Essay: MRT project in Rawalpindi

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  • Published on: January 10, 2019
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  • MRT project in Rawalpindi
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Rawalpindi is a city in Pakistan, with a population of approximately 2.098 million people. Before the construction of the Metro bus, the population travelled via motorcycles, rikshaws, taxis, and personal cars along with a few local buses that were not being used due to their unsanitary conditions, lack of toilets, seating arrangements, congestive atmosphere, expensive fares etc. Since these local buses were not being travelled in, the general population had to walk or drive their own cars that lead to high levels of traffic congestion, road accidents and this resulted in most people’s time being spent on roads. In this essay, I will briefly explain how the Urban Transport Model is linked with the Mass Rapid Transit system (MRT) referred to as the Metro bus. Then, I will examine and analyze the arguments considered by Rawalpindi’s residents for and against the Metro bus. Additionally, I will identify the complications that arose when the Metro bus was being constructed along with the urban (social and economic) impacts of the MRT on Rawalpindi. Lastly, I will conclude this essay in favor of the Metro bus and how, despite the few hindrances, the MRT has been proven to be beneficial for Rawalpindi’s economy.
 
 
In my opinion, Rawalpindi was in need of a MRT system, due to its ever increasing population, along with growing urbanization and decreasing additional space of intra-city road networks, the need for MRT was greatly proliferating. Therefore, the initiatives taken by the provincial and federal governments to carry the project of the Metro bus has been appreciated. However, due to Pakistan’s lack of financial and physical resources, the government should have chosen a MRT system that was cost-effective, and offered the most possible coverage to the public as a whole.

The Metrobus opened on 4th June 2015, covering a distance of 22.5km between Pak Secretariat in Islamabad and Saddar in Rawalpindi. The construction began on 28 February 2014 and was completed by June 2015, with 60 buses running initially. The whole project cost approximately 420 million dollars i.e.44.31 billion rupees; such a high cost of the MRT will lead to the passengers paying higher fares in the future.

In the first part of this essay, I will explain what the Urban transport model is and how it is associated with the Metro bus project. The Urban transport model is a model that has been used for many decades now, not only for research but also as a rational tool to help in planning and decision making. It takes into account the representations of complex transport systems and presents them in a simplified manner. It also permits close interaction between transport and land use because of their complicated relationship and points out the competition amongst the different modes of transportation. There are various forms of the Urban Transport Model, one such form is known as the Spatial Interaction Model, which focuses on the perception of locational accessibility which acts as a catalyst in spurring the relationships between the place of work and residence and between the place of residence and the place of service activities. The Metro bus project can be seen as an example of an Urban Transport model, since it has stimulated the local population’s relationship between their place of work, service activities and residence.

I will now analyze the arguments considered by the city for and against installing the Metro bus. When the news broke out about the construction of the Metro bus, the general public had mixed views; some wanted a new form of transport, whereas, the rest thought that there were cities in Pakistan despite Rawalpindi, that could benefit from the Metro bus; these cities did not have adequate and efficient public transport system, and had higher levels of population than Rawalpindi. Therefore, they believed that cities like Lahore and Karachi were more in need of a Metro bus system rather than Rawalpindi due to their rising population.

Alternately, this decision of the urban infrastructure investment of the Metro bus has faced public perusal as it has been a popular view that before starting such projects, those in charge of its decision making process should evaluate such types of public transport investments with the help of informed and objective processes. Also, the public speculated that since the Metro bus would form a direct route between Rawalpindi and Islamabad (the capital of Pakistan), this would lead to a massive volume of trees being cut down in Islamabad, which is one of Pakistan’s most green cities to live in and is referred to as

‘Islamabad, the beautiful’. Thus, Islamabad may never be able to recover from this loss of trees, despite the extensive number of tree plantation drives, resulting in loss of habitat for thousands of species, along with climate change and other negative effects associated with the depletion of trees.

Lastly, another reasoning for the disapproval of the Metro bus was a popular belief that alternate methods of public transportation could be used or an economical project could be built in which the CDA would operate the public transport at a cheaper rate, which would run throughout the city. This would help save money while at the same time, this will provide access to public transport in areas that are not as mobile and accessible, due to lack of transport facilities available to them. Therefore, such a public transit system would be able to connect the various areas of the city such as commercial, business and residential areas, reducing the high levels of segregation and breaking down the hundreds of various sects scattered throughout the city.

