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Peshawar’s mass transit system hits new snag

Peshawar’s mass transit system hits new snag

PESHAWAR: The much-talked about ‘mass transit system’ in the provincial capital has hit newer snags with those associated with one of Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf’s pet projects are now acknowledging its dream may not realise, not at least in its present term in office.

“It seems difficult now,” Senator Mohsin Aziz, deputy chairman, Board of Investment, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, the architect of the mass transit system, acknowledged, while talking to Dawn.

Mr Aziz, a born Peshawari industrialist now associated with PTI, who had piloted the project, who has been running from pillar to post, says the Pakistan Railways plans to lay down second track from Karachi to Peshawar which might leave little or no space to run air-conditioned buses along the existing tracks from Chamkani to Hayatabad.

He said that he along with Chief Minister Pervez Khattak met with Railways Minister Khwaja Saad Rafiq just a day before Eid to discuss the project. He said that the federal minister told them that the work was ongoing to finalise feasibility of second railway track from Karachi to Peshawar and it was difficult for him to commit anything before it was completed.

“The railway’s feasibility is expected to be finalised by the end of next month. “We will then sit down and compare feasibility of our mass transit system with the railway’s report and see if there is space for us to run our buses along the tracks,” Mr Aziz said.

“Khwaja sahib was very positive but from the looks of it, it seems to me that there would not be enough space on either side of the existing railway tracks for us to run MTS on either side.”

Mr Aziz had envisaged running private-sector-owned air-conditioned buses from the eastern Chamkani point to west-end Hayatabad, utilising railway-owned land along the existing tracks to avoid Peshawar’s chaotic traffic.

According to him, infrastructure construction etc for the proposed MTS would have cost Rs14 billion including roads, overhead bridges and that a Korean transport company had agreed to run the buses on the routes charging existing fares from passengers.

With Mr Aziz’s brainchild MTS now more or less a no-go, attention is being paid to two other options, sources say.

The most expensive option, more expensive than Islamabad Metro, is to carve two-lanes each on both sides out of the already crammed 20 kilometres long existing Grand Trunk Road including Khyber Road that passes through the cantonment area from Chamkani to Hayatabad and run buses.

The pre-feasibility of the project, pushed by a former federal bureaucrat and a former diplomat, associated with PTI has cost millions of rupees. “It’s not even a pre-feasibility. It is basically a concept paper,” a source familiar with the proposal said.

“A rickshaw wallah can prepare such a concept, prepared by an Australian,” the source said, requesting he not be named. “It is ridiculous. Anyone living in Peshawar knows the state of traffic mess in the city. You don’t need a foreigner to come and tell you that,” he said.

A feasibility report to be financed through a grant of the Asian Development Bank would cost $10 million. That in Pakistani rupee term comes to Rs1.15 billion. “This is just the cost of the feasibility report,” the source said.

“The cost of the entire project, if carried out would be in excess of Rs50 billion. Can this poor province afford this? This is one big question we need to ask ourselves before we make any decision,” the source argued.

In contrast to the ridiculously expensive two-lane project proposal, Mr Aziz’s MTS feasibility cost Rs22 million only and it too contained alternative propositions.

The third option now before the Pervez Khattak government is to run air-conditioned buses to ply on existing roads to provide better transportation facilities to the people. “It can be a joint public-private venture,” the source said.

But critics say that while the introduction of new air-conditioned buses may provide better transportation facility, it would neither cut down travel time between the eastern and western ends nor the costs.

“The buses would be running along rickshaws, rehris and donkey carts. This proposition is by no means an answer to our massive transportation problem,” the source acknowledged.

With all these options, though technically still on the table, yet more or less out of question either for being unfeasible or way too expensive, Peshawar is left with no other choice. “Lahore has its Metro. Rawalpindi-Islamabad got its Metro and Karachi is getting one also. Where do we stand in this equation,” the source asked.

Analysts now wonder whether Chief Minister Khattak should have accepted and not spurned Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s offer to build a Metro Bus System in Peshawar too.

“Should we have accepted the offer? I think we should have. It was federal money. Sharif is helping Sindh build Metro and Orang Line. The money is not coming from his personal kitty. Its federal money and KP and for that matter, Peshawar is as much entitled to it as Karachi or Pindi is,” one official said.

“But for that the PTI leadership would have to eschew its criticism of the Metro Bus by calling it a Jangla Bus. And that would be a climb down for the party leadership and this is what they would never do. It’s a matter of politics and egos,” the official remarked.

Published in Dawn, July 22nd, 2015

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