ISLAMABAD: Emphasising the importance of a mass transit system, experts on Monday urged the government to focus on such systems in order to manage traffic, conserve energy resources and protect the environment.

On the first day of a two day national conference titled ‘Paving the Way for Sustainable Transport in Pakistan’, experts discussed the best ways to handle sustainable transport and increasing emissions.

The conference was organised by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) under the UNDP-GEF funded Pakistan Sustainable Transport (PAKSTRAN) project, which is being implemented by the Federal Ministry of Water and Power.

IUCN Pakistan country representative Mahmood Akhtar Cheema said that road transport was the backbone of the country’s transport system. He said that over the last 10 years road traffic, both passenger and freight, has grown more rapidly that the national economy. He said traffic congestion has given rise to environmental problems, including an increase in emissions and an unsustainable energy consumption pattern.

Arif Pervaiz said the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) include a target of a 50pc reduction in road traffic deaths and injuries by 2020.

He said transport solutions that recognise and complement cities’ characteristics – such as rapid urbanisation, high population density, mixed land use and high usage of public and non-motorised transport – needed to be planned and implemented.

“Policymakers have to consider the patterns of movement, special needs of handicapped and elderly persons and women in public transport planning and provision in every city,” he said.

Former minister of state for environment, and IUCN global vice president, Malik Amin Aslam, said policymakers must pay special attention to the link between SDGs and the transport sector, because this sector contributes significantly to climate change and the environment on both regional and global levels.

He said that under the COP21 framework agreement, 190 countries have agreed to come up with home grown solutions to limit global warming.

“The current pathway is not sustainable and needs to change,” he said.

PAKSTRAN national project manager Dr Saleem Janjua said: “Pakistan is an extremely low contributor to climate change but it remains one of the worst victims of climate impacts.”

He said that Pakistan loses 1pc of its GDP to pollution, a significant portion of which comes from the transport sector.

Institute for Transportation and Development Policy (ITDP) Indonesia vice president Faela Sufa, at the conference, shared examples of cities where bus rapid transit (BRT) has been applied, such as Bogota, Mexico and Guangzhou.

She discussed the example of Bogota, where the city centre was turned into a transit mall which only allowed buses, bicycles and pedestrians access to the city centre.

“Guanghzhou BRT reduces travel time not only for bus passengers but also for cars. Improving pedestrians’ access, bicycle lane and bicycle sharing sysem are introduced along with the BRT corridor at these three cities,” she said.

Highlighting the issue of transport and climate change, financial consultant Khizer Farooq Omer said: “If we need to have sustainable transport in the country, then we have to focus on effective simultaneous interventions to reduce emissions from the transport sector and adapt at risk existing transport infrastructure.”

Published in Dawn, December 22nd, 2015