OVER the past couple of decades, Pakistan’s cities have seen their populations explode. Unfortunately, city administrations have been slow to respond to emerging challenges such as city planning and traffic volume and management. The scale of the last is more than evident: at practically any intersection in most cities — with the exception, perhaps, of some parts of Islamabad and Lahore — there will be a handful of traffic policemen besieged by a sea of vehicles, few of which are being operated by drivers willing to follow either the policeman’s direction or the law. Part of the problem lies in the numbers. Take Karachi’s example: speaking at the start of the Traffic Awareness Campaign 2013 on Monday, DIG Traffic Abdul Khalique Shaikh pointed out that in a city of three million registered vehicles, the total working strength of the traffic police is only a little over 3,000 men — one warden for every 1,119 vehicles and 5,971 people. While the figures for other cities were not given, they are likely to be similar, with perhaps a few exceptions.
No wonder, then, that city traffic is generally so chaotic. How to bring things under control is a knotty problem, for the answers lie not just in increasing the numbers and competency of traffic-management personnel; also required is making people aware of the rules and countering a societal mindset of getting ahead at the cost of even the most basic road etiquette, thus creating anarchy. The solutions are obvious — strict enforcement of the law without fear or favour, and the establishment of mass transit systems (Lahore being the only city that has made a push in this direction) — but hard to implement. Do city administrations have the will to take on the challenge?