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A ride on the PML-N's shiny new toy

Updated Jun 05, 2015 06:43pm

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Nearly three decades ago, when I was born in Islamabad, the capital was nothing like it is today.

There were no coffee shops, no enclaves of the elite or those of diplomats, not even as many sectors dividing the beautiful city on a systematic grid today. I remember that until recently, few roads were double. And long before Fatima Jinnah Park existed, most sectors teeming with life today were nothing but farmland, with small concentrations of rural population that had lived here since generations.

Yet, there was something to Islamabad decades ago, in its infancy, which had it destined to become something spectacular; something out of the ordinary, something that would make it the center of Pakistan, yet not – as many people would say – “the real Pakistan”. It was, as it is today, the seat of the government.

Then, Islamabad started to grow.

It seems unsurprising now, how future development and budgetary allocations favoured the city over the years, or how the city ended up accommodating many more than just government servants and their kin.

As the cost of living soared, it pushed many lower and lower-middle class workers out of the city into the peripheries, while attracting the higher classes from all around the country. That is where the problem arose.

See: A game-changer for the Pakistani public

Until yesterday, Islamabad lacked a very basic necessity of any city destined for growth: The absence of a mass-transit system.

The hundreds of thousands of people who commuted everyday from Rawalpindi to Islamabad, to work in shops and government offices – primarily the lower staff – had to spend more than an hour – at times even close to three hours – to reach their workplace.

To change all that, the Rawalpindi-Islamabad Metro Bus Project was inaugurated yesterday evening. This brings an end to a yearlong suffering of the cost of progress; namely dust, under-construction roads, tortuous diversions, prolonged travelling times and what not.

The somewhat-controversial Metro bus was finally here, albeit after a delay. It was with a mixture of relief and skepticism that I went ahead for a ride on it yesterday.

The regular bus service did not begin on the first day, so only a few buses were moving back and forth. But the atmosphere was buzzing with excitement as a big crowd had gathered in and around the platforms soon after the politicians had left.

At around 10pm, I parked my car next to the "Katchery Stop" of the Metro Bus Service and walked towards the entrance of the station.

I was pleasantly surprised when I climbed down the stairs to see a corridor perfectly lit, with polished floors and nicely lined plant pots. But then, this was only the first day. It almost reminded me of New York City's subway terminal, but it didn't – it wasn't as jam-packed and it did not have that stench every New Yorker is so used to. Instead, it was air-conditioned, spacious and beautiful.

Stairs leading down from Katchery Station.
Stairs leading down from Katchery Station.
Katchery Station Platform, people waiting for the bus.
Katchery Station Platform, people waiting for the bus.
Commuters buying tickets and Metro cards.
Commuters buying tickets and Metro cards.

Shahid Satti, an employee at the terminal was guiding locals on how to purchase their Metro Card, 130 rupees apiece, which would then last a lifetime and could be refilled with cash and coin at the machine.

A 20-minute ride from Saddar in Rawalpindi to the Parade Ground, right in front of the President's House in Islamabad would cost 20 rupees per person.

"We have 64 buses that will run through these tracks," Satti told me. "I am excited, I am hoping this venture takes off."

Also read: Amidst Metro bus fanfare, Sharjeel Memon promises free WiFi for Karachi

Even though the ride was free (and it will most probably remain free for some days), I bought my card, loaded some money into it and walked up to the platform. An air-conditioned hallway; water coolers and seating in the middle; the platform is mostly glass, and right in the middle of the road, so that you can see traffic going past on either side.

The machine which credits your Metro card by inserting cash or coins.
The machine which credits your Metro card by inserting cash or coins.
A man analysing the route of the Metro Bus.
A man analysing the route of the Metro Bus.
Punjab Metro Bus Authority ads are visible while people wait for the buses.
Punjab Metro Bus Authority ads are visible while people wait for the buses.
One minute left for the bus to arrive.
One minute left for the bus to arrive.

