much cheaper than what they used to pay when travelling by general public transport. The government has to bear an annual subsidy of Rs9 billion. This perhaps is the only subsidy that is exclusively spent on poor. It is a true example of dedicated subsidy.

The rich and influential criticise this subsidy as a waste because not a penny is spent on them. They have no reservations on bailout of Rs20-30 billion provided to the capital market, whenever it was under pressure. They are not bothered about hundreds of billions of tax exemptions of which they are the beneficiaries. Another big benefit of Lahore Metro is that it has colonised the entire belt along Roohi Nala off Ferozpure road. This huge industrial land is now accessible through Metro and new industrial activities can be seen only in this area. The additional taxes and employment more than compensate the Metro subsidy.

The Orange Train was another project planned by the previous government that was over 90 percent complete when this government assumed power. It is a foreign-funded project under CPEC (China-Pakistan Economic Corridor) but has been neglected by the present regime in past two years. This project connects the other extreme edges of Lahore from GT Road to Riawind Road through Thokar Niaz Baig. When operational it would create greater commercial and industrial activities than Metro.

As far as BRT is concerned there would be some teething problems in the beginning; more so because it was completed under incompetent management. However the service would improve with the passage of time.

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