WHILE the debate on whether it is actually the most cost-effective and environment-friendly solution to the problems of commuters will continue, Lahore’s Metro Bus mass transit system, inaugurated on Sunday, should ease the burden of travel in the city. There is no denying that the project — spanking new as it is at the moment — looks impressive. The 27-kilometre dedicated corridor the 45 new buses are plying follows the main traffic arteries and connects the city from one end to the other, with 8.6km of the route along a bridge over the denser parts of the city. It is to be hoped that the project operators, the Turkish firm Platform, manage to maintain standards in service and schedule and that commuters use the service responsibly. Further, the mass transit system will reduce the number of privately owned and generally recklessly driven wagons and rickshaws that put further pressure on already congested roads.
While the provincial government has been criticised over the cost and modalities of the project, there is no argument that Lahore urgently needed a mass transit system — as do the other major cities in the country. Over the years, as cities have grown, in most places the administration’s role in the transit sector has more or less disappeared and commuters have been left to the mercies of largely privately owned, effectively unregulated public transport. Karachi, where the government once ran commuter trams and a railway, is now overrun with decrepit buses and the more expensive rickshaws. Why can we see no urgency on part of the city administration to remedy this? Plans for reviving the Karachi Circular Railway have vaguely been being talked about for years, but there has been no forward movement. As for Islamabad and Rawalpindi, the state’s role in providing public transport is so minimal as to be indistinguishable. City administrations need to wake up to the fact that merely building more and more roads is a route to nowhere and environmentally disastrous to boot; the long-term solution to traffic congestion in expanding urban areas lies in mass transit systems and reducing the number of vehicles on the roads.