A well-functioning traffic and transport system is critical for a country’s socio-economic progress. Economic and industrial development processes demand rapid as well as mass transportation of goods and raw materials. The more effortlessly the passengers and goods get to the destination, the more rapid is the pace of development of the concerned country. The transport and communication systems need continuous expansion and maintenance of the network of railways and highways as well as the rolling stock. Modernization, updating, and replacement of the fleet of vehicles is an integral part of the development process, and if such is not complied with, it will be reflected in the pace of development. In addition, a smooth and well-disciplined traffic system reduces delays while a well-informed public leads to a reduction in fatalities associated with transport accidents.
Improvements to public transport in less developed countries are of growing importance as population, motorization and associated problems increase. There is evidence that urban development is being hampered by the inadequate supply of public transport services.
Before discussing the problems ailing Pakistan’s transport and traffic system, it is important to shed light on Pakistan’s current transport and traffic scenario as well as to briefly look at the different modes of transport.
A World Bank study conducted in Pakistan a few years ago revealed that over 90 percent of the freight and passenger traffic moves by road. Yet 50 percent of its national highway network, carrying the bulk of its inter-city and long distance freight traffic, is in a poor state, significantly adding to transportation costs and reducing competitiveness of businesses and exports.
In spite of the poor road conditions, the total numbers of motor vehicles increased from 21,209 in 1947 to 4,085,100 in the year 2000 of which motor cycles are 2.06 million while motor cars are 0.689 million, delivery vans 171,500, buses 87,900 and trucks are 149,200. Since the railway route kilometers have decreased instead of increasing, the entire pressure is on road traffic, whose passenger traffic load increased from 128 billion passenger km in 1990-91, to 196.692 billion passenger km in 1999-2000 (Dr. Arshad Baig). According to a World Health Report, released on 7th April 2004, road traffic accidents kill at least 5000 and injure 12000 persons in Pakistan each year. Road traffic accidents are a significant yet preventable cause of death and disability in developing countries, like Pakistan
There are various modes of transport available in Pakistan. These include motorbikes, rickshaws, buses, taxi cabs, trains and domestic airlines.
Major transport in Pakistan is by land. The total length of the roadways is 258,340 km out of which 167,146 km is paved roads (including 711 km of express ways) and 91,194 km is unpaved roads. The number of vehicles on Pakistani roads is estimated to be 4.2 million vehicles including 250,000 commercial vehicles. Motorbikes and scooters are the popular vehicles used by many people to move around in cities, as they are easier to ride and less stressful compared to buses and cars in places where traffic is congested. Auto rickshaw is another mode of transport used in Pakistan. They are very similar to those used in India. The fare is negotiable. Yellow taxi cabs are another common way of traveling around the cities of Pakistan. The taxi cabs charge high fares and are usually less affordable for the common man. Bus services run by public and private companies on the other hand are a cheap and easy way of traveling in the country.
Besides the modes of transport used on roads as mentioned above, other modes include the railway and airlines. Pakistan railways provide an important mode of transportation for the people and freights. The total railroad length in Pakistan is 8,163 km (2006). Pakistan’s domestic airlines connect the major cities in the country. There are 146 airports in Pakistan and 92 of them have paved runways while 54 have unpaved runways. In addition, the country possesses only18 heliports.
Having described the transport system of Pakistan, let us look at the major problems plaguing Pakistan’s transport and traffic system.
Transport business in Pakistan is quite challenging. Its inherent problems are further compounded by the limitations of financial and technical competence, rising population levels, and soaring costs. The ill-equipped workshops, low labour productivity, strong trade unionism and law and order situation have resisted optimum productivity, much less attaining expansion of the fleet. These constraints are incidentally management problems and thus the failure of the system reflects on the capability of the management in adopting a professional approach.
Major challenges remain to be addressed in the transport sector. Long-standing problems include the age (20 years on average for trucks that carry 95 % of all freight) and condition of the transport fleet, serious overloading of trucks, restrictions on the provision of bonded transport and the high cost for less-than-container-load (LCL) shipments. Pakistan Railways is not allowed to operate on a commercial basis and—because of the priority it gives to passengers—has difficulty in organizing a competitive freight service. For the ports, the principal problem is congestion at the terminals (World Bank, 2006).
