Pakistan is implementing a project that aims at reducing energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions in the country’s transport sector by promoting public transportation.
Supported by Global Environment Facility and United Nations Development Programme, the Pakistan Sustainable Transport (PAKSTRAN) project is being put into operation through the governments of Sindh and Punjab provinces and the International Union for Conservation of Nature.
Especially in Karachi, the capital of Sindh and Asia’s fastest growing port city with an estimated 22 million inhabitants, PAKSTRAN should improve the transport system, which is in a state of anarchy now.
The five-year project aims to achieve an operational sustainable urban transport system in the two provinces, improved fuel efficiency in truck freight transport and increased public awareness and institutional capacity on sustainable transport concepts.
According to International Union for Conservation of Nature Pakistan Country Representative Mahmood Akhtar Cheema, the $7.8 million project focuses on the development of energy-efficient mass transit systems in Pakistan that are safe, clean and comfortable for citizens. These have the potential to shrink the sector’s carbon footprint by 30% to 40% by 2025.
“This will mean achieving stabilization of greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system,” Climate Change Ministry Media and Communications Deputy Director Muhammad Saleem said.
“Besides mitigating climate change, sustainable urban transport is vital for improved living conditions, particularly for urban dwellers in Pakistan,” Fauzia Malik, International Union for Conservation of Nature Component Manager, PAKSTRAN said.
“Pakistan has a potential for saving at least 20% of the energy used in transport sector, reducing greenhouse gas emission by orienting towards public transport and cutting congestion, pollution, consumption of fossil fuels and health problems for a sustainable development in the country,” Malik said.
And if this potential is not tapped, a disaster is waiting in the wings.
“Pakistan’s carbon emissions will reach 400 million tons of CO2 equivalent per year by 2030 if the business-as-usual scenario remains intact,” said Qamar-uz-Zaman Chaudhry, author of Pakistan’s climate change policy.
Lack of efficient public transport
One of the world’s fastest-growing countries, Pakistan has long lacked an efficient public transportation system.
According to a study titled Public Transport in Pakistan by Dr Muhammad Imran, a teacher at Massey University, New Zealand, motorized traffic was very limited in urban areas until 1947 when Pakistan got independence. “For example, in the city of Lahore, homes, work places, bazaars, and community places were located in a mixed land use pattern within a short distance. Walking was the largest mode of transport followed by horse-drawn carriage.”
“In 1947 railways offered the only mode of intercity public transport. Later, Road Transport Board was set up to coordinate the rail and road networks with an intercity passenger ratio of 75% and 25% in the favour of railways. Omni Bus was operated in the cities of Lahore and Karachi, while tramway provided services in Karachi only.”
Planned city, planned transport
Architect and urban planner Arif Hasan’s nostalgia for Karachi’s public transport goes back to the days when iconic tramways operated in the largest and most populous metropolitan city of Pakistan.
“Karachi was a well planned city then. Double-decker buses and trams provided good public transport to the people,” said Hasan.
Also Naeem-ur-Rehman representing Jamaat-e-Islami confirms that Karachi used to have a very good public transport system with almost 60% of the vehicles belonging to public transport and only 20% individual cars.
But “after the tramways’ closure in 1974 for causing too many accidents and disrupting vehicular traffic, a proposal for an underground metro could never materialize and badly maintained minibuses and buses now operate without safety certificates from the transport department,” says Hasan.
And this is not limited to Karachi. For one thing the public transport is insufficient to cater to the demand of an ever bulging population and jamming commuters onto unreliable buses and vans prone to breakdowns and grisly traffic accidents in the whole country. For another thing the transport sector is responsible for about a fifth of the country’s total emissions and over half of oil consumption. Therefore the country’s emissions are increasing at an annual rate of 6 per cent, or 18.5 million tons of carbon dioxide equivalent.
Some progress has been made
Instead of the haphazard transportation system — which sometimes involves passengers riding on the roofs of rickety buses, a mass transit bus system launched in Lahore with about 10 million residents a couple of years ago and the new Rawalpindi-Islamabad Metro Bus system aims to remove around 1 million cars from the road, from a total of 12-13 million, cutting a significant amount of carbon emissions.
The model is being extended to other Pakistani cities including Karachi which is consistently ranked as one of the world’s most unlivable cities. Severe traffic congestion and induced air and noise pollution play a major role in these poor rankings. With limited infrastructure and low level of public services, the city’s urban transport system fails to provide mobility for all people.
According to a report, titled ‘Karachi: the transport crisis’, authored by Arif Hasan, Mansoor Raza and Urban Resource Centre, the public transport sector of the country’s largest city is on the verge of collapse owing to a history of failure, inefficiency and lack of follow-through in both government and public-private partnership projects.
The gap between demand and supply in the transport market is becoming more and more obvious.
Karachi currently has 9,527 operational minibuses, as compared to the 22,313 it had in 2011, according to the report. The Karachi Metropolitan Corporation says an additional 8,676 large buses are required to fill the shortfall.
Moreover, of the city’s 329 official bus routes, only 111 are currently being operated, while the others have been abandoned because “they are not considered lucrative by the transporters”.
