Needs and Priorities
The Pakistan government is spending money on improving public transport. It could also spend with as much generosity on education and health.
By the time the Rawalpindi-Islamabad Metrobus project was completed and opened, it had cost the Pakistan government some US$ 443 million. The Lahore Metrobus project cost US$ 298m while a similar project in Ahmedabad, India cost just US$ 2.4m. The Metrobus project in Beijing, China cost US$ 4.8m and the one in Leon, Spain cost US$ 1.8m. The length of the Metrobus system in Rawalpindi-Islamabad is just 23 km while the one is Lahore in 29 km. Compared to these, the longest Metrobus system built so far is located in Sao Paulo, Brazil. It has a length of 104 km and was built at a total cost of US$ 3.5 million.
The Pakistan government’s priorities can be gauged from the choices it makes in terms of its spending on pubic facilitation. According to the latest edition of the Economic Survey of Pakistan, the country at present has a total of 1,142 hospitals, 5,499 dispensaries, 5,438 Basic Health Units (BHUs) and 669 Rural Health Centres (RHCs). If the country’s current population is rated at 200 million, this amounts to one hospital for 175,131 persons and one dispensary for 36,370 persons.
The situation is even worse in the rural areas where over 70% of the people live. They are served by only 669 health centres and 5,438 BHUs. No wonder then that the total expenditure on health during fiscal year 2014-15 was just Rs114 bn – a paltry 0.4pc of the national GDP. The spending on health is so poor that there is only one cardiology hospital each in the cities of Lahore, Kasur, Sheikhupura, Okara, Pakpatan and Sahiwal. In some areas of the country, people travel for hours and days to reach hospitals for basic medical aid.
But the government must dete-rmine where it will spend first. Even under its new budget, just 2.2% of the GDP is earmarked for the education sector. According to one report, Thailand has allocated 28.3% of its budget for education while Morocco spends 26.4% on education. Among Pakistan’s leading assets is its youthful population. An estimated 54.8% of Pakistanis are under the age of 24. Of these, 33.3% are under the age of 14. Without reasonable education, their future looks bleak.
It is true that public transport is one area, especially in Pakistan’s urban centres, that needs the government’s urgent attention. The growing population of the country must be provided with practical means of transportation. The country is well served by road, rail and air links. The only problem is that these links are not organized in a manner that they would meet the people’s
requirements in a more pragmatic manner.
In recent times, however, some headway has been made in providing public transport within the larger cities of the Punjab province. The Lahore BRT was Pakistan’s first rapid bus transit system. It operates a fleet of 86 buses which run on a single 28.7 km long Ferozpur Road corridor.
The Rawalpindi-Islamabad Metrobus project, opened recently, took precedence over the much anticipated Karachi Metro Bus project and most of the funds of the Karachi project were diverted to the Rawalpindi-Islamabad Project. Ironically, while Karachi has a population that is five times bigger than that of Rawalpindi-Islamabad, it still lacks a mass transit system.
A Metro Bus system is also planned for the city of Peshawar. It will have a Skytrain and will be initially constructed on 18.4 kilometers from Chamkani to Hayatabad.
The Metro Bus system planned for Faisalabad would have a single line, similar to the system in Lahore. It will connect the Faisalabad International Airport to the City Bus Terminal, passing through some main hubs of the city.
In Multan, construction on the BRT system began in May 2015 and is expected to be completed in12 months.
Karachi is Pakistan’s economic engine of growth with some 20 million people. Since it has experienced tremendous upswing in traffic, the Japan International Co-operation Agency (JICA) prepared a mass transit network for the city with a 2030 vision suggesting two metro lines and six RBT lines, besides the Karachi Circular Railway revitalization programme. The first Green Line Corridor was to be laid from Surjani Town to Jamia Cloth Market (21 km) while the second Red Line Corridor was to cover the distance from Model Colony to Regal Chowk via Safoora Chowrangi (24.4 km). The third Corridor would connect Dawood Chowrangi to Numaish Chowrangi and Lucky Star. The business tycoon Malik Riaz has also offered to build a Metrobus System for Karachi with direct routes from the upcoming Bahria Society on the outskirts of the city to Jinnah International Airport at a 25 minute distance and another route from Bahria to the City Centre, a ride of about 20 minutes.
Once these systems are in place, a good portion of city dwellers across Pakistan will have access to dependable city transport. While this is a priority that the government must attend to with full interest, it must also take steps to control the expenditures being made on these projects and also to set its priorities in a manner that the more urgent needs of increasing spending in health and education are given precedence over public transport.