By Safiullah Shahwani
As populations grow, their needs for shelter, health, education and employment too increase proportionately. This gives rise to emergence of large cities. The nations who are sensitive to the needs of their populations plan each of their needs articulately. If cities are required, urban planning and subsequent development is carried in a logical way with sound infrastructure, roads, schools, hospitals, recreational parks, zoos, playgrounds and places of worship that citizens easily perform each of their tasks comfortably. Thanks to their states for these welfare works. To establish such institutions and developing mega structures to cater to the needs of growing populations, large tracts of land are required stretching on several square kilometers. One immediate problem that poses a challenge to states in such metropolitans is that of mobility. Moving from place to another becomes an extremely difficult task for the citizens owing to large distances if proper arrangement for convenient mobility of the citizens is not in place.
As a response to this problem, public transport services prove a blessing for the commuters within such mega cities where they have to travel long distances between their homes and workplace, schools, colleges, universities, health facilities or recreational parks on daily basis. World has long ago introduced metro train services to facilitate their citizens. London Metro Train was built in 1863 when rest of the world was still unfamiliar with the concept of modern trains. Many countries followed the suit and gave their citizens the best commuting services. Japan introduced bullet train service for her citizens in 1964. Our own immediate neighbor and arch-rival country, with whom we are engaged in arms race only, built metro train service in Delhi as early as 1995.
Pakistan still has not been able to give a metro train services to her citizens in any city, save Orange Line which has yet to be operationalized in the near future following much ups and downs. However, metro buses were introduced in some of the mega cities such as Islamabad, Lahore, Karachi and Multan. Peshawar Metro train and Karachi Green-line services, although marred by delays, shall may soon see the light of the day.
Quetta, the capital territory of Balochistan, is now home to 2.2 million people according to census 2017. A city that spreads over 2653 sq km, is the 10th largest city of the country in terms of population. Among worst problems that this city faces, issues of housing and commuting within the city need urgent attention. The city is a major commercial magnet point owing to being at the crossroads of two international borders. Goods, both custom paid and smuggled, from the bordering towns of Chaman and Taftan make their way to Quetta making it a bustling city for trade and commerce. Moreover, the three decades long Afghan war has compelled thousands of Afghan citizens to travel to Quetta for treatment of as small as ENT (Ear, Nose, Throat) infection as health facilities in Afghanistan fail to cater to the needs of the Afghan masses. Quetta, hence, has to shoulder burden of huge permanent population, and non-permanent population as a result of in-migration and transit traffic to Afghanistan perenially.
Being so important a city, Quetta has witnessed no urban planning and presents a look of a huge slum. Even the service roads in bigger cities like Islamabad, Karachi and Lahore are bigger than the main roads in Quetta. With these narrow roads and thoroughfares, Quetta has to bear the burden of thousands of rickshaws, vehicles and two wheelers. Governments statistics show that the registered number of rickshaws in Quetta city are 12500 and registered vehicles are more than 0.2 million but the actual number of vehicles could be much higher than the given data, thanks to the amnesty given to non-custom paid vehicles and corruption in issuing of rickshaw road permits with sheer disregard for carrying capacity of roads.
The public transport system is pathetic in the city. Archaic, stinking and slow buses with unprofessional staff give nothing but dejection and headache to the masses and therefore everyone who can even afford to buy a motorbike avoids travelling in the public transport local buses. For women, even bike is not a choice who have to bear extra financial burden of rickshaws whose rates are never regulated by the district administration and they charge at will.
Having been compelled by the circumstances, many have bought their personal vehicles stressing already shrinking carrying capacity of the roads and leading to deadening traffic jams for long hours.
A beautiful dream of Quetta Mass Transit Train was shown to the people of Quetta and its feasibility report was also circulated to the media houses, but it never saw the light of the day and the idea slipped away from the short-lived memory of the masses as well as the rulers. The proposed train service was to connect the nearest station, Spezand, a Tehsil of adjacent district Mastung with provincial capital, traveling from the heart of Quetta all the way to the other corner of the city up-to Kuchlak, almost a distance of 40 kms. This would free many people of the burden of personal vehicles, agony of decaying public transport and simultaneously ease the situation on the narrow thoroughfares of the city.
Federal Government is generous enough to fund metro bus services in capitals of other three provinces under federal Public Sector Development Programme (PSDP), when will Quetta get its metro train or bus?
The writer is a former Balochistan Correspondent for Daily Times Pakistan and Editor-in-Chief http://www.Balantribune.com