The Lahore Bus Metro System: The Rising Of A New Dawn

Thursday, June 06, 2013
Faisal Ranjha

Punjab is going to witness an architectural marvel Rapid Metro Bus System, a truly magnificent project, completed at an estimated cost of 30 billion rupees. 27 kilometer dedicated line built for this system on Ferozpur road Lahore, is like a river where hundreds of small streams drain. Pakistan is going through worst period of its economic history, faced with worst GDP in the region, rising inflation, energy shortages never witnessed before, resulting in shifting of major industries to countries like Bangladesh.  During this economic crunch, completing such a project in a short span of time, is nothing less than a miracle. Shahbaz Sharif should be given all the credit and accolades for finishing such a mega project, the biggest after 1997 Motor-Way, again built by then PMLN government led by Mian Nawaz Sharif. PMLN pocketing another glory in their long list of credentials, maintaining their track record of starting and finishing the mega projects.

If we go back in history books, this system was envisioned by "Jamie Lerner" in 1972, the Mayor of Curitiba, who was an architect. When elevated to power, he brought the tools of the designer to the office. He planned and developed the system that could accommodate the growing sprawl and congestion that was beginning to pollute the ever expanding city, also a model which could be replicated in the world. Rapid Bus System became instrumental in fighting sprawl and congestion of the city, as a result of which Curitiba was declared as "Most Innovative City In The World”.

Punjab Metro Bus in the vicinity of Lahore includes the 27 kilometer long dedicated lane for the Metro Bus System, from Gaju-mata to Shahadra. Out of 27 kilometre track, 8.5 km includes one of the largest bridge in the region,  32 overhead bridges have been built along the track, a station every kilometer, escalators and E-Ticketing System. The project is nothing but a masterpiece of convenience for people as bus arrives after every three minutes, offers reserved seats for women and handicapped, provides and special students cards for their travel. It has advanced information system for knowing when the next bus will arrive, large capacity buses and efficient payment system made for cheaper fares,  and low emission vehicles with short boarding times reducing passenger exposure to harmful pollutants etc. Now we shall discuss, why Metro was necessary and why it had to be Lahore .

The purpose of Metro Bus System is to introduce a safe, efficient, rapid, convenient and modern system for the masses. Basic motive was to address the need of public transport on the main transportation corridor of the city. In addition, Metro Bus System aimed at improving the quality of life by saving time lost due to congestion, reduce the number of accidents, minimizing noise pollution and finally most cheapest way of travel.

Now question arises why Lahore was selected by Punjab government. No doubt if project would have been started by federal government or Sindh government, Karachi should have been given the priority because being the largest city of the country, with an estimated population of round 20 million, contributing close to 20% of GDP in Pakistan. So Karachi would have been the first choice. But because the project was envisaged by Punjab government and Lahore had to be the first choice as it is  the heart of Punjab and hub of economic activity, contributing close to 10-11% of GDP to National Exchequer, growing at a robust pace of 5 - 5.5%, despite country economy facing its worst nightmare in 63 years history. Lahore’s population is roughly estimated to be 10 to 11 million.

Lahore is going through rapid urbanization, sheltering millions from across Pakistan, providing jobs to millions, an educational hub, considerably peaceful  than many other cities where there is no fear of target killings, bhata mafia, extortion's etc. Secondly, if you look into the history of rapid Bus System, subways and light rails are built in economic hub of most countries. For example London contributes  20% of total UK Economy, Istanbul contributing even higher 22%. Economy always trickles down from big to small cities.

Another myth by biased critics is  that Punjab funds are being utilized in Lahore at the cost of less developed areas is a regrettable fact. Let me clear this myth that Southern Punjab has been allocated a percentage higher than its actual share of 31% which is indeed a commendable fact never before witnessed in history of Punjab. Few claimed on social media that since these buses are gas based so the total cost of this project is 70 billion. For them, I would only say that they are either innocent or behaving as one. These are diesel based low emission vehicles and shorter boarding time reduce passengers exposure to pollutants. Secondly the total cost of the project is 30 billion, including buses with all the accessories such as escalators, ticketing system, training of staff, backup maintenance system etc. 

Comprehensive conventional system has been introduced in major cities of Punjab, including Rawalpindi, Gujranwala, Sialkot, Multan, Bahawalpur, Lahore etc. Air conditioned buses with reasonable fares, special students cards, Independent Women Pink Buses, Old Age benefit cards scheme etc have been introduced.

Another argument built against Rapid Bus System was its being expensive. Just to be clear on this ground, Rapid Bus transit System built has been built at a cost of 30 billion and in record time of less than a year. It normally takes 24 months to build such a gigantic system. If we compare this to underground subway Train System which is ten times costlier than bus systems, it might take a decade to complete. Secondly you have to dig between 17 to 30 feet, which in countries like Pakistan is not feasible and wise as well. Similarly light rails used in European countries are far cheaper than underground trains but still four times costlier than Rapid Bus System.

Thirty billion cost, I presume is worth it, with minimum of 35 to 125 thousands people travelling via this system daily reducing the traveling time from 4 hour to 1 hour. By these estimates it would recover its cost in maximum of 2 to 3 years. Hefty chunk of this investment came from Turkey as foreign direct investment. Prior to this service, only 700 private buses were available. LTC under private public partnership planned a systemic induction of 2000 buses in 12 months, hundreds already inducted. Just imagine the impact of Rapid Bus System in a city of 10 to 11 million people. An independent control authority has been put in place to run this project like Danish schools and Punjab Educational system. The point to ponder is that everything has been kept transparent and institutionalized with no government interference.

Finally, Chief Minster Punjab must be credited and his services must be acknowledged as chief executive of Punjab who has given a new hope to those who infested in realization of a sweet dream, defeating an unbeatable and completing a mission impossible. It is definitely a revolution in war torn country, plagued with corruption menace and relieving many from agonizing pain of long traffic stuck ups. Hopefully, we all will shun our political difference and admire this humongous achievement  by  Punjab and Inshallah by the grace of Allah, the second phase of this project, a 12 km corridor will be started on Multan Road at the end of this year and in other cities of Punjab as well. Let us hope, other provinces would come forward and initiate such projects, particularly Karachi.

Faisal Ranjha is a doctor and economic analyst. He tweets @fasiranjha