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Metro buses seen on track after inauguration of the service in the provincial capital. — Online Photo by Sajid Rana

LAHORE: The Metro Bus System (MBS), arguably the country’s first rapid mass transit bus project, was launched here on Monday.

It was inaugurated by Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif at a ceremony attended by Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Bekir Bozdag, PML-N chief Nawaz Sharif and ambassadors of a number of countries.

About 45 modern buses started plying a 27km dedicated corridor from Gajjumata to Shahdra. The service is free for one month.

Construction work on the project planned by the Punjab government in the last quarter of 2011 was undertaken in March last year. The MBS route covers dozens of residential and commercial localities along the city’s main artery — Ferozepur road linking Lytton road, Jain Mandar, MAO College, Lower Mall, Civil Secretariat, Aiwan-i-Adal, Chowk Katchehry (District Courts), Shrine of Hazrat Data Ganj Bakhsh, Ravi Road and Shahdra town.

The route has 27 bus stations, nine of them built on the 8.6km long overhead bridge from Ferozepur Road/ Canal Intersection to Texali.

The Traffic Engineering and Planning Agency (TEPA), a subsidiary of the Lahore Development Authority (LDA), was entrusted with the task of constructing the MBS, a copy of the Bus Rapid Transit System (BRTS) of Istanbul, in collaboration with Turkish and local experts.

Since Turkey was actively facilitating the MBS, it also ensured investment from a leading Turkish firm in providing and operating 45 18-metre long articulated buses (Volvo China) the 27km pathway covered with fences. Platform, a Turkish firm, has been entrusted with the task of running the operational activities.

Speaking at the inaugural ceremony, the chief minister said people criticising the spending of “Rs70 to 80 billion” actually didn’t want to see the project which would be of great value to people who have been waiting for hours and travelling in old buses for decades. “As I have already said many a time I tell you again that we have spent only Rs29.8bn on the project which has made the people’s dream of travelling in state-of-the-art buses that never happened in the history of Pakistan,” Mr Sharif said.

The government and the Lahorites took the MBS inauguration like a festive event and a large number of people thronged the route to welcome the inaugural operations right from Gajjumata to Shahdra. The people, including government officials and PML-N workers, showered rose petals on the buses carrying distinguished guests.

The chief minister also announced Rs30 million cash rewards for all construction workers and special prizes for best workers. He gave away appreciation certificates to senior officials, including the LDA director general, PML-N leaders, Turkish experts and local firms for timely completing the project.

Speaking on the occasion, the Turkish deputy prime minister said his country would continue to support Punjab and other provinces for launching such major innovative projects. “Turkey and Pakistan enjoy cordial relations and trust each other. The countries have helped each other on various occasions and we will continue to do so in future too,” he said.

Mr Bozdag said that although Pakistan and Turkey couldn’t promote bilateral business relations in the past, the MBS would help in promoting investment by the business community in the two countries. He called for more and more business relations among Muslim countries.

Earlier, LDA Director General Ahad Khan Cheema and Punjab Metro Bus Authority’s Managing Director Sabtain Fazal Haleem briefed the guests on salient features, cost, construction work and other matters relating to the project.