Atif, a resident of Rawalpindi who works at Jinnah Super, Islamabad, was waiting for the bus with a few of his friends when I inquired him about his views.

"It is a very good initiative. It saves money for the poor. It is very hard for me to spend 100 rupees daily on commuting. With this bus, my expense will come down to 40," he said.

However, much to his chagrin, when the bus arrived, his friend hopped on to it, whereas the bus doors slammed shut before he could. Atif was left behind waiting for the next bus to arrive.

I suppose it will take a while for all of us to learn not to swarm into the door as soon as a bus stops, so that those disembarking can easily come out. Likewise, it will take some time for our Metro drivers to learn not to close their doors as soon as everyone had gotten out, like it happened at one time.

'Let me get in'. 'No wait, let me get out first'. People rushing into each other instead of waiting.
'Let me get in'. 'No wait, let me get out first'. People rushing into each other instead of waiting.

I traveled from the Katchery Station to the Kashmir Highway Station and back, because the bus driver simply stopped there and told everyone to leave, perhaps because the service wasn't fully functional on the first day and the rides were merely a test.

The test did not go well all the time; the bus door remaining shut at the platform when someone wished to get in, opening while it was moving, and remaining open till the next stop came, when it closed shut again.

The buses are nothing like the usual public buses we are used to here. Rather, they depict a striking resemblance to those found abroad. Free Wi-Fi, route map, extensive space for women and rather comfortable seats made my first-ever ride a memorable one.

However, as Muhammad Imran Khan, a commuter said to me, "It is a good service but it remains to be seen how the public will use it."

The front portion is reserved for women.
The front portion is reserved for women.
People traveling to Saddar from Katchery.
People traveling to Saddar from Katchery.
A long way to go to Saddar.
A long way to go to Saddar.
But the door is open, dear driver.
But the door is open, dear driver.
Late night at the Kashmir Highway Station.
Late night at the Kashmir Highway Station.
Heading out of the Metro bus station.
Heading out of the Metro bus station.

The capital has come a long way from its early days. Nestled next to the Margalla Hills, it is no doubt one of the most beautiful cities of not just Pakistan, but the world. Much like New York City’s residents boast about its greatness, Islooites can be proud in their own way.

Where its people have contributed into making a distinctive culture of its own, the governments, every now and then, have tried to keep the city true to the thought that comes in mind when someone mentions, Islamabad – the Beautiful.

This is perhaps, yet another feather in its cap.


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Siddique Humayun is a Policy Analyst and a graduate of Columbia Journalism School.

He can be contacted at siddique.humayun@gmail.com. He tweets @siddiquehumayun.

The views expressed by this writer and commenters below do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.


Comments (78) Closed



Kashif Jun 05, 2015 06:06pm

It is a great effort, hope people who use it and people who maintain it, consider it a blessing and care for it the same way.

Zak Jun 05, 2015 06:13pm

Looks like Singapore , well done Nawaz and Shahbaz.

AlphaMaverick Jun 05, 2015 06:14pm

Regardless of all scepticism and scandals, it is a good initiative! Similar projects are needed in other metropolitans after Lahore and Twin cities. Now, it is a test for us that how civilized we are in using this service and how long can we maintain its quality.

Insane-InsAAn Jun 05, 2015 06:16pm

From where all this money came from??

Sudhanshu Swami Jun 05, 2015 06:24pm

Good this will help people for commuting with comfort. By the way elevator in urdu called lift ?

John Pakistani Jun 05, 2015 06:31pm

wow wonderful. i live in dubai and it looks similar to dubai metro stations. pls launch this project in karachi too!

khan1857 Jun 05, 2015 06:32pm

Metro bus project Rs 45 billion. Baluchistan's total development budget Rs 50 billion. I am not against this project infact i am completely pro this project but if we dont invest in smaller provinces then they wont develop along with the rest of the country. I want to see a day when PMLN announce a multi billion rupee project for Baluchis without any malicious intention behind it.

JHK Jun 05, 2015 06:32pm

Please save the pictures and retake pictures in 6 months to a year and compare.

