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Lahore’s traffic: Jam anyone? – by Masood Hasan

To describe Lahore traffic – or for that matter any other urban city here – as an eternal traffic jam would do no justice to the ground reality. The stage of rough-cut orange marmalade or strawberry conserve is long over. This is another kind of jam.

Lahore’s traffic has simply become so large that both King Kong and Godzilla together would look like pygmies in front of it. It is so hopeless and so far beyond solution that no one is really interested in locking horns with it. Most planners and those in charge of the monkey shop are deeply convinced that there is nothing that can be done to settle this issue. The Mall, a nightmare on all days, is another quirky case. If ten people decide in Vehari that they have a bone to pick with the GOP/CN/Gov., all they have to do is cross the Ravi and Lahore police obligingly shut down all roads. While the motley crowd marches on, a complete gridlock hits the city.

For starters, where does one start? Brain transplants for those creatures that are often referred to as traffic planners? The police which have never conducted one single driving test but have nevertheless issued millions of licences populating this crazy country with dangerous loonies who drive vehicles as if they were tongas? The complete and happy absence of all rules and all norms resembling more a jungle than a city where utter chaos rules from dawn to dusk? The traffic police in its new garb that began with so much promise and have now become part of the problem, unable to guide or discipline the unruly hordes which rush hither and yon every day and late into the night? The top echelons of the government for being unable to frame a policy that actually starts to settle this huge problem? The province’s legislature peopled by creatures bovine that has all the time in the world for the most inane and useless of all things but that has severe myopia when it comes to resolving a problem that’s burning up millions of hard-earned money literally into smoke as vehicles spend the better part of every day, bumper to bumper, emitting noxious fumes, and expensive fuel waiting for the traffic to move an inch or maybe two? Lahore ‘s traffic is no longer anyone’s concern. How is it going to be solved is not a primary concern. There are some things that are silently and collectively consigned to the dustbin and traffic surely has been a resident there for a very long time.

The solution to Lahore ‘s traffic chaos has to become this government’s topmost priority. We all know too well that the list is overflowing and falling steadily into the swelling gutter, but unless this situation is faced with some bold and across-the-board radical changes, things will get even worse. One thing is certain. The problem will not go away. It has to be tackled with courage, commitment and vision and to hell with the consequences. Nothing else will do.

Lahore has to evolve a real traffic plan and, more importantly, implement it right across the board. In a city that is largely lawless, this is no mean task. But unless the rules are implemented, nothing will change. There are not many rules that supposedly govern urban traffic – maybe ten or more but almost none are implemented and offenders get away scot-free. For instance, most people with cars drive with wing mirrors tucked in. This makes them totally indifferent to the traffic behind them. What is preventing the police from fining these people, but, as a wit put it, do the police really have fining powers? Using mobile phones is another bugbear. In Islamabad and Karachi , you are readily fined for using one but not in Lahore ! Sometimes you are, most times you are not. What can possibly explain this? Vehicles smoking like Churchill are never stopped – a single rickshaw can and does emit smoke that a hundred stack chimneys would find daunting to match. Yet they meander in the most carefree manner. No one really knows why there are two or three lanes. The concept of a fast, medium and slow lane is light years away. The right lane is in case you are going to the right a few miles further up. It is also intriguingly the lane you use from where once a traffic light is visible. You turn left abruptly without warning while at the same time the genius in the extreme left lane has decided that he might as well cut across and go right. Cops do not haul in these serial offenders. The use of indicators seems to be strictly forbidden. It certainly looks like all vehicle-users have a secret brotherhood where they sign their names in blood and swear never to use indicators or, heaven forbid, seat belts – an offence in Islamabad , but not in Lahore ! Broken lights, dragging silencers, rust-eroded buses, windowpanes absent from public vehicles and the wagon-daredevils who are in a league of their own, breaking every single rule happily and doing it right in the face of somnolent cops – these are only some of the happy sights here.

For most people who call the shots here, the solution is to fell a few thousand trees, widen the road, pave every green blade of grass with mountains of grey cement and move on through underpasses that are seemingly the cure of all our many problems. The canal road which all policy enforcers find extremely offensive is on the chopping block, in spite of loud protests, court cases, etc., but so far the forces of evil, as always, are winning. Although car owners are less than 10 per cent, 90 per cent commuters must pay the price so that someone in a Lexus can swish to Islamabad for another shady transaction. Some suggest that there must be an embargo on producing more and more cars. In Lahore for instance, spotting a 1985 model car is like spotting the Yeti. They are all gone, swallowed up by the sprawling countryside and Pakistan ‘s rural jungle. Everyone drives a new-ish car and, thanks to a reckless policy that banks adopted some years back, for a few rupees and a couple of toffees, you could collect a brand new 1300 cc plastic-built vehicle. Yes there are the automotive and ancillary industries but more cars are going to add to the problem. The real solution is not to stop production but, because nothing is going to change the status quo, curtailing production could be an unhappy and partial solution.

Above all, a train service, call it the monorail, underground, over ground, sky train – has to be built now. This has been hanging fire for years. Why cannot it be implemented? It makes so much sense but it seems that, for reasons not known to us lesser mortals, it will not get done and neither will ample CNG-run buses ever surface on the congested roads of Lahore . No one wants to really get to grips with the real issues and face-saving, cosmetic ‘solutions’ are offered instead. We all know this is not going to work but is the government ready for some real, tangible, long-term radical changes? I personally doubt it. A country that cannot sack its cricket captain as he doctors a ball in full view of the world while a bemused and rather bewildered Rana Naveed watches his skipper in disbelief is a country that is not serious about anything unless it is nonsensical.

The writer is a Lahore-based columnist.

Source: The News

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  • Editorial:Traffic trauma

    Finally the city’s transport system has caused the Punjab Assembly to sit up and take notice of the appalling conditions under which it labours. Various issues relating to the state of transport were addressed during the proceedings, for which Minister for Transport, Mujtaba Shujaur Rehman, was at a disappointing loss. Amidst allegations ranging from the ‘arranged’ issuance of fitness certificates for vehicles way past their prime to route violations and environmental hazards, one thing becomes glaringly clear: Pakistan’s urban transport system has yet to enter the 21st century.

    When addressing this issue, our parliamentarians and ministers need to keep clear of solutions that have been tried, tested and found wanting. Lahore’s transport system cannot be commented on in isolation, as it is an intricate web of integrated contributing factors such as the environment, society, and town planning, within the overall economic framework. For so many years now, the only answer has been to widen our roads, allowing for more cars on the already overburdened routes. Our roads suffer from many ills as it is: congestion, irrational drivers, a huge upswing in private car ownership, and dilapidated vehicles used for the commuter who cannot afford his own mode of transport.

    The Ministry of Transport needs to get its act together. Using a survey from 1991 to assess the transport needs of today is foolish when constant and dynamic innovation is required to run a metropolis. Bangkok is a shining example of how a choked traffic system was resuscitated by providing a mass transit plan that suspended a light rail above existing roadways and connected it with an efficient bus network. Not only did the chaos disappear, every commuter was provided with a problem-free travel option.

    Experts are needed, desperately; if local expertise does not exist, we should not hesitate to call in specialists. In 1995, Japan offered grants and loans to develop a mass transit system of elevated railways, but the project has yet to see the light of day. It is rather unfortunate that continuity in development projects is missing because every successive change of government wipes the slate clean of the policies and projects of the last. And considering how we hardly ever see one set of leaders complete their full term before an upheaval, the blueprints of development never really leave the drawing board.\02\20\story_20-2-2010_pg3_1