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Growth of Roads and Road Transport in Pakistan

The role of transport in economic development is often not sufficiently appreciated by the newly developing economies

By ABDUL WAHEED
Nov 06 - 12, 2000

Road transport plays an important role in the development of an economy. A country can not progress unless it has a good system of road network. The progress of agriculture sector depends upon the speed with which farmers obtain the necessary seeds, fertilizers, pesticide and farm machineries etc. on the one hand: and find the market for the disposal of their surplus products, on the other. This is only possible when we have a good network of farms to market roads. Road transport also creates demand for the primary products, and stimulates the consumption of products of manufacturing sector. Thus it encourages the development of both agriculture and industry and provides a lot of encouragement for the growth of the tertiary sector such as banking, insurance and trading. It improves market intelligence and discourages market imperfection and also encourages price equalization among different transport regions of the country.

Moreover, there is simple evidence to suggest that road transportation has helped to create local employment, facilitation of inter-community trade and migration, alleviation of poverty, and improvement of productivity. Various barriers like caste, colour, creed, location etc., have been broken by the operation of road transport service. A change in the people has also been brought about by the road transport service. It has resulted the spread of industrial units in smaller towns and many new towns have come into existence due to the operation of road transport.

Although there is a strategic role of rail transportation, especially in the long distance traffic, but there are obvious limitations in this mode as compared with alternative road transport. First, a high initial capital cost has to be incurred in building up of rail tracks, which has no alternative use except for rail wagons and carriages. On the contrary, a road would not only have a low capital, it could be put to multipurpose uses. Secondly, rail programme has relatively high time lag as compared with road. Thirdly, rail programme is less flexible as compared with road programme. Whereas consumers/traders can have inputs/outputs delivered right at their doors through roadways, such is not the case with railways. The letter would deliver goods in the goods yards alone from where these would have to be resifted to the final consumers involving unnecessary delays, costs, stresses and strain.

The growth of roads and road transport in the country is analyzed with the help of data pertaining to category wise road length (surfaced and un-surfaced), motor cars, buses, motorcycles and trucks for the period 1980 to 2000 in the following table.

Growth of Roads (length in kilometers)

 

1980

1985

%
Change

1990

%
Change

1995

%
Change

2000

%
Change

%
Change

 

1980
-85

1985
-90

1990
-95

1995
-2000

1980
-2000

         

Surfaced

38035

56318

48.07

86839

54.19

118428

36.38

138726

17.13

264.73

Unsurfaced

55925

69925

24.96

83984

20.1

99917

18.97

111233

11.32

98.89

Total Length

93960

126243

34.36

170823

35.31

218345

27.82

249959

14.48

166.03

 

Growth of Road Transport (000 Numbers)

 

1980

1985

%
Change

1990

%
Change

1995

%
Change

2000

%
Change

%
Change

   

1980
-85

1985
-90

1990
-95

1995
-2000

1980
-2000

       

Motor Cars

148.3

268.9

81.32

427.7

59.06

550.6

28.73

689

25.14

364.6

Buses

25.3

32.9

30.04

43.3

31.61

66.1

52.66

87.9

32.98

255.34

Motorcycles

287.6

581.3

102.12

896.2

54.17

1497.4

67.08

2046.7

36.68

611.65

Trucks

34.2

54.4

59.06

82.7

52.02

115.2

39.3

149.2

29.51

336.26

Total

682.1

1288

88.82

1989.4

54.46

3091.1

55.38

4085.1

32.16

498.90

Source: Economic Survey 1999-2000, Government of Pakistan, Finance Division, Economic Advisor Wing, Islamabad. (www.finance.gov.pk).

Note: Total also includes Jeeps, Station Wagons, Tractors, Taxies, Cabs, Rickshaws, Delivery Vans, and other vehicles.

Data presented in the table reveal that surfaced road has increased by 264.73 per cent in 2000 over the year 1980. Unsurfaced road length during the same period has increased by 98.89 per cent. The data also show that percentage increase, over the year 1980, with respect to the total road length in the country was 166.03. From the figure it can be inferred that road length has been increasing in the country.

It can also be observed from the data that road transport has been developed. Number of motor cars, buses and motorcycle increased by 364.6, 255.34, and 611.65 per cent respectively over the year 1980 respectively. Percentage increase of trucks, being 366.26, was higher than the buses, implying an increasing demand for goods transport in the country. Hence a mere glance over the statistical information, furnished in the table makes the researcher to deduce that development has been taking place with respect to roads and road transport in the country over the years. However, a closer study of the data reveals that between the years 1980 to 2000, total road length has increased by 166.03 per cent but number of vehicles have increased by 498.9 per cent during the period 1980 to 2000. Now it is possible to argue that growth of roads and road transport in the country has not been consistent over the period of time.