Muhammad Jun 05, 2015 06:40pm

A person who owns a car can't justify the effectiveness of this Metro. I lived in ISB and public transport is pathetic. Majority of workers commute from RWP to ISB. After all students will also benefit a lot. People who come to ISB from remote areas for short work trip, they are on mercy of Taxi drivers. Metro will save the time and money as well.

Montrealer Jun 05, 2015 06:41pm

Doesn't suit a country where 44% of budget goes to debt repayments.

SO HAPPY FOR PAKISTAN!!!! Jun 05, 2015 06:53pm

Oh my god watching this made me so happy for pakistan! I am so happy I am going to start crying with joy ! God has listened to our prayers and we are going to look like the best most developed countries in the world. Only thing missing is that our people should be beautiful white, blonde, blue eyed and dressed like the people in the west and also nice and loving and even more loving than the west. One thing: just use the word "khoruj" for exit instead of long "bahir janay ka rasta"? why an essay to explain the word exit? May God bless Pakistan ! and Pakistanis and save us from the Indians and every shar!

Ali S Jun 05, 2015 06:55pm

I have to say it looks absolutely spit-polished - let's hope the service is as good as the cosmetics. And please impose a strict paan ban there - or else the place will soon end up looking like a truck adda.

M.Saeed Jun 05, 2015 07:13pm

The Capital of Pakistan was shifted from Karachi to Islamabad,due to the following main reasons:

1) Karachi was congested and commercially oriented city by 1959,to allow smooth and unhindered by the vested interests of businessmen, in governance.

2) Travel from long distances by the Secretariat staff on unreliable and insufficient public transport was taking all vital time & energies of the staff thus making them increasingly less productive. 3) Lack of suitably priced land for the Government employees in Karachi. 4) Insufficient office space located at long distances of various Ministries made inter ministerial interaction difficult and cumbersome. 5) Involvement of Government servants in other gainful utilization of their paid by the Government time,due to various incentives offered by their position and easy approach to the outside influences was seen as a serious handicap in efficient running of the Government.

All above have returned and Metro would make mends immensely.

Baaba Jun 05, 2015 07:24pm

Excellent effort. I hope it stay shinny like this 20 years from now. Not like buses result.

SALMAN Jun 05, 2015 07:27pm

Even though I do not agree with PML N politics I like what they did here. Please please maintain this otherwise all the money is wasted. All political parties build infrastructure regardless of politics

KhalidS Jun 05, 2015 07:32pm

Is it not like Musharaf era progress, from cycle to bike to car and so on. This is not progress, this is not development. When people will start waiting for people to step out of the bus first and then enter. that will be a good day of progress.

tanweer Jun 05, 2015 07:32pm

great thing just like PIA and Pakistan railway. and like those depends on subsidies to run. Not sure if this is sustainable but who cares about that as long as it lasts till the next election

ashok kumar lal Jun 05, 2015 07:33pm

a good project, a good beginning

saagar Jun 05, 2015 07:52pm

Well done. Keep the good work up.

Ashish Tandon Jun 05, 2015 07:58pm

Good job Pakistan. Greetings from India. May all of us grow and live in peace. As for the article, very well written. I still remember my first ride in the Delhi Metro as I was an engg. student visiting Delhi at that time. As Mr. Muhammad Imran Khan put it so aptly "It is a good service but it remains to be seen how the public will use it." Success of such initiatives depend a lot on the general public who use them. I am proud to say that Delhi and Delhiites have done very well in keeping the metro clean. Over to you Islamabad. Go on, prove your worth and make good use of this service.

Shiraz Jun 05, 2015 07:59pm

One of the most important thing to consider and implement here is the maintenance of the infrastructure of this service and the buses themselves. In addition, the continuous improvement, education of masses to teach them the manners of use of this service and extension of routes is utmost. Third, the honesty of employees and administrators will pay off pretty soon.

Only these three ingredients are enough to make this project a success. This is what I have learned and seen while travelling all over the world.