Furthermore, ad-hoc planning has resulted in the introduction of and continued use of some vehicles on roads which do not lead to conservation of energy, improvement of the environment, and road safety. Although the transportation vehicles are being operated by the fleet system, yet their management is only profit oriented. It consequently does not contain the different components of the best management practices package which satisfy the needs of the commuters in addition to being environment friendly.
Making the situation worse are the traffic problems faced by the commuters while using public transportation. Bus and van drivers speed and try to prevent anyone from passing in front of them, creating a dangerous situation.
In addition, around 60 percent of roads lack road safety devices (RSDs) which is a major cause of accidents, violation of traffic rules and traffic jams at 20 bottlenecks in Lahore, established a TEPA traffic study report conducted in 2008. Moreover, this study conducted by the TEPA has shown that the traffic volume on all city roads of Lahore has crossed the international standard capacity of lanes, that was 8,000 vehicles per lane.
The major problem surrounding the infrastructure of roads and railways is the lack of proper investment by the government.
On the other hand, the major problem surrounding the traffic congestion in Pakistan is a lack of proper education and awareness among the people (both the pedestrians as well as the drivers). However, lack of driving courtesy and proper manners exist in some of the so-called ‘educated classes’ as well. One of the issues is that of honking in front of hospitals with callous disregard for patients. Another example is when the youth of the country indulges in racing activities on busy roads, thus disrupting the flow of traffic and screeching on roads leading to noise pollution as well as putting their own and others’ lives at risk.
The issuance of driving licenses on the basis of bribery does not help the cause of traffic control and thus makes the traffic problems worse for the country, leading to serious accidents.
The matter is aggravated since the violators of the rules are the enforcers themselves. Implementation of traffic rules is the reason behind disciplined driving in industrialized countries such as the United States and the United Kingdom, where a license is only issued if the applicant passes both the written and practical driving test. Implementation goes to the extent that any one found jumping a red light is arrested.
In terms of traffic control, the fault in the Pakistani scenario lies not in traffic laws but in their implementation. The laws are there, although some need to be strengthened, but the action and implementation is missing. Whether it is a ticket system to regulate traffic offences, a token system to regulate the timely operation of fleets or any other, only effective execution of laws can help check traffic violations.
Several steps can be taken to improve the transport and traffic scenario in Pakistan. There is a need to adopt a holistic approach in terms of investing in transport infrastructure in Pakistan so that traveling is made convenient and travel time is reduced to allow goods and services to be delivered on time. Short-term investments in terms of improving the existing infrastructure of road s and railways need to be initiated first, followed by longer term plans of building new roads and railway tracks in both the urban and rural areas of Pakistan. Improvements to road and port facilities, in particular the Peshawar-Lahore-Karachi corridor, have improved the transport network, and with the exception of rail, services have benefited from reduced public-sector participation and increased competition. There is a need for more efforts in such directions to improve the transport infrastructure of Pakistan.
Strengthening transport logistics on the roads means, first of all, getting newer, safer, less-polluting trucks—an upgrade that could be hastened by both reduced duties on imported trucks and parts and tougher safety and axle-limit enforcement. Making medium-term credit more readily available by increasing flexibility in defining acceptable collateral and by requiring full insurance coverage for truck operators could not only be a stimulus to modernizing fleets but also to a needed measure of consolidation in the industry (World Bank, 2006). In addition, Pakistan needs more traffic lights since in many parts of Pakistan there are no lights except in the major cities, which is a hindrance for drivers at night.
In terms of reducing traffic congestion, there is a need to inculcate a sense of responsibility and respect in people and make them understand the traffic rules, as well as to educate them regarding the proper mannerisms on road. TV commercials can greatly help to educate people in this matter. Furthermore, it is necessary to only issue licenses to those people who pass the driving test to avoid accidents.
An important step taken by the traffic police has been to increase the number of traffic wardens on the roads which has considerably helped to control traffic jams and accidents in the country. In addition, women traffic wardens now also patrol the city and are especially appointed to help female commuters and children in case of emergencies on the road. It is important that such female traffic police are treated with respect. Further steps need to be taken in this direction to allow the smooth flow of traffic in the country.
Regulatory improvements regarding traffic control should involve tougher quality requirements but a minimalist approach to quantity restrictions. Implementation of rules is a major issue and needs to be immediately addressed by the government.
Given the country’s current transport and traffic scenario, it is high time for us to act as a united people and get together with the government to ensure a strong and safe transport and traffic system of Pakistan to allow the country to have a smooth journey towards socio-economic development.