Development activities and the consequent demand for mobility consistently increase the pressure on the Transport and Communications system, therefore, it requires continuous expansion, maintenance, replacement and modernization as an integrated system. Unfortunately Transport and Communications have not received adequate priority in the past due to pressures from other competing priority programmes. The government allocation under Annual Development Programme (ADP) for Transport, Storage and Communication decreased from 19.14 per cent in 1980-81 to 15.59 in 1985-86. This resulted in inadequate capacity improvement, arrears of replacement of the overage assets and a general deterioration in quality of service. In Railways sub-sector huge arrears of depreciated assets have piled up primarily due to low investment. Because of which Railways could not carry its due share of freight traffic that put tremendous strain on the road system. In case of the road sub-sector, heavy traffic volumes coupled with inadequate funds for maintenance has resulted in the deterioration of the road network. The diversion of long haul freight traffic to the relatively uneconomical mode of transport by road involved extra cost and, therefore, a net loss to the economy.

The role of transport in economic development is often not sufficiently appreciated by the newly developing economies. For rapid development more attention tends to be focused on industrial sector. It does not, however, take long to realized that the development of these industries is closely linked with the rate at which other sectors of the economy are simultaneously growing. In particular, if transport has been neglected, the process of economic development receives a setback. Thus both from the point of view of augmenting production as well as ensuring quick distribution of farm products, the role of road assumes a unique significance.

Thus, in an economy where nearly three-fourth of population lives in rural areas, the planners do not devote even one fourth of resources for transport sector. This naturally leads to unbalanced development of the economy. Such unbalanced approach enhances the cost of development. Whereas industrialization puts pressure on food grains and commercial crops, these have either to be imported or grown in the country. While imports have to be paid for by building up adequate export surplus. Consequently the economy would have to face serious balance problem.

Thus, if large scale import of food grain and industrial raw materials are not feasible and also the production of such goods is not growing at the rate being demanded then there would be pressure on the prices. Further, unless attempts are made in the very initial stages to rectify the situation which is unlikely unless the agricultural sector is well linked with transport facilities and inflationary situation would develop, which can upset realization of planned targets.

It is found that, despite more than five decades of planning, roads are continue to be inaccessible to a large number of villages. Under this circumstance, it will be idle to blame farmers for not effectively utilizing the expanding agricultural programme to increase output. The absence of proper market facility and long distance that separate most of the villages from the nearest surfaced roads, force farmers not to produce in excess of their own requirements.

While bus transport would continue to be the backbone of the overall transport system in inter-city movement, the traffic density in a metropolitan city cannot be handled by a purely road based system. There is a need to adopt other modes like mass transit system. Unfortunately, hardly any progress has been made in this regard, except completion of many feasibility reports. Government needs to work out a clear-cut policy in this regard.

The capacity of the trucking industry to move freight is increasing. The productivity of the truck fleet in terms of load carried has continued to show improvements over the years. Their operation, however, continues to be affected adversely due to preponderance of over aged vehicles, absence of assured loads owing to the fact that the truck owners are alone operator, poor facilities of loading/unloading at terminals and the frequently punctuated travel due to stoppages at octroi points.

For better operational efficiency, the growth of goods transport cooperatives needs to be encouraged. Professional organizations for providing such services could be developed similar to Travel Agencies. If a network of such agencies is established, it will be possible to evolve a computerized data base and booking of goods. Training of personnel for such agencies and franchise operations would be important in bringing professionalism into this unorganized area.

A matter, which requires urgent attention, is the composition of the road transport fleet. The cost of transport per passenger is much higher in the case of motor car or a motor cycle than in a bus. The relatively larger number of private cars and motorcycles implies the use of a more costly means of transport by fairly large number of people. On the other hand, the overcrowding in buses, the uncertainty about the availability of bus transporters is reflection of the inconvenience and hardship to which the general public is subjected. This is the result partly of the inadequacy of resources, particularly of foreign exchange, allocated for the expansion of bus services and partly of the general inefficiency of the operators of the services. A revision of the policy of resource allocation in favour of bus transport, is necessary, by reducing the resources allocated for the import of cars, is also urgently called for. An improvement in the quality of service of bus transport would tend to reduce the need for the use of private cars and motorcycles.

It can now be concluded that since the Pakistan economy is still agrarian in character and the settlement pattern is rural oriented, rural roads constitute a critical element of the transportation infrastructure. Also since road construction and maintenance absorb the growing labour force, thereby creating employment opportunities and contributing to the overall productivity of the transport sector, construction of transport infrastructure, particularly rural roads, should be given more importance

(The author is lecturer at the Department of Economics, University of Karachi, Karachi.)