Not long ago, Karachi had a brilliant service named as Karachi Transport Corporation. The reason of its demise was nothing but the dishonesty of employees and the behavior of masses using the service, many buses were burnt during the deteriorating law and order situation and the rest was devoured by the employees. Its a reality not a figment of someones imigination.

Arun Sasi Jun 05, 2015 08:07pm

why not Metro Rail?

Prakash Jun 05, 2015 08:25pm

Good...but why everything good for Punjab cities only???Doesnt Karachi deserve these goodies before Lahore or other Punjab Cities??

Sanchari Jun 05, 2015 08:31pm

It is really good to see the development in Pakistan and I think people will keep it clean. If we look at India's infrastructures that are developed post independence, like the subway and new bridges, they are all clean. I think people take a pride and joy in them compared to the ones that were made in the colonial era, hence keep them clean. I am sure that will also be the case here.

Brohi Jun 05, 2015 08:32pm

Punjab keeps prospering at the cost of other provinces. TOTAL development budget for Baluchistan is just a little more than the price tag of this project that benefits only one city and that too of pampered Punjab that. Outrageous.

Imran Jun 05, 2015 08:36pm

Stay blessed Pakistan. May you develop even more.

mIR Jun 05, 2015 08:42pm

do audit for the whole project

Abdul Majid Jun 05, 2015 08:51pm

40 billions rupees project with additional subsidy of a least 1.5 billion rupees per month, this not an economically feasible project. Wasting tax payer's money, that will be utilized to build large dams which can generate economic activities and cheap electricity. However my opinion is that these metro project are nothing but political gimmicks.

Saadahgul Khan Jun 05, 2015 09:17pm

Does any one remember the fate Government Transport Service or GTS as popularly known more than 3 decades ago?

M A Mujeeb Jun 05, 2015 09:30pm

@M.Saeed Above else, the capital was shifted on strategic grounds, as it exposed the Karachi city to attack by enemies.

Jawwad Jun 05, 2015 09:54pm

PMLN's shiny new toy? Did all members of Shrif family chip in money to find metro project? It's tax payers money. So let's say public's new toy.

Harmony-1 Jun 05, 2015 09:56pm

@Sudhanshu Swami - Not really Urdu, or englishwinglish! Elevator - US English. Lift - UK English.

Fahad Zafar Sobani Jun 05, 2015 10:05pm

I congratulate government of Punjab for taking this bold initiative. This reminds me transportation system of Beijing and Shanghai, which I recently visited.

Dr. Liaqat Jun 05, 2015 10:20pm

I like this venture, even if it tore my heart to see the mess of the last few months in Islamabad as construction was ongoing. Truly, no more beautiful city than Islamabad

frkh Jun 05, 2015 10:23pm

Punjab Metrobus Authority? Islamabad is not part if Punjab.

Omer Jun 05, 2015 11:11pm

@Prakash then vote for PMLN in other provinces please.

jj Jun 05, 2015 11:43pm

@Zak And it will end up in Landa bazar. I give it six months,

A. KHADIZ Jun 06, 2015 12:05am

Wonderful, congrats

Saleem Jun 06, 2015 01:38am

Well actions speak for themselves....Completion of project would suffice its justification....

American Jun 06, 2015 01:49am

@Sudhanshu Swami; No, elevator is called lift in UK and Lift is called elevator in America; confusing EH..

H Chaudhry Jun 06, 2015 02:01am

@Prakash Not sure if you have any idea about how Pakistan work but after 18th amendment most has been give to Provinces. It is responsibility of a province to do what they want to do. This project is mostly funded by Govt of Punjab in Rawalpindi area and Federal Govt in Islamabad. For other provinces to get these "goodies" the people there need to elect right people.

global citizen Jun 06, 2015 03:02am

First i thought... hey cool.. a metro.. And then i looked closely.. its just a bus..

curious Jun 06, 2015 03:27am

Metro bus?..is it metro trains ur talking about?

nasir Jun 06, 2015 03:51am

@Montrealer

It will cut individual fuel expenses of expected 140 thousands commuters per day.