On the other hand, even though some of the population was not supportive of the government spending a vast majority of the money on a public transit system, when it could have been spent on other sectors of the economy such as education, a chunk of the population was eagerly awaiting for the project to be completed. One of the reasons being that the Metro bus would cost $0.19 (approximately 20 PKRs) per journey which is cheaper than most of the other means of transit and the general population would be able to get to their destination in half the time it previously took them to travel on other modes of public transport.

In addition to this, another factor for the population’s fervent expectation of the Metro bus project to finish, was due to the reasoning that it would support local economies while at the same time, encourage business investments as well as international businesses to settle down in Rawalpindi. As a result of this, new employment opportunities would be created and thus, it would flourish Pakistan’s economy, increasing people’s standard of living. This would lead to a higher amount of human capital being utilized and hence enhance economic growth. Also, a part of the population was of the view that this domino effect would attract tourism and so fourth, the net foreign income coming into the country would increase.

Nonetheless, the public’s differing views went unheard and the construction of the Metro bus started. Shortly after, a research was carried out and it showed that even though 150,000 passengers were expected to ride the bus, only 80,000 passengers in the long run, were utilizing the benefits of the bus. The aftereffect of this discrepancy lead to it being problematic for the management to handle the fuel costs for 68 buses, when only 35 of the buses were being utilized. Therefore, this cultivated congestion in the Metro buses that were currently running, during peak travelling hours.

A further research showed that due to the considerable entrance time, passengers who travel short distances prefer not to commute via the Metro bus and customers who travel long distances, only do so while going to their offices. Thus, this does not produce as many passengers as the management had officially anticipated it would. Due to such a minor portion of the population travelling via the metro bus, the bus is going into a loss, since a single bus trip costs approximately 9,100 PKRs, whereas, it earns only about 2,600 PKRs and this generates a loss of 6,500 PKRs per each trip.

Therefore, the aftermath of this loss resulted in the government of Punjab taking heavy loans in order to pay for the subsidies and thus decided to split the amount amongst itself and the CDA (capital development authority). However, the capital development authority did not concede to pay for the losses. This situation also occurred again in 2017, due to which many questions arose about the financial burden associated with this project as well as the long term losses. On the other hand, it can also be noted that the general population might require some time to get accustomed to this project and will gradually start commuting via the Metro bus.

Moreover, another factor that has created issues with the Metro bus is due to the lack of seats for females; only 13 seats are reserved for females, while the rest are reserved for males. These seats assigned to females are occasionally used by males, thus provid
ing even lesser seating for females. Even though, more percentage of males commute via the Metro bus, the number of seats should have been equal for both gender, or the seats should not have been assigned to either gender. Also, the bus at times can get congested as there is no limit for the number of passengers travelling on the bus, this makes it difficult for passengers to travel in the bus, especially in the summer.

Likewise, due to the construction of the MRT, shops and local businesses on Murree Road and Faizabad have been affected terribly during construction and thus, a few of these shops had to be shut down or were demolished. However, it can also be argued that while the MRT project has desolated a few businesses, it has also provided the general population with jobs and will produce more businesses in the coming future as more shops are being set up near the Metro bus’s stations.

Additionally, in an article by Express Tribune, the Metro bus project has been referred to as being a ‘white elephant, painted in red’, because the provincial and federal governments have created this project to divert the general public’s attention from other vital issues such as lack of electricity, high levels of poverty etc. and thus the government has used the Metro bus, as a form of distraction. However, this makes me wonder about the human nature and how we are never satisfied with what we are given; constantly desiring or wanting more than what we are given. Considering this from an economic point of view, there are scarce resources and unlimited wants.

During the time of the Metro bus’s construction, Rawalpindi went through a rainy season and to everyone’s dismay, the rain flooded the Metro bus’s stations. This gave rise to a few controversies as to how a project that was worth millions of dollars not have a proper drainage system? Along with these suspicions, when protests started against the Metro bus, instead of handling public debate, the government increased the speed of construction. This further raised questions about the long-term sustainability and clarity of the project; a project that is carried out without the public’s consensus is less likely to be successful in the long run.

