Quetta transport

Published June 15, 2024
The writer is an academic and researcher based in Karachi
The writer is an academic and researcher based in Karachi

SECTIONS of the press have reported that the federal government is not agreeable to allocating funds for the procurement of 100 buses for Quetta. This is a huge disappointment for Quetta’s citizens, who have few choices when it comes to commuting. A recent study on transport and land use reforms in Quetta found that multiple issues impact the city’s public transport.

Quetta’s population is rapidly increasing as families grow and migration takes place, including from Afghanistan and Iran. For the rich and a section of the middle class, private cars, luxury jeeps, and motorcycles are common modes of transport. For the working classes, migrant workers, women, students and white-collar employees, mobility is an enormous challenge.

As in other Pakistani cities, urban expansion is underway in Quetta. Low-density and low-rise development is common, resulting in considerable distances and high dependence on motorised transport. The city is experiencing growth in the north and south as the eastern and western flanks have a hilly terrain, causing Quetta to expand in a quasi-linear manner. The distances are increasing with the passage of time, making commuting difficult, cumbersome and unaffordable.

Studies by the Urban Unit Lahore, which is currently preparing the Quetta Master Plan, show that several initiatives were undertaken to reform the transport sector, including a Quetta Development Package in 2022, which aimed to expand the road network, improve conditions for pedestrian mobility, and increase street lighting. Some work has been done, though it must be expedited to meet the prescribed targets. A glance at the vehicle inventory indicates that public transport vehicles are limited in number.

Distances are increasing with the passage of time.

Quetta has 2,363 buses and 2,332 mini-buses, which are the mainstay of public transport. These numbers are insufficient for a city of over two million people. Private cars exceed 17,000, while there are 299,420 motorcycles. School vans and shared vehicles are also part of this transport infrastructure. This shows that a sizeable number of people from the middle- and lower middle-income groups use motorcycles. However, given the poor air quality as a result of vehicle emissions, industries and sand/ gravel mining, it would be in Quetta’s interest to limit the number and operations of motorcycles and private vehicles on its roads.

It may be noted that Quetta benefits from pleasant climatic conditions for most of the year. Cycling can be promoted as a desirable commuting option. One observes a few cycles — mostly imported (read: smuggled) — from neighbouring countries on the streets. If traffic velocities are effectively managed and some dedicated lanes and facilitation extended to cyclists, it can become a popular transport option, especially with greater enforcement of traffic rules to ensure the safety of cyclists.

Some months ago, eight ecofriendly buses, as part of a public-private initiative, began plying from Balochistan University to Baleli on a dedicated route. This service changed perspectives, and was appreciated for its convenience, punctuality and dependability. When this writer spoke to a few students of Balochistan University, they not only appreciated the project but also made a passionate request to government agencies to extend the service to many underserved areas of Quetta, including Hazara Town, Nawan Killi, Sariab Road, Pashtun Bagh, Kuchlak, etc.

Many said that by paying only Rs40 as fare, their journeys had been greatly economised. Female students said that even when they shared auto-rickshaws, the cost would be anywhere between Rs100 and Rs180 per person per trip. Those living along the bus route have truly benefited from the bus service. Female students also demand that dedicated buses for women operate during the morning and evening peak hours. Those who have visited Karachi lately want a bus service on the lines of the pink buses for women there.

It is unfortunate that women from conservative backgrounds often find it difficult to convince their families to allow them to enrol in college or university. Non-availability of decent urban transport translates into the discontinuation of education for many young women in Quetta. Thus increasing the number of buses and having them ply more routes, including in remote locations, will benefit Quetta residents — especially the women. In addition, the authorities would do well to introduce electric vehicles in the city. True, the electric supply system in Quetta is hardly satisfactory, but this must be rectified as rising air pollution, resulting from vehicular emissions, is a big cause of concern. If public buses, and later ordinary cars shift to electric mode, the environment will soon show signs of improvement.

The writer is an academic and researcher based in Karachi.

Published in Dawn, June 15th, 2024

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