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

Published: February 13, 2013

Inaugural ceremony of metro bus service.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

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.

  • Prof. Sarmaf

    Epic Analysis ! This article deserves a standing aviation !Recommend

  • Falcon

    Saman –
    I have to say I am having a bit of trouble following your train of thought. Did you like the metro or not? What is your own point of view on whether this was required at this stage of national development? And lastly, to your point that Lahore can now match one of the modern international cities in terms of transportation. I think that hardly matters. I will consider ourselves or any part of the country modern when more than 80% of our kids are enrolled in schools. Recommend

  • Dr. Ayaz hashmi

    I really salute the Punjab Govt for taking this revolutionary step to build this transport system. I can remember my college days when I was often late to my classes because of traffic jams and on time unavailability of public transport. i’d love to have such transportation facilities in those days. People criticizing this project will face the public verdict in coming elections Recommend

  • http://Paris John the Baptist

    Wow, great poetry but as expected from an ABCD, completely devoid of any numbers. It is the money that makes the mare (and the Metro Bus) go and it simply is not there. This hastly conceived and ill constructed white elephant will be a derelict relic within five years–guaranteed! Do the numbers and you will reach the same conclusion.

    Schools and hospitals should have been a better investment and with the same gloat value to get votes but airheads always want mega projects!Recommend

  • Riaz Ahmad

    Hats off to the Turks who invested in a high risk project, in a high risk country, populated by high risk people. Due credit to those who made it possible in the allocated time, but going by the mindset, nature and habits of the people, I very much fear these sleek and attractive looking vehicles will be covered in filth in under a month and ripped to peaces in six months months time. Before some start suffering with high blood pressure, I further add that I will be the happiest person on earth if I turn out to be wrong.Recommend

  • Rana Usman

    Even after a lot,

    Punjab stands big amid all other provinces.

    Thanks to sincere leadership unlike the bigots of Sindh and KPKRecommend

  • Majid

    which world you have been living? You call yourself Lahori and do not know the norms of this city? Nevertheless don’t worry, next govt. will also be of PMLN Inshaa Allah and they will not let this project ruin.Recommend

  • The Khan

    Look at these rich people of Lahore and Punjab in general. Completely oblivious to typical Pakistani problems of terrorism or killings . You guys have so much going for you and you still complain. Spare a thought for the poor folks back in Karachi and Peshawar!Recommend

  • stevenson

    I am sure that the Metro Bus Service will be successful because it fulfills a basic need of working class Lahoris – an efficient low cost transit service that can relieve congestion in the city. Compare Lahore to any city in Pakistan and you can soon see how much devleopment has taken place there. Lahoris and Punjabis in general are righfully proud of Lahore – I don’t think that the project will be a failure any more than the Motorway. I do disagree with your assertion that this project won’t spread – if anything, if it is successful it will replicated to to other cities just like the Motorway was extended too.Recommend

  • Irtiza

    @Prof. Sarmaf:
    Professor Sb, you seem to be from the aviation industry.Recommend

  • mes

    @Prof. Sarmaf:

    Epic Analysis ! This article deserves
    a standing aviation !

    epic, even this rightfully deserves a standing ovation.

    never understood the significance of the project, i mean, it’s just a few buses meant for commuting, yet, it has been hyped so much so that it has become a national news and people are writing blogs over it again and again. Was dumbstruck to know that deputy prime minister of turkey had come to inaugurate the project, what in the world is this, a deputy prime minister of a another nation found time to inaugurate a 27 km piece of road and few buses in another nation, if it was form any other nation, perhaps only the governor and at max, only the chief minister would have been there to launch the project. still scratching my head over the piece of news which said that Turkish drivers are hired to drive buses, don’t know if this part of news is true or not, but when you can train your people to fly fighter aircraft’s, why hire foreign nationals to drive uses. Anyway, it seems that Turks have ripped you apart financially.

    And please, the project has not set any record of sorts by having been completed within 11 months. The Chinese constructed around a 1000 km road in Africa under 3 years, and these roads were up to European standards.
    Just a simple calculation would tell you that the Chinese built around 28 km of road every month in Africa, all this even while facing severe hardships of African countries like lack of infrastructure, forest area etc, and Pakistan along with partnership of brotherly nation turkey built around 2.5 km in one entire month-considering that this metro is of just 27 km.

    if this project was handed to china, they would have completed it under 3 months and with around half the cost.Recommend

  • citizen

    thumbs up ! i strongly wish this project turns it into a success . please lahori commuters BEHAVE and prove yourself as model for such projects in other cities too !Recommend

  • Student

    When i was in medical college , we had air-conditioned green buses thanks to the nazim naymatullah at that time .it was the best i could ask being a citizen ,we were given a ticket seat by seat .the others buses i travelled on were dangerous with reckless driving.and ofcourse poor condition of buses. It was peaceful travelling from home to college and i really felt lucky being in khi.Recommend

