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CDA is bringing Sustainable Public Transportation to Islamabad

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Sultan Kiani


Islamabad undoubtedly is one of the world’s most beautiful capitals. Well-known for its natural beauty, the city has modern buildings, world class road network and elegant public parks. Nevertheless, the city has also been ranked as the 9th most polluted federal capitals in the world!



According to IQAir, New Delhi (India) is ranked world’s no.1 capital with the worst air quality. The PM2.5 concentration in Indian Capital is found to be 92.7µg/m3 which is extremely unhealthy. Ranked at no.9, PM2.5 concentration in Islamabad is 42.4 µg/m3; still considered unacceptably injurious to public health. 

 

How did this happen?

Islamabad is a well-planned city with adequate trees and greenbelts. Unlike other cities, there are fewer industries, and its population is just 1.2 million as compared to Lahore with 14 million people. Then how has it become so polluted? The answer lies within poor urban planning. 


The Capital Development Authority (CDA) has heavily invested in extensive road infrastructure development. However, public transportation remains neglected, forcing citizens to use private vehicles. The concept of sustainable transportation has never been applied in the past. Now we have good news for the citizens of Islamabad; CDA is all set to launch 2 new projects aiming to promote public transport usage. These include Islamabad Bus Service (IBS) and Bicycle Lane Project (BLP). Let us review and see how these green initiatives may improve Islamabad’s air quality:

 

Islamabad Bus Service:

There was no mass transit system in the Capital before 2015 when the twin cities’ first Bus Rapid Transit was developed. This red line BRT is called ‘Pakistan Metro Bus System’ which is a joint venture of Punjab Government and CDA as it plies between Rawalpindi (Punjab) and Islamabad (ICT). Expanding the mass transit network in both (twin) cities was part of the plan. Unfortunately, the projects got delayed and we didn’t see any further development in urban mass transit after that. It is until 2022 when the twin cities second and Islamabad’s first BRT began its operation was followed by 2 new feeder routes. Long awaited Islamabad Bus Service project was reviewed and approved the same year. 

 

After extensive delays, the Islamabad Bus Service project is near completion. National Radio & Telecommunication Corporation (NRTC) on behalf of CDA was asked to procure 160 Plug-in Electric Buses. The first batch of 30 buses is ready to be shipped and expected to reach Islamabad by April 2024. After that, 130 more buses will be shipped in 2 batches. These are clean energy zero emission buses. CDA has already planned 14 urban and suburban routes. The bus service will not only facilitate the existing metro bus commuters but will also encourage more citizens to opt for affordable eco-friendly transportation.  



Bicycle Lane Project: 

Facilitating bicycle riders is part of Islamabad’s Mast Plan. This lingering project is also getting back on track! Bicycle Lane Project (BLP) is a network of 374 kilometers long dedicated tracks for paddle and e-bikes. The construction work on BLP has recently begun from Blue Area. Islamabad will have safe bicycle lanes all over the city in the next 18 months. A total number of 150 parking stations with bike rental facilities are included in the project. A CDA official ensured that the administration will strictly enforce laws to prevent misuse of the proposed bike lanes. Other than providing a safe track for local cyclists, BLP will also complement Islamabad Bus Service network. The idea is to let you take BRT on a long and busy route, followed by taking a feeder bus, and then ride a rental bicycle to the closest point of your destination. This system will encourage eco-friendly public transportation usage to make Islamabad a clean and green city again!

 

Room for improvements: 

It sounds like a remarkable public transport revolution is on the horizon. Nevertheless, it’s far from being perfect and needs further measures to develop a practical mass transit system in the capital city. We have identified some problems with recommended solutions: 

  • Public Transport for Rawalpindi: Islamabad and Rawalpindi are known as ‘twin cities as both are closely connected. There’s just one BRT line (Pakistan Metro Bus System) for the city of 2.4 million people. Thousands of commuters move between twin cities, majority of them would use private cars and motorbikes due to non-availability of city bus service in Rawalpindi. Punjab Mass Transit was supposed to launch Speedo Bus service in Rawalpindi 8 years ago but no progress has yet been made. It’s important for both cities' administrations to coordinate, plan and integrate Islamabad Bus Service with Rawalpindi Metro and Speedo Bus services to boost public transport ridership. Other than plying mini buses on feeder routes, Punjab government should also launch standard size city buses on major routes between Rawalpindi and Islamabad including Peshawar Road, Jehlum Road and old Airport Road to facilitate thousands of commuters. A pilot project of bicycle track similar to Islamabad’s BLP may also be implemented in Rawalpindi. 

  • Park & Ride Facilities: This facility is built for commuters from remote areas where plying the feeder bus service is unfeasible and the distance is too far to be covered by pedal bicycle. They can park their private car or motorbike at the dedicated parking area near a practical walking distance from a bus stop and then ride public transport to reach their destination. The idea was conceived but never implemented. Now it is the need of the hour to provide safe, secure and affordable parking facilities at different points to promote green transportation in twin cities.

  • Smart Ride-Sharing:  Online taxi services should be encouraged to offer pooled rides between metro stations to different areas during the peak hours. This model could particularly be successful in remote towns and housing societies to provide metro stations to doorstep transport service. 

Stringent Law Enforcement: The Police should also focus on implementing traffic laws. CDA Bus stops are usually occupied by illegally parked cars and taxis on Islamabad Expressway causing inconvenience for commuters and the bus drivers.  Traffic police should make sure to keep all the bus stops clear. Similarly, they need to formulate a protocol to block unauthorized vehicles from entering the proposed BLP tracks. 


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