Metro Bus Service: A loud, proud day for Lahore?

Published: February 13, 2013
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Inaugural ceremony of metro bus service.PHOTO: PPI

Inaugural ceremony of metro bus service.PHOTO: PPI Inaugural ceremony of metro bus service.PHOTO: PPI Colourful balloons ready to be blown away by Metro bus arrival.PHOTO: PPI

Every day for four weeks, I have slept to the sound of traffic in Lahore. And I wake up to it, every single day. The blaring of horns of which there are variations you could possibly never imagine or encounter, emanating from vehicles, motorbikes, rickshaws and modes of transportation unimaginable too, form a stream of noises which become firmly rooted in your subconscious, many say. 

So far, not for me. 

I wince, sometimes even curse when I am alone and long for these weeks to be over so I can wake up in my serene neighbourhood, back in Chicago. And for the record, I do not live on a fancy television set in the middle of the street as my husband jokes over video chat. There in Chicago, he experiences a spectrum of sounds picked up by a minuscule microphone which travel miles over shoddy wireless networks. Nonetheless, it has the same effect on his sensibilities.

Yes, it gets loud here in Lahore.

However, this Sunday morning I happened to leave the house early and the Lahore of my childhood returned for a brief moment. The languid streets, the slight haze of the fog and an easy ride over Sherpao Bridge into the neighbourhood of Gulberg unadulterated with noisy traffic was nothing less than pure joy.

I joined my wonderful reporter pals at Dawn News TV who were on their way to cover the opening ceremony of the Metro Bus Project.

As of today, Lahore is the first city in Pakistan that now boasts of a semblance of a modern public transit system- similar to those that we are used to in major international cities. A little late to get on this bus I thought judging by the poor traffic conditions, high cost of fuel and a dense population of over 10 million people struggling to get to places in this city.

There is little hope of this project expanding to other cities, given the controversy that surrounded it, still, better late than never.

You have probably never seen a family of four whizzing by on a tiny motorbike or people hanging off a door or lodged firmly on the roof of a bus. Have you?

But of course, some of us here have luxurious cars, homes and lives to make even the Queen envious. This is the city we now call Lahore. And us Lahoris, can’t be brought together these days.

We see the dichotomy so much that we are numbed. As people, we have more important issues to deal with depending on who we are and where we come from – what political affiliations, religious sects or economic class of society. This is because we are ourselves first, Pakistanis later.

The Metro Bus Project’s inauguration met with a similar fate. Not the ceremony, which was conducted like any other high profile media event with politicians and foreign dignitaries making long speeches, following protocol and pre-election promises. It was our own rotten attitudes and our ability to squelch anything that is being construed or constructed for our country.

Because, that wasn’t all that was happening this lazy Sunday morning in Lahore. We soon have it all thrown in our faces. Thanks to the media and how loud that can get.

You cannot flip news channels without seeing a young anchorwoman screaming at a politician or him screaming at another politician and you wonder how much of Jerry Springer’s soul will live on television forever!

The noise is everywhere and it shuts off everything else. Mostly one’s ability to think or reason. All of this in one day.

Heavy criticism regarding this new public transit system, continued days of protest by doctor’s on strike, President Asif Ali Zardari receiving a multi-million dollar mansion as a gift without any explanations, and re-launch of a shuttle train to be inserted as a media event by the government was to steal their thunder presumably.

What thunder really?

Public transportation for people so they can be treated as humans, not cattle, is probably a basic right in 2013. It is a matter of priority according to some.

Hundreds of schools and hospitals could have been built in the same amount of money, but then what have these self-righteous critics been doing all these years?

The Metro Bus project was undertaken and completed by the opposition party’s Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif. Therefore, not one person in the ruling party would consider it a good idea for the general public. The blame-game from both sides continues.

The thing is; I don’t believe either side or what they say.

I can only hope the buses will run effectively and help the people. I can only hope that if this took a ‘record time’ of 11 months to bring to fruition, the quality of the project has not been jeopardised. I can only hope that the public itself, being offered an initial month of free rides won’t take this for granted and destroy the condition of the buses before the month is over. Public property as you would notice around here is treated with little or no respect.

Most of all, I am afraid the next government to rule Punjab, if not the people who built this project would do everything they can to turn it into a failure. No one would then care about the ‘absurd’ amount of taxpayer’s money that was spent on this or the transportation needs of the public. No one would care about Lahore, not even Lahoris.

Perhaps, that is the reason why the city is so loud, so none of the other noises drown Lahore or its will to remain alive.

Follow her on Twitter @SumSheek

saman.sheikh

Saman Sheikh

A Lahori who now lives in Chicago. She is a broadcast journalist and is currently pursuing a graduate degree at the Medill School of Journalism. She believes the role of the media is to educate and not merely inform the public. She tweets @SumSheek

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.