A Bus Pass for Lahore

Aug 2013

ردو | Issue V

Artist: Ayesha Malik | "Porters at the Lahore railway station."

Artist: Ayesha Malik | “Porters at the Lahore railway station.”

It was in the early 1990s when, as a teenager, I celebrated the inauguration of the first underpass on Jail Road in Lahore. I proudly showed this underpass to my cousins who were visiting from Islamabad, the planned capital city of Pakistan. I kick-started the motorcycle, and with other friends, enjoyed the thrill that speeding on the underpass provided for a young motorist. We had grown up watching the American television series CHiPs on Pakistan’s state television channel, PTV. It exposed us to the multi-laned motorways of Los Angeles, and so, we thought of the underpass road project as a trademark of development.   My education in an engineering university in Lahore had already deeply instilled in me a belief in roads as a marker of development. There, our lecturers had taught us that highways, motorways, underpasses and flyovers were fundamental for economic growth in a city like Lahore, a populous, crowded city of nearly 10 million people. They praised the vision of planners in the 1960s who proposed eight-lane, elevated and limited-access highways in Lahore, even though car ownership was negligible at that time. Today, 20 years after the building of the first underpass, the numbers of underpasses and flyovers in Lahore are in double digits. A multi-lane limited access ring road surrounds the city and connects to a modern motorway system. Yet, unlike what our lecturers told us, economic growth and development has become a nightmare for the city and its people. In fact, the investment in underpasses and flyovers has caused more economic, social, and environmental issues than any other investment in Lahore.

Although the British tradition of the Garden City and American City Beautiful movements—which address public health and overcrowding issues in post-industrial revolution cities in 1890s— influenced the creation of low-density housing schemes in Lahore such as Model Town in themid-1910s, and Samanabad and Gulberg in the mid 1950s, it would be fair to say that the overinvestment in roads accelerated the mushroom-like growth of low-density suburban housing

schemes in the 1990s. These low-density, single-land-use, housing schemes developed on the fertile agricultural land surrounding the rapidly growing city, ultimately changing the ecology, including the food and vegetable and drainage system in Lahore. Today the city has become a fantastic machine for the consumption of nature by covering a 100 square mile area with concrete. Lahoris rarely hear the sounds of birds and struggle to obtain fresh vegetables and milk, even though they are situated in the food basket of Pakistan. Almost everyone in Lahore worries about the monsoon rains because the rain water usually runs into the majority of houses irrespective of whether they belong to the rich or the poor, simply because of the concrete jungle. This is the remarkable result of disturbing nature by our planners, developers and of course, our governments.

The vicious cycle of road investment and low-density style housing for the elite and upper middle class makes new development only accessible to cars. Because of the last decade’s car leasing schemes and allegedly environment friendly and economical CNG fuel, vehicle ownership and the number of miles traveled has increased sharply in Lahore—and with it, congestion that destroys the urban environment. Lahoris travelling during peak hours must suffer traffic jams and long queues at the CNG filling stations. We should not forget that everyone in Lahore is spending a good proportion of their monthly income on transport and its associated energy use. The rising global energy prices and uncertain supply will draw more cash from our pockets.

These inefficient choices in transport investment and urban development not only make Lahore economically vulnerable and environmentally unsustainable but also divide communities. In 1997, I was a member of a team of local consultants that conducted the study for Lahore Master Plan.  The study estimated that 80 percent of the people in Lahore live within a 7 kilometer radius, encompassing the Walled city to Canal Road, while the remaining 20 percent live on southern side of Canal Road. Given that those figures, it is incredible that all the road investment in the last two decades has either been on or beyond Canal Road. This means that all this transport investment serves only 20 percent of Lahore’s population. This investment generates clear divisions between the rich and the poor, the powerful and the weak due to increases in property prices and transport costs in the city.

What, then, is the solution?

For a start, there ought to be investment in developing a comprehensive Lahore metro bus network. Last year, I was excited about the first ever investment in urban public transport in Lahore. The Lahore metro bus is an inspired idea originated in Curitiba, Brazil in early 1970s, but my fears are that the Punjab government will focus on infrastructure rather than services and governance. The infrastructure for the first route has already been completed, but people are frustrated because of the lack of services and network development. To make this investment successful, the Lahore Metro Bus system should be integrated with pedestrians, feeder buses and adjacent land uses such as GC and FC College Universities, provincial secretariat, General hospital and residences in Ichera, Muslim Town and Model Town.

This investment has the capacity to become a catalyst for land development alongside the bus corridor and stations. Generally, private developers are willing to invest in land development on high quality transit corridors, especially if the Lahore Development Authority (LDA) assembles and acquires land, and prepares a corridor master plan. This technique could provide the opportunity to develop a shared vision of the Metro Bus corridors in Lahore and produce re-urbanization for the area. This would provide for the housing and transport needs of 80 percent of the population living within the 7 kilometer radius, and also provide a chance to be creative in recreating the green city Lahore was once famous for. It is an exciting time in the history of Lahore. We have an opportunity to transform Lahore in the direction of a sustainable city, but that will require a transit system that benefits everyone rather than more underpasses and flyovers that work only for a few.

Dr. Muhammad Imran is Senior Lecturer in the Planning program at Massey University, New Zealand and author of a book, Institutional Barriers to Sustainable Urban Transport in Pakistan published by Oxford University Press. 



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4 Responses to A Bus Pass for Lahore

  1. Issue V: Space | Tanqeed on Aug 2013 at 7:50 PM

    […] has since gone on steroids. Gated communities have proliferated, along with extensive networks of roads that mainly serve to connect one gated community to another. Ahmad called it “the apartheid […]

  2. […] A Bus Pass for Lahore | Tanqeed […]

  3. […] A Bus Pass for Lahore | Tanqeed […]

  4. These people are not well educated. They are working on this fields from decades.

    If we want to promote their life style so that they can give education o their childern

    We have to come in front for their in standard of life.

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