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What’s the rush? Replicating the MBS

June 08, 2013

IT will take some time before the Lahore metrobus service can be established as an economically feasible project that has provided a lasting solution. For that reason the PML-N government’s plans to go for similar projects in Karachi and Rawalpindi-Islamabad look hasty. That all of Pakistan’s fast-expanding cities need comfortable transport systems goes without saying. But each city’s requirements differ, and the Lahore model cannot necessarily be considered applicable to all. Consider Karachi: countless plans drawn up, approved and even guaranteed funding were abandoned because of bureaucratic sloth or political indifference. A Japanese-aided plan is still there, but it is anybody’s guess whether the scheme to revive the Karachi Circular Railway will see the light of day. Islamabad, which otherwise has many features worthy of a modern city, has no government-run public transport system. This is a matter of shame for all governments and shows the car-bound bureaucratic and political elites’ indifference to the people’s needs. If, therefore, Islamabad’s ‘common’ citizens are to have the benefit of modern transport, all they need are comfortable and fast buses, with subsidised fares. Rawalpindi, too, requires buses rather than a Lahore-type MBS for travel within the city and for links to Islamabad.

There are other cities also — Faisalabad, Multan, Peshawar and Hyderabad — where fast and convenient modes of public transport are conspicuous by their absence. What is to be welcomed, however, is the Planning Commission’s reported decision to include the “notional” cost of Rs30bn for each MBS project in the annual development plan. This undoubtedly shows awareness on the part of the government that it recognises transport as a problem. But there is no room for a ‘one size fits all’ approach. Karachi would be much better served if the KCR revival plan became a reality. Instead of insisting on an MBS, the federal government would do well to ensure that no bureaucratic hurdles are allowed to delay the KCR project, whose first phase is due for completion in 2017.