Experts revealed that in any country, the transport sector is of vital significance to its development and affects all sectors through economic linkages. It ensures safe and timely travel encourages business actions and cuts down transportation costs while granting producers access to markets for their goods.
It is said that a dependable transportation sector also offers swift access to the labor force and hence produces career opportunities. Enhancements in transportation benefit industry, agriculture, and other services sectors also enhancing the standard of living of the general public, it is therefore, crucial that equipment be made to develop and sustain an efficient network of transportation to ensure cost-efficient integration of markets both internationally and domestically. Transport it is widely acknowledged, has been recognized that the provision of a high-quality transport system is a necessary precondition for the full participation of remote communities in the advantages of national development. However, developing countries seem to be in a fix concerning this issue. While mass transit systems offer affordable and well-organized transportation services, they require significant capital investment to develop, and financial subsidies to maintain operations. These are also often stuck in trying to strike a trade-off between the cost and benefit of the various aspects of transportation planning.
In developing countries like Pakistan where the transport sector constitutes 10 percent of the country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and offers 6 percent of the employment in the country. The transportation sub-index of the CPI basket in Pakistan grew to 284.74 points in April of 2023 from 280.20 points in March of 2023. Pakistan’s transportation system suffers from high transportation costs, low levels of service, lack of customer focus, limited access in rural areas, growing congestion on urban roads, poor operational and safety standards, and loss-making public sector services.
Furthermore, traffic congestion is one of the biggest challenges the transportation sector faces presently. A growing vehicle density in the country has led to severe traffic congestion on poorly planned and built roads. According to estimates, 250,000 cars are registered yearly in Pakistan. Most of these cars are assembled by Japanese car-making firms. Besides cars, motorbikes have the majority share (74 percent) of the total vehicle share in Pakistan’s transportation sector, followed by cars at 13 percent. The National Highways of Pakistan comprise all public highways sustained through the National Highways Authority under the Ministry of Transport. It sustains over 12,000 kilometers (7,500 mi) of roadways organized into various classifications which crisscross the country and offer access to major population centers. The network of roads and highways has a total length of 264,175 km. For each of the country’s 231.40 million inhabitants, this corresponds to 1.14 meters. This puts Pakistan in 195th place in the global ranking. The case of Pakistan in general and Karachi in specific is very similar. The peak-hour traffic problem is dealt with by developing signal-free corridors and adding additional lanes. These traffic-free corridors are created by closing intersections and making bridges and underpasses in place. Pakistan’s adepts identified that in most of these places, mere preferential signaling and parking management could have resolved traffic problems. Referring to the recently developed underpasses in Karachi, it is thought that the intersections were better off without these structures. It is also believed that tactics such as creating a green wave of signals could have solved challenges at many of the locations of the city. According to the World Bank (WB), there should be a 100-seater bus for every 1,500 people. So considering Karachi’s population of 14.91 million, there should be 20,448 35-seater minibusses and 5,566 50-seater buses. But the number of buses plying the roads is much less than that. Most working-class people can’t afford private vehicles hence they rely on public transport services. Most use buses and minibusses since they are the least expensive mode, with fares now Rs15 for 5km and Rs30 for 10-20km because of fuel price fluctuations.
As the world embraces electric vehicles, statistics showed that Pakistan has this huge opportunity to go “all in” and shift to a 100 percent electric public transport system which includes buses, taxis, 2 and 3-wheel micro-mobility options like e- rickshaws, e-scooters/bikes. Given that 22 percent of our import bill is spent on petroleum, this may actually be a smart financial decision that Pakistan can make at this juncture to reduce its dependence on imported fossil fuel. Statistics also showed that Karachi Metropolitan Corporation has proclaimed the Transport Master Plan 2030 where 6.0 bus transit routes (BRT) have been promised. The routes will cover 95.1km and offer transport to about 350,000 people daily.
According to the Government of Pakistan report, on the Eastern Alignment, Sukkur-Hyderabad (M-6) section has been proposed in Public-Private Partnership (PPP) mode. D.I. Khan-Peshawar Motorway (365 Km), Swat Expressway Phase-II (82 Km) and Dir Expressway (26 Km) projects have been proposed for inclusion in the CPEC framework. In addition to the road projects, construction work on (NGIA) is well underway and likely to be completed by October 2023.
Pakistani cities are struggling to serve their citizens; those who can’t afford a car are excluded from the city, and those who own a car are stuck in traffic, while all of them are breathing poisonous emissions. Public transportation has become a critical need for the future of our cities if we want to take a turn toward a more sustainable future.