ND Jun 06, 2015 05:39am

I wish u had posted some pics of the quality of work as seen from the outside. The raised platforms r poorly finished and give a real scary feeling of being unsafe. I live in Pindi and have seen the project take off from the scratch. Just yesterday I had a chance to see the faizabad station from below and it was already giving a picture of a decades old platform. It's very easy to make things look beautiful from inside and impress the public. Don't know what stopped them from making it a quality project just like motorway and Jinnah international airport Karachi both of which have been undertaken and completed in shareefs' previous tenures. Metro bus project leaves a lot to be desired.

imran khan Jun 06, 2015 06:01am

misplaced priorities ?

Atti Jun 06, 2015 06:14am

This is my childhood dream to enjoy Islamabad in train with my family

Muhammad Rafiq Malik Jun 06, 2015 07:03am

Our Public is careless. They lack good habits like cleaning. Taking care of things etc. They always believe in short cuts. It is a great facility and I hope they will use it with care.

N.S Jun 06, 2015 09:05am

The bus is huge...look like a train carriage way. It will be immensely beneficial to students, office goers, patients as most of them has to travel to Islamabad from Rawalpindi.

Hope the Punjab Metro Bus authority will maintain the service spick and span.

Shahid Akbar, USA Jun 06, 2015 09:11am

How about Karachi's transportation issues? Shame on Sindh government.

Saeed Hahsmi Jun 06, 2015 09:28am

sharing a note regarding the cost from one of my friend in Washington DC who is expert on transportation: The news item quoted the cost of the project to US$ 441 Million for 23 Km stretch. That works to be about 19.2 Million Per KM. It looked bit exorbitantly high compared to similar projects elsewhere in the world.

In other parts of the world it cost ranges from US$ 2.3 - 12 Millions. Even in Turkey it costs was 8.3 million US$. Not suggesting anything sinister here, but curios to understand the cost escalation to almost double.

jimmy rocks Jun 06, 2015 10:09am

I thought it was a train. Never heard of Metro bus. Nevertheless, seems to be a good beginning. All the best!

fawad Jun 06, 2015 10:17am

"it did not have that stench every New Yorker is so used to".

Just to remind New York subway system was built 110 years ago. Pakistan got it now, of course it is new and shiny, but can't compare with NYC metro.

Dipak Singh Jun 06, 2015 10:23am

I'm from Kolkata and we use to it from 1992 as Metro rail Kolkata & still it's so clean & safe.Hope this is also public will use in same way. but I think Metro rail is better than Metro bus. at a time thousand people can travle in Metro rail but not in the case of bus.

fawad Jun 06, 2015 10:29am

I commented about New York subway being 110 years old, forgot that here author is comparing BUS service with 110 years old Metro TRAIN SUBWAY system.

Tamza Jun 06, 2015 10:51am

@global citizen But dear sir: it is on a DEDICATED roadway/ so for practical purposes it is 'like' a train.

Indian Jun 06, 2015 11:28am

Great Pakistan. Development is always like feeling proud. Good to see the changing atmosphere in the country. Keep it up. Bravo.

Fear Jun 06, 2015 11:52am

See for how long the automatic systems and escalators work and the beautiful signboards outside the stations survive.

Muhammad AJ Jun 06, 2015 11:56am

@Insane-InsAAn ; From motorway

Ghulam Rabbani Jun 06, 2015 01:00pm

I am very happy and excited as it is wonderful public service transport for the commuters of twin cities. We need this kind of mega projects all around Pakistan. I hope the chief ministers of other province should learn from the CM Punjab.

No doubt, it is an assets for Pakistan.

Ghulam Rabbani Jun 06, 2015 01:05pm

@khan1857 Dear Mr. Khan, it is the duty of CM Baluchistan, no one is stopping him to do anything he want for his province, likewise KPK & Sindh. No one is stopping them to do if they want to ease the life of normal citizen.