  • Sameera Rashid

    Dear Author,

    Your sentiments are appreciated; but contrary to what you and many others might
    believe, there are many in this country, who question the logic of this project for the sake of accountability and transparency only.
    Ok, right, we have MBS now. But we, who cast votes during election, have a right to ask questions: would it be able to bear expenses through fares? Would the government be contributing to operational expenses in the form of subsidies? Had any alternatives projects been explored for designing low cost transport projects?
    We ordinary citizens need to ask critical questions from our elected representatives because if we stop questioning, they will stop working optimally. Critical questioning is intrinsic to democracy, dear!Recommend

  • talha

    Don’t be sarcastic every time, as our politician do in all of their discussion. The priorities are set by the leader or the man who is in command. Currently this is the most important thing to do in Lahore. Our education will grow at a reasonable pace when people have basic necessities available easily, but population is growing fast, and without a good transportation system we have insane people in the future. Let the Punjab government work according to their priorities. Recommend

  • ali

    nice Recommend

  • Ali Q

    Since the inauguration of this service (and the weeks of hype leading up to it), it has come to my attention that there is no shortage of car-owing writers/bloggers/twitter users who seem to have been secretly distressed by the commuting troubles of the poor. This past week has somehow become a competition to determine which car owner is more empathetic to the poor man’s commute. An objective measure of the project’s success cannot be based off of that. Every project has a cost AND an opportunity cost – and budget allocations to new projects are done on merit.

  • Parvez

    This project ……its already facing minor problems, lets hope they manage to make this work or else it will be money down the drain.Recommend

  • Hashmi

    Despite the huge monetary investment, this project without any doubt is more benfitting to the poor, the critics fail to see the immense ease it will bring to those dependent on public transportation.

    We should remember that it is easy to plan and manage a new city, but improving the infrastructure of an over and densely populated city of over 10 million is no easy task..

    With a good management and awareness amongst the commuters, this project can be the best transportation thing that has happened to this country after Motorway..Recommend

  • Malik

    @John the Baptist:
    John with apology I don’t agree with your comments. should be positive for such major project in our country, before construction of Motoryways ill mind people pose similar criticism but time proved that was a best project in pakistan history. I am not any political worker but spoken and listen 100 of poeple they want leader like Shahbaz sharif and i was also convinced!!!Recommend

  • Prof. Sarmaf

    It was a typo.

    (P.S. LOL !)Recommend

  • Malik

    @Riaz Ahmad:
    so if this is going to be happen then what is the mistake of Shahbaz Sharif? he has given one project to around 20 million people, now it is our responsibilty to save it. For God sake be positive. everybody knows they are working on right track!Recommend

  • doom

    Buses are very helpful in getting kids to school…I’m only half-joking. Transportation is one of those things with so many multiplier effects in so many different ways. Also the author made it clear that she thinks such a system should have been made years ago. She wrote: “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”.

    And she’s absolutely right. I recently learned that the London Underground System was made 150 years ago. I was blown away. And I understand Paris’s metro is equally old. So the Europeans basically decided that these cities aren’t going anywhere, are only going to grow and grow, may as well take care of their transportation needs forever! And that’s how you plan things! Because building tunnels and roads AFTER the city has grown is much more expensive. Recommend

  • usman

    @Prof. Sarmaf:
    i thought the expression was ‘standing ovation’ and not aviationRecommend

  • Helloram

    when is the next public demonstration in lahore. people are going to light up the sky by burning these bus. i am not joking or being sarcastic.Recommend

  • Iram

    People are dying with hunger, hundred thousands men are short of health and education facilities and half of the budget is wasted on an adventure. Simple question if you have one million and there is four babies, one is suffering form kidney failure and need dialysis treatment and the other has completed graduation and wish to enroll himself in a UNI for masters and the rest of two wish to go to Disneyland, what will be your priority list? Recommend

  • uet

    Bibi Jee kehna ki Chahndee O?Recommend

  • Sterry

    @Iram: The priority is to keep improving and building the Punjab which is why people support this project. Unlike other provinces, Punjab is helping to build schools, hospitals and infrastructure all over the province which is why there is relative stability and progress. Yes Punjab needs to tackle education, health, food security etc but people are not “dying of hunger” like on the streets of other 3rd World countries. Since a mass transit system for poor people bothers outsiders to Punjab, they can only find reasons to complain instead of saying anything good.Recommend

  • http://gujrat RAW is WAR

    grow-up. they are just buses. not planes.Recommend

  • http://[email protected] shahzad cheema

    Keep irt up Mian sb you are doing fantastic job.Recommend