Oct 27 - Nov 02, 2008

Mushrooming population of automobiles in Pakistan and growing usage of petroleum products that are burdening import bills of oil year on year need an immediate revival or commencement of integrated and alternative public transport system across the country in general and within the large cities in particular so that over load of bustling small public vehicles on transport infrastructure is functionally replaced with spacious buses and public transport travelling reduces volume of fuel consumption.

"18 meter long bus can easily replace 125 cars plying over roads," informed Javed Sultan, senior official of transport and communication department of city government Karachi while recalling an ADB bus rapid transport system study.

Since many decades mass transit plans have been coming under discussions of several transport management federal and provincial forums and different studies been conducted in this regard, but for one reason or another as such no all out actions have been taken so far to overcome burgeoning transportation needs of people who either are left with dilapidated and overrun public buses or their own rides which amplify rate of annual fuel consumption in addition to creating traffic congestion particularly in densely populated urban localities.

By considering them serious and impending dangers to developments, district governments have marched little forward to resolve public transport issues. Alas, they fall prey to intricacies of governance and corrupted elements every time they move forward with resolves. More or less, shapes of hurdles are similar in all district based, provincial or federal transport departments. However, its formation gets bigger and bigger in large cities due mainly to numerous conflicts of interests. Despite of an urgent requirement to undergo transport management programme, Karachi acclaimed one of the mega cities in World Economic Forum has, which is why, perhaps not witnessed much ballyhooed public transport system of buses, trams, and metropolitan light train services so far.

According to a source in the Karachi Mass Transit project, "travellers will have CNG buses on 40 different city routes by soon". Project of CNG buses is on the kick-off stage, says Javed. Government decided to induct 8000 CNG buses, each 11 meter long, in large cities nationwide. Of them, 4000 buses will be for Karachi alone, he said and added 500 buses would start operation in the city in the first phase.

Further more, the project will be on public-private partnership bases and buses in joint ownership of the government. Past bitter experience in which UTS bus service failed to produce desirable outcomes propelled government towards this decision, he said. Last time private investors had exploited government facility and got defaulted on bank loans.

In spite of joint ownership, government would limit its role as mere facilitator and besides upfront grant of up to Rs. 0.3 million for each CNG bus it would pay up to 10 percent interest over bank loans taken by the private investors. 'We have fixed 15 December last date for submission of investment proposals for this project.' Separate CNG filling stations for buses will be established at different locations. As gas pressure requirement of buses is high, 30 PSI supply line will be ensured for dispensers.

Combined with CNG bus project, proposed Karachi Circular Railway programme will effect in to assuage commuters who are at the mercy of present transport woes. An integrated public transport network will certainly bring a drastic cut in fuel consumption or at least forestall unnecessary energy wastage. Serviceable to 18 towns, KCR will have entirely new tracks or work on already laid down tracks. Foreign companies have expressed their willingness to collaborate in overall KMTP. For instance, JICA has offered to sanction soft term loan of $872 million for it. 'With 30 year debt servicing tenure, 0.2 percent mark-up, and 10 year grace period this provision is like a free-of-cost deal," said an official.

Reasons of much delayed implementation of mass transit project lie partly in ineptitude of authorities and snail-paced government works processing and chiefly in the nefarious designs of vested interests which could not tolerate any challenge to their tight fisted grips around transport system. Transport mafia are so strong that it debilitates any attempt of starting up sophisticated public transport services. One, however, believes that in absence of this mafia 'entire urban transport system will collapse'.

Sounds not wary this argument draws on ground realities. Alone in Karachi, majority of public transports are operated by private chequered transporters whose command and control mechanism is perfectly organized nonetheless disorganized looks of their buses. Had reversed been the assertion, Pakistan having pre partition mass transit plan and Karachi that has had trams running on its roads in bygone decades should have had more refined and updated public transport system.

Integrated mass transit will not only avert national energy loss, but it will minimize problems related to the traffic congestion. Proper bus stops will add to beautification, assign designated locations for waiting passengers, and facilitate public, said Abdul Qadir, DO Parking & Terminal.

Rising trade deficit, current account deficit and oil import bill of first quarter of this fiscal year all enhance the importance of measures to be adopted to curtail government expenditures as much as possible. Since public transport has dual advantage of first initiating moderation in fuel consumption and second providing convenient and economical commuting, projects such as CNG buses, bus rapid transport system, KCR should be taken on board. Liquidity crunch may befall on public development projects, therefore, for the time being low cost public transport projects instead of whole mass transit should be started and private parties be motivated to push buses on roads forthwith.