Road to mess

Sustainable transport system is the only way out of increasing traffic jams and climate disasters

Road to mess

Mazhar Ahmad is resident of Kamoke, a town 45 kilometres from Lahore. He travels daily from his hometown to Lahore where he works in a government office on a responsible post. As per standards, it should take him 45 minutes to cover the distance but it takes one hour and 30 minutes. "Reason is traffic congestion", explains Mazhar. "I reach the entry point of Lahore in 35 minutes but it takes me almost an hour to cover the remaining 15 kilometres distance within the city". He blames extraordinary congested traffic for the delay as a large number of people come to Lahore daily from nearby areas and the number of vehicles in the city has also grown much more than the capacity of the roads.

Transport activity is a key element of economic development and human welfare. Growing economies are leading to the increase in transport around the world. Although it has proven its significance in development, there are numerous problems associated with this increasing transport activity i.e. traffic congestion, air pollution, fatalities and injuries and associated ecological, economic and social impacts. Transport sector also plays a crucial and growing role in world energy use and emissions of greenhouse gases, ultimately causing climate change.

Road transport is the backbone of Pakistan’s transport system. The 9,574-km long National Highway and motorway network, which is 3.65 per cent of the total road network, carries 80 per cent of Pakistan’s total traffic. Over the past ten years, rate of road traffic, both passenger and freight, has grown faster than the national economy. As per an estimate, currently it accounts for 91 per cent of the national passenger traffic and 96 per cent of cargo.

Mehmood Akhtar Cheema, country representative of International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), the oldest organisation working for conservation of nature and environment, says that transport sector is responsible for 21 per cent of GHG emissions of the country and 50 per cent of total oil consumption.

The governments of Sindh and Punjab have started working with the federal government to figure out the problems with current transport system and to present the solutions that will lead to a sustainable transport system.

Cheema further told TNS that with the passage of time and growth of economy and population, the size and number of vehicles have also increased from 2.7 million in 1990 to 5.5 million in 2005 and next five years witnessed a further increase of almost 100 per cent and the number of vehicles increased to 9.8 million by 2010. "I am afraid the recent past 4 years might have witnessed even higher number of vehicles", Cheema adds. Over the past 15 years, the rapid growth in population and vehicle ownership has gradually worsened traffic congestion especially in the urban areas.

This excessive reliance on road transport is also causing increased congestion, degradation of air quality and a dramatic increase in GHG emissions. The associated ecological, social, economic and health related impacts are also increasing significantly. Dust particulate level in those areas of Lahore which are traffic dense has reached double the standard value. Traffic congestion on roads as well as urban areas is leading to more GHG emissions and making traffic sector culprit of manmade climate change.

The absence of a proper public transportation system, particularly in urban areas, has led to these increased transport problems. An extraordinarily expanded transport network focusing only on infrastructure development and increasing population density has worsened the problem.

Experts are of the view that Pakistan has the potential of saving at least 20 per cent of the energy used in transport sector. Increased usage of public transport has been identified as a policy option for Pakistan to reduce GHG emission from this sector. Promotion of sustainable means of transport is extremely important for future sustainable development in the country.

It is imperative that such interventions are designed that offer an opportunity to promote sustainable modes of urban transport. Besides mitigating climate change, the role of sustainable urban transportation is vital for improved living conditions, particularly for urban inhabitants in Pakistan.

It doesn’t mean that the rural population should be deprived of the benefits of a proper transportation system, but the life in the rural areas is static as compared to the urban life. But the feeder routs (roads connecting small villages with main urban centres) should also be considered in sustainable planning. There should be coasters or vans with less dependence on fossil fuel, proper timetable and less burden of passengers. These feeder routs can help people travel to the main cities where they can utilise the Bus Rapid Transits to reach their destinations. Such integrated transport system can help the economy grow as well, besides its benefits regarding environment.

For the first time, the governments of two large provinces (Sindh and Punjab) with large and traffic congested cities have started working with the federal government to figure out the problems with current transport system and to present the solutions that will lead to a sustainable transport system. The PAKSTRAN Project is being implemented with the support of UNDP and IUCN.

Dr Saleem Janjua, National Project Manager, PAKSTRAN, says that the objective of the project is to reduce the growth of energy consumption and cut emissions and add towards the global efforts in mitigating the emission and improve the urban development. "It is important to make efforts today by bringing about sustainable models in public transport and making people aware of their importance and the ease such initiatives could bring to them," says Dr Janjua. He considers public awareness as the key in the process and thinks media can promote the understanding of sustainability concepts in the transport sector.

The initiative is expected to help create an enabling environment for sustainable transport system in Punjab and Sindh. It will also improve the efficiency of trucking (freight) system. Various steps are being proposed in this regard i.e. training of vehicle drivers, formulation and implementation of standards for vehicles and infrastructure as well. The project will provide technical support to the concerned departments in achieving the above mentioned objectives.

Achieving the goal becomes easy once steps in right direction are taken as sustainable transport system is working in many countries of the world including Bogota in South America, Kualalampur in Malaysia, Auckland in New Zealand and Ahmadabad in India. We have BRT on one route in Lahore. Karachi, Rawalpindi and Multan projects are being worked out. One such project in Peshawar has also been announced.

Road to mess