CM Baluchistan, Dr. Abdul Mallik SB is doing well in the Education sector, this is what I know but he is man who has to decide what is the best for his province. After 18th amendment all CM's are fully authorize to start any project they want to.

2nd the project cost is 38 B to be very correct. Check it again. At-least this is what I red in the reports.

Ghulam Rabbani Jun 06, 2015 01:10pm

@Prakash Good question, should be ask to CM Sindh and the entire sindh government. No one is stopping them to do anything they want. It is their choice.

shahbaz Jun 06, 2015 01:20pm

Hope this starts a healthy competition between provinces...mismanaged project maybe but end result pretty good.

Would love to see Karachi, Quetta and Peshawar put efforts to replicate the general public service. I know some of us say let the money only go to health and education but also these things in this century are equally important.

I firmly believe that if their is will by any CM of the other provinces, they can also solve the daily commuters problem with so many large to medium solutions available in today's world.

Nero Jun 06, 2015 01:21pm

Can someone clarify for non-Pakistanis: is this a bus or a train system? Somewhere the author used the word "tracks" and that left me confused. A good initiative, which should be taken to all the major cities.

sabiha Jun 06, 2015 01:27pm

@Insane-InsAAn The real issue is from where the money to give subsidy come from. It can't bear its cost @ Rs 20 per ticket. The huge subsidy of billions shall be given by Govt and it will come from taxes imposed on daily use items like petrol, oil, milk etc

Fais Jun 06, 2015 01:47pm

If metro is the solution for all our problems as they are trying to show it in metro video thn, please send metro to punjab hospitals as well in punjab police stations. Plus in sindh THAR area too.

global citizen Jun 06, 2015 01:57pm

@Tamza This is cute at so many levels

UMAR Jun 06, 2015 02:11pm

not from your pocket; you tax evader.

Good reader Jun 06, 2015 02:12pm

@khan1857 what about billions invested by Musharraf? No one will bring prosperity if there own people and Sardars are corrupt.

UMAR Jun 06, 2015 02:14pm

Special metro bus cards of reduce fare will be highly appreciated.

M. Asghar Jun 06, 2015 03:00pm

The test of the quality of the Metro-line will lie in maitaining its quality over time. For this authorities, have to be inflexible with its employers and the behaviour of the users.

A Ali Jun 06, 2015 03:19pm

if this metro was made purely for the better of nation, I would love to ride this.

it was budgeted at 12 billion and finished at whopping 45 billion ... I reiterate and ask Ch Nisar, Shahbaz and Nawaz to put full details / cost / expense of this metro project online website of concerned Ministry.... including names of the companies who participated in this project as vendors, sub-contractors and otherwise. I visited this project last year and found steel billets courtesy Ittefaq Foundries. Am a tax payer and I have all the right as per constitution to have full details be made public before it snowballs into another catastrophic debate in NA.

K Jun 06, 2015 03:23pm

I do appreciate the effort by Punjab Govt, but I still believe they lack vision and only can create new infrastructure rather than improve existing with small amount...

Btw the writer comparing it with NY Metro is simply exaggeration....same as people comparing it with the Dubai Metro. It's simply a bus running on a dedicated track

Nomi Jun 06, 2015 03:45pm

Every 1 shall use it with care the way they care about their own cars and stuff. Pakistan is our country our home . We shall care it a lot .

Maqsood Jun 06, 2015 03:45pm

In our Country the things are made with best hopes, but later to maintain in that shape become a dream.

Realist Jun 06, 2015 05:31pm

whats the big deal its just a bus right ? why dont they start a proper metro train like in other parts of the world?

Adil Jadoon Jun 06, 2015 05:32pm

Why well done the bald brothers? Did they pay for this?

Atif Jun 06, 2015 07:29pm

@Prakash: with 18th Amendment all the provinces of Pakistan are autonomous states. If you check the records for the previous year, all the provincial governments with the exception of Punjab didn't use their budget and kept in their cupboards. The malicious intentions of the politicians are responsible not a particular province.