As the much-awaited Orange Line Metro Train finally begins operations, the public response is far from overwhelming
Sunday last, Pakistan’s first mass transit train, the Orange Line Metro Train, finally became fully operational after a brief dry-run. A lot has been written and said about this project which was started by the PML-N government, back in 2014, in collaboration with the government of China, as part of the CPEC. However, so far, the public response — coming primarily from those who’ve travelled by the train — is far from overwhelming.
The fewer (than expected) number of passengers suggests that the people may not be happy with the Rs 40 flat ticket rate for a one-way travel, and deem it as unaffordable for a daily commute. Also, for many, the time it takes to get to a train station is a tad too much.
As per official data provided by the Lahore Mass Transit Authority (MTA), only 50,000 commuters travelled by the train on the opening day. On the second day, the number rose by a mere 6,000. The third day saw the number come down by 3,000. It stayed at 53,000 (approx.) for the rest of the week.
It is pertinent to note here that these figures are made up mostly of joyriders. The authorities expect to get the true picture after 20 days or so since the launch of the OLMT.
Bilal Ahmed Bhatti, a resident of Dera Gujjaran, says a flat rate of Rs 40 is high for him. He finds other means of public transport such as Qinqi rickshaw and Uber/Careem bike and rickshaw to be cheaper and more easily accessible. Besides, he says the travel time (on OLMT) is also more than what it is on local transport.
“I boarded the [Orange Line] train at Dera Gujjaran [station], and it took me more than half an hour to get to the nearby Daroghawala station. The reason was the lengthy procedure of grabbing the ticket etc. When I returned home, it had already cost me Rs 80,” he adds. “On an Uber bike I’d be able to cover the same distance in under 25 minutes, and it would’ve cost me Rs 35 max.”
According to Bhatti, it becomes costlier for families.
The question arises whether the subsidy —Rs 15-20 billion — will be increased in case the situation does not improve.
Ali Sheraz, a correspondent for a local TV channel, does not see the project as a success story. He says it has numerous flaws. “The government should keep in mind the fact that a majority of the commuters come from the poor segments of society,” he tells TNS. “They can’t afford the ticket, Period.
“When the fare for Metro [bus] was raised from Rs 20 to Rs 30, a large number of students took to streets to register their protest.
“It costs you an extra few bucks in order to get to an OLMT station,” he adds.
As per the official data provided by the Lahore Mass Transit Authority (MTA), only 50,000 commuters travelled by the train on the opening day. On the second day, the number rose by a mere 6,000. The third day saw the number come down by 3,000. It stayed at 53,000 (approx.) for the rest of the week. It is pertinent to note here that these figures mostly consist of joyriders.
Sheraz identifies another loophole in the project — the absence of parking lots along the train route. “Everywhere in the world when such a project is undertaken, parking lots are created in particular so that people can reach the train stations conveniently.
“When you have the option of cheaper transport that can pick you up from your doorstep and drop you off right at the destination in less time, why opt for Orange Line?” he asks.
he Orange Line covers a distance of 27.1 kilometres— from Dera Gujjaran to Ali Town. Much of its track is built on an elevated structure while 1.72 kilometres is underground. The line is served by 26 stations, including two underground stations — one in Anarkali and the other at GPO.
The train can carry up to 250,000 passengers a day. The government has imported 27 sets of energy-saving electric trains each of which is composed of five fully air-conditioned wagons. Their operating speed is 80 kilometres per hour. The train is supposed to complete the 27-kilometres distance (from Dera Gujjaran to Ali Town) in 45 minutes.
The doors of the train are automatic. Doors have also been installed at the platforms to ensure the safety of the passengers.
The project is the first large-scale, technologically advanced rail transit project under the Belt and Road Initiative and the CPEC. The project has been jointly undertaken by China State Railway Group Co Ltd and China North Industry Co Ltd (CR-NORINCO). The government expects that initially as many as 250,000 commuters will use this service daily and that the number will eventually rise to 500,000. At the opening ceremony, Chief Minister Sardar Usman Buzdar called the OLMT as the first eco-friendly mass transit project in the country. He said it will go a long way in providing world-class travel facilities to the citizens.
He also spoke of the project as a step towards urban development.
General Lahore Mass Transit Authority General Manager Aziz Shah tells TNS that the pandemic is the reason for the lacklustre public response. “It’s the case with subway trains all over the whole world.
“We are minutely watching the situation,” he says, adding that orders have been issued to ban operations of other public as well as private transports in the vicinity of the OLMT. “We are also going to request the government to reduce the fare if possible.”
Shah also mentions adding parking lots in the second phase of the project.
The writer is a senior journalist and can be reached at [email protected]