Hello Foton, bye bye Daewoo
In a bid to revamp urban transportation in Lahore, the Chief Minister, Shahbaz Sharif inaugurated a fleet of ‘environment friendly’ CNG buses last week to cater to the growing demands of public transport in the city. Run under the banner of the Foton Bus Company, a Chinese firm, the service has launched 56 of 111 CNG buses, with the rest scheduled to hit the roads of Lahore by the end 2011.
As a means of providing modern transportation to the provincial capital, which is in a desperate need of an efficient public transport system, the bus service is expected to provide both quality and affordability. The service is currently to run buses on three routes with an expansion of service on another route by December. According to a promotional advert, the new bus scheme is to provide air-conditioned buses to commuters, with separate seating for women along with free transport to the elderly and people with disabilities.
However, the new bus service which was inaugurated on last Tuesday (November 15), failed to run buses on their routes just a day into their launch, leaving commuters highly disappointed. The Lahore Transport Company was in for another embarrassment when the buses failed to hit the roads in full operation as late as Thursday, airing much scepticism in the general masses regarding the new bus service. One week later half of the 56 buses are not operating. Contrary to the official announcement, the LTC now claims the bus operations were never really scheduled to kick off a day after the inauguration.
Countering growing suspicions regarding the buses being run on the already short in supply CNG, it was announced at the bus service inauguration that the LTC had engaged the federal government in facilitating the provision of CNG for the Chinese buses during the weekly CNG holidays, a factor which might also play a key role in determining the success or failure of the scheme in the future.
The launch of the new bus service initially hopes to offer reasonable competition to the Daewoo city bus service, which is currently a major player in Lahore public transport. Both bus services having been inaugurated by the current provincial government 13 years apart from one another had been launched to provide affordable quality bus service to daily commuters in the city. The ticket fare, which is monitored by the LTC, has been designed to make the two services comparable on affordability. The inclusion of the latest fleet of the Foton buses with its attractive interior and in-bus entertainment service is bound to steal the show from their Korean counterparts. But to make itself a worthwhile competitor in the longer run, the Foton bus service will have to do more than just induct a hundred fancy buses in its fleet.
Daewoo has provided its service to commuters in Lahore since 1998, it has developed a loyal clientèle which expects air-conditioned buses to run on routes on time despite the weekly CNG holidays, which offers no hurdle to the service that runs on the not-so-environmental-friendly diesel. Daewoo currently has as many as 70 buses operating on four routes in the city. Last year they focused on improving the quality of their bus service by overhauling older vehicles in their fleet.
Now, with LTC bringing in the Chinese contenders on the roads, the Korean bus service might just be in for a surprise with the former claiming to put much premium on quality. The stakes are to rise in the coming days for all bus services in the city with the Chief Minister announcing as many as 200 ‘quality buses’ to be inducted in the public transport system of the city.
The dearth of buses in the city can be established by the fact that out of the 53 routes planned by the LTC for bus transport service, only 30 are operational in the city. According to LTC authorities, the city requires as many as 2,000 buses on the roads. In stark contradiction to this figure, an official estimate claims approximately 600 buses are currently offering public commuting in Lahore.
But with an increase in problems relating to public transportation, even the 2,000 figure by the LTC will have to be reconsidered. The lack of quality public bus service in the city has, over a period of time, increased the traffic on roads with people resorting to their own transport. With growing concerns of increasing pollution and traffic congestion on the roads of Lahore, measures must be taken to promote a healthier and environment friendly alternative. The challenge, however, largely lies in providing commuters with efficient, affordable and quality alternatives which will encourage them to use public transport.
The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.