Karachi has seen the introduction of about 50,000 Qingqi carriers – a motorcycle carrying a six-seater cabin – in recent years. There are also about 60,000 Compressed Natural Gas rickshaws running on the city’s roads. Finally, those who can afford it have invested in motorcycles: In 1990 there were 450,000 motorcycles registered in the city and by 2013 that number had jumped to 1.65 million.
Air of Karachi has become highly polluted and studies have shown it is responsible for a rise in lung and cardiovascular diseases.
At a workshop in Karachi titled ‘Sustainable transport, a solution to traffic issues in Pakistan,” Dr. Zafar Fatmi, head of a research group at the division of environmental health sciences of the Aga Khan University, said the impact of outdoor air pollution was much wider than what had been generally believed. It affects not just human health but also natural resources, agriculture and heritage, besides contributing to global warming and climate change.
“National health authorities have a key role to play and health concerns regarding air pollution should be integrated in all relevant policies,” he said.
Continued exposure to air pollutants such as particulate matter, a mixture of suspended solid and liquid particles in air, carbon monoxide, lead, nitrogen oxides and sulphur oxides, he said, were known to cause serious illnesses.
“The evidence on airborne particulate matter and its public health impact is consistent in showing adverse health effects at exposures that are experienced by urban populations in both developed and developing countries, predominantly to the respiratory and cardiovascular systems.”
About the impact of lead exposure to health, he said that it affected intelligence and could potentially cause mental retardation in cases with higher lead levels.
Recommending measures, he said that improvement in fuel quality, vehicle technology, traffic management, public transport regulation and control could help control air pollution.
Pakistan’s planning minister Ahsan Iqbal said the federal government planned to launch Rapid-Bus Transit in Karachi also.
According to Component Implementation Unit Manager for Sindh Yar Muhammed four corridors of Bus Rapid Transit system were being worked on.
“Asian Development Bank and federal government had already approved grant for Red Line and Green Line bus services. Yellow Line and Brown Line bus services would be constructed by public private partnership and Sindh government respectively,” he says.
David Margonsztern, the ADB’s senior urban development specialist, said: “The project is not just a transport scheme,” he explained. “We want to redevelop the entire corridor, making it socially and economically more viable.”
PAKSTRAN: “With proper policies and good governance the public transport can be improved again.”
With the envisioned output of PAKSTRAN being ‘environment mainstreamed across the development sector plans and programmes, the project guides this through demonstrating international best practices planning and implementation of integrated urban transport systems, strengthening the institutional and policy framework for urban transportation, demonstrating international best practices for modernizing the trucking fleet, creating an investment environment with widespread stakeholder acceptance, and raising public awareness and knowledge of issues in sustainable urban transport and fuel-efficient transport in Pakistan.
PAKSTRAN Project Manager Saleem Janjua said the project that was initiated in July 2014 for five years might need three more years for better and concrete implementation of its goal to reduce emission and to elevate public transport to such a level that people prefer public transport over private.
PAKSTRAN will adopt holistic planning approaches towards a successful Bus Rapid Transit system. Bus Rapid Transit planning will include: its physical integration and feeder routes with the urban transport network; organized parking lots near bus stations and user-friendly transfer points; economic incentive for commercial development near Bus Rapid Transit; financial sustainability of integrated Bus Rapid Transit system and outreach and involvement through public-private partnerships.
PAKSTRAN will streamline institutions; strengthen strategic plans and the regulatory policy framework at the provincial level by using Bus Rapid Transit project demonstration experiences. It will facilitate: development of sustainable transport policies; and build capacity within responsible provincial agencies to adopt sustainable transport principles in planning.
Moreover, PAKSTRAN will: utilize holistic approaches to demonstrate implementation of the Trucking Policy. This approach include innovative financial mechanisms, strengthening institutions and regulations to create an enabling environment to reduce fuel consumption in the trucking sector.
Also, PAKSTRAN will raise awareness and knowledge levels of issues related to, and measures to achieve sustainable urban transport and fuel efficiency of commercial vehicles This will include targeted publicity campaigns and supporting curriculum development in technical and academic institutions.
According to Hasan Nasir Jamy, National Project Director of PAKSTRAN Project, in Lahore there is a dire need of promoting awareness regarding the benefits of Bus Rapid Transit among the masses:
“Pakistani cities are continuing to grow very rapidly. Vehicle fleets in many cities are increasing at a rapid rate. Poor road safety, increased congestion and air pollution not only negatively affect the quality of life, but also carry large economic and social costs. We are running out of options and sustainable transport solutions and mass transit systems are the way forward. An effective and sustainable transport system for people and goods is a prerequisite for sustainable economic growth.”
For raising awareness, the project engages political leaders, transporters, police and especially young people through seminar, workshops, walks and cycling rallies.
The mindset that public transport in Pakistan has, seen as a means of transportation only for the lower classes, should change, says Shireen Mazari who represented opposition Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaaf party at a recent dialogue. “Public transport should be for all classes of society so all can ride safely and comfortably”.
Naeem-ur-Rehman representing Jamaat-e-Islami is certain that “with proper policies and good governance the public transport can be improved again”.