Transport dilemmas

Politics Versus Public Interest

When the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) introduced the metro bus service in Lahore, Punjab’s capital and the stronghold of the Sharif brothers, Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) Chairman Imran Khan, launched a diatribe against the government.

He accused Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif’s provincial government of corruption, citing statistics of how similar projects in other parts of the world cost much less. Khan went on to describe it “jangla (caged) bus.”

Then the expected happened. Khan’s PTI announced the launch of a similar metro bus service in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, the only province where his tsunami made inroads during the 2013 general election.

The two sides of the coin tell the story about how politics continues to affect services designed for the public good in Pakistan.

Quality public transport is critically needed in Pakistan’s major urban areas. Sadly, scores of Pakistanis are killed in road traffic accidents every year, many of which can be directly attributed to the lack of maintenance on privately owned buses and mini-buses. Furthermore, drivers of these privately owned vehicles ply the roads with a callous disregard for traffic laws and public safety.

Narratives posed this question to political stakeholders from different political parties and asked them if politics really affects services meant for the people and how to differentiate between public good and politicking.

“Public transport is becoming a mainstream concern of many voters as congestion worsens and people seek efficient alternatives. The planning, provision and funding of public transport is the government’s responsibility. Urban transport is a project with high visibility and parties like to show that there is a lot of work being done. So definitely there is an element of politics in it. At the same time, your cities are growing at a rapid rate and the cost of travelling privately is high. So there is an urgent need for efficient public transport. But it happens like this the world over. All governments face this issue. You cannot eliminate the element of politics from public transport.” Shafqat Mahmood MNA, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf
“Of course the urban transport system of Pakistan is totally politicised. This is an undeniable reality. The Sharif government isn’t giving it to us in charity. This whole project is functioning on subsidies. There is an urgent need for the government to move back from the project. It shouldn’t take a commission on it. The government needs to prioritise the welfare of the people. Only then can we have real progress in this country.” Shaikh Rasheed Ahmed MNA and Chairman, Awami Muslim League
“It’s not about politics. Planning is needed on a grand scale to resolve the issue of urban transport. We need to plan for all the cities. We have to see what we can do to address the issue in five years, in 10 years, and so on. We need a workable plan on a massive scale for all the major cities of the country. In Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto’s time, they had introduced the Government Transport System which connected all the cities. We need something on a similar scale to that. We have to think about cities like London when we sit to plan for Karachi’s urban transport.” Chaudhry Manzoor Ahmed Central Information Secretary, Pakistan Peoples Party
“Like every big issue in this country, public transport is subject to bad governance. It’s not politics but the system of governance that is to blame. And it’s not like we don’t have resources. Between 2008 and 2016, provincial revenues have multiplied four times! But due to red tape and corruption, political parties are unable to successfully complete any projects in this country. The best possible solution to the issue of public transport, in the short term, is to enter into public-private partnerships. The provincial governments need to observe these partnerships and implement their learning in the system in the long run.” Khawaja Izharul Hassan MPA and Leader of the Opposition, Muttahida Qaumi Movement (Pakistan)