Moving on, in this section of the essay, I will discuss the benefits of the Metro bus and how despite the hurdles, Rawalpindi’s population has gained from this transit system and like all forms of good urban transport systems, the quality of health, life, productivity and safety of the people living in Rawalpindi, has improved. Firstly, there are many offices and buildings located in Islamabad because of which the vast majority of people seek employment opportunities here. However, they live in houses and apartments in Rawalpindi because they are cheaper and so before the Metro bus, a lot of their income was spent travelling to and from Islamabad and Rawalpindi. After the arrival of the Metro bus, the residents of the twin cities can travel at a cheaper cost and thus, their salaries are either saved or spent on other goods and services.

Secondly, other than its reasonable prices, time is also saved commuting via the Metro bus as it is made completely signal free with the help of grade separators at various intervals and the bus is moved out of mixed traffic, into exclusive and segregated lanes. Other vehicles are not allowed to enter this route and due to this, there is no traffic. Thus, people are easily able to travel from their homes to their workplaces without any deterrents, in half the time. Furthermore, along with there being free internet service on the Metro bus, the Metro bus has acquired a lot of recognition and the controversy of increasing numbers of road accidents has greatly lessened.

Additionally, the arrival of the Metro bus in Rawalpindi, has largely reduced the class differences, in terms of travelling. The largest proportion of the Metro bus users were people in the lower and middle income groups, and since most of them can not afford their own cars, it was a hassle for them to take taxis or find rikshaws every morning, which also became expensive to travel in daily. Now, those with higher and lower incomes travel together, under the same roof, going about their daily struggles, thus eradicating the thin line of division, that has been looming over our heads ever since Pakistan was created. However, the largest group to be negatively affected by the Metro bus is the group with the highest levels of income, while the group at the bottom of the income distribution has benefited the most.

Moreover, the Metro bus has lead to a cleaner environment as people who previously chose to travel via other forms of transport, now prefer the metro bus. This has had a positive environmental impact by deducing the greenhouse gases (GHG) that lead to global climate change, along with minimizing the local air pollutants that cause smog and citywide air pollution. Thus, by lessening the number of cars and motorcycles on the roads, the air pollution caused by the pollutants in the environment, has diminished to a large extent.

Last but not the least, a great deal of jobs in the economy have been created as a result of this project; several people have been provided with the jobs of handling security, engineering and other manufacturing positions, management roles etc. Military officials who had retired, have been rehired and have been provided with security vans, modern arms as well as communication devices. Along with this, a specialized control system has been installed at different points on the Metro bus’s routes and stops, with 120 security cameras, this has resulted in the commuters travelling safely in these buses.

Moving on from the pros and cons of the Metro bus to Rawalpindi, the government should invest more in projects like the MRT, in the future, but should also keep in mind that a grid network would offer more benefits at a lesser cost, and hence would also be more sustainable. On the contrary, MRT projects have differing costs depending on the length of the roadworks required, corridor capacities, upgrading or repairing of urban utilities, along with the quality and type of equipment used etc. Additionally, the government can extend the routes of the Rawalpindi Metro bus to include the Seventh Avenue and the Ninth Avenue. It should also take into account the Cost-Benefit analysis (CBA) to include both the private and public costs of this project to the society as a whole.

Finally, to conclude with, this MRT project can be a breakthrough for any future urban infrastructure or transport reforms and can have even wider beneficial urban and environmental impacts on Rawalpindi, whilst simultaneously improving additional urban services such as water and sanitation. However, this can also add to additional costs burden on the government, in any case, this project has a broader purpose, other than the MRT itself; it can aid in catalyzing widespread adoption of the MRT as a form of an urban transit. Therefore, after analyzing the costs and benefits of the Metro bus, I believe that the MRT is able to provide a service that is higher in quality compared to the traditional urban bus services due to its better service reliability, user experiences and a diminished length of waiting as well as travel times. Despite some of its dilemmas such as its adverse impact on trees and a higher cost burden on the government, for Rawalpindi, the Metro bus is an affordable and effective solution which has improved not only the residents’ quality of life, but also the urban environment.

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