By Dr. Faheem Jehangir Khan & Ms. Tayyeba Khalil
Metro Bus Systems and Mobility
Globally, Metro Bus Systems (MBS) are used to provide public transport facilities to citizens to fulfill their daily commuting needs. The MBS is a preferred way of mass transit in terms of safety, comfort, convenience, affordability and reliability. Metro service was first introduced in London, England, in 1890 as a rapid mean of mass transit. Today, MBS is providing public transport services in major cities of 148 countries around the world, including Pakistan.
In Pakistan, mobility has been largely a gender phenomenon. In Pakistan, we usually associate female mobility through public transport with safety and respect. Naturally the mobility of female population becomes restricted. In such a scenario, female commuters would prefer a transport facility which is not only accessible and comfortable but is safe and provides privacy. With private vehicles being difficult to afford, the general population relies on the public transport system for their routine mobility. The present condition of the public transport system in Pakistan does not completely fulfill the needs of female population. It does not provide easy accessibility, safety, privacy and hassle-free environment during travel.
Pakistan Metro Bus System
To provide a safe, efficient and comfortable urban transportation system and reduce the growing congestion problems in Punjab, the Punjab Mass-Transit Authority (PMA) has started projects, including Lahore Metro Bus System, Pakistan Metro Bus System, and Multan Metro Bus System. Apart from these, other Rapid Mass Transit Systems are under construction in Karachi and Peshawar. Established in 2015, the Islamabad-Rawalpindi MBS provides a safe, reliable, affordable and easily accessible modern public transport system to a larger population of the twin cities.
A case study approach is used to assess the impact of the MBS on female mobility in the twin cities of Islamabad-Rawalpindi in term of safety, accessibility, affordability, tangibility and ease in mobility. We collected data from three groups of female passengers–working women, students, and casual travelers–to determine whether the MBS has brought an improvement in the service quality of public transportation for them. We present here our key findings and policy recommendations.
Accessibility & Connectivity
The MBS is difficult to access and covers limited areas in Islamabad-Rawalpindi. There is also a lack of feeder bus services in the area. In contrast, other public transport facilities were easily accessible and more interconnected in terms of coverage areas than the twin cities MBS. MBS stations were accessible to a minority section of female population travelling on this specific Metro Bus route. Thus a majority of female population still use other modes of transportation (van, Suzuki, cab and/or rickshaw) to access MBS.
To improve the accessibility, we recommend feeder bus routes in Islamabad and Rawalpindi to facilitate MBS passengers. These buses can improve the accessibility of MBS passengers to a greater extent as experienced in Lahore.
Improved inter-connectivity requires expansion of the MBS route network and starting operations on other approved Metro Bus routes. For instance, Peshawar-Morr to new Islamabad Airport, Barakahu to Faizabad, Texila to Saddar, and Rawat to Faizabad. This will improve the coverage and inter-connectivity.
Tangibility & An Automated System
The MBS scores excellent against all the tangible dimensions and use of technology. MBS stations and buses are clean and well maintained, with free WiFi service, while air conditions and escalators were working properly. All these were lacking in other public transport services. Overall, the MBS technology has improved the quality of services provision in public transport systems.
Affordability, Reliability & Responsiveness
The MBS was not just affordable, but safe and comfortable. In contrast, although the other public transport services were also affordable, but considered not safe, and not reliable and comfortable. Female commuters of Metro Bus gave more importance to the reliability aspect of the MBS. This includes almost no waiting time, arrival of the buses on schedule, known estimated travel time to desired destination, and sharing of information about bus timings, routes, and stations. In contrast, the other public transport services have unreliable operation system. It lacks schedule of arrival and known estimated travel time, and information about changing routes, timings and fares. The uncertainty in schedule and travel time delays create a sense of insecurity among female commuters, making them feel vulnerable to harassment.
Safety & Assurance
The MBS has addressed the security and safety needs of female population to a large extent. The security measures at the Metro Bus stations, presence of female staff at the ticket counters and in the waiting areas, and separate seating space for female commuters offer a sense of safety and security to female passengers, especially to young female commuters. Given the congestion problem in designated female areas, safety of their belongings is a concern of commuters. In contrast, the lack of proper waiting areas and security, and absence of schedule were the factors adding to the vulnerability, harassment and victimization of female commuters using other public transport. Therefore, the MBS provides relief from the insecurities females face in other public transport services in the twin cities.
A concern of female commuters was the limited designated spaces inside the Metro Bus. Although all Metro Buses have separate female seating area and space for standing inside the bus, they consider it insufficient especially during peak (morning and evening) hours. Besides congestion problem, lack of proper physical separation of female-male compartments sometimes creates insecurity among female passengers.
Although the existing MBS is safer and comfortable for female commuters, congestion problem in the female designated area inside the metro bus is repeatedly highlighted. To overcome this, MBS can add ‘Female Only’ exclusive buses during peak hours. To do so, instead of every three minutes interval, these exclusive buses can run with an interval of every 15-20 minutes. Meanwhile, MBS should also provide secured female compartments with an increase in reserved seats for female passengers, separated physically and completely from male compartments in regular Metro Buses.
Ease in Mobility
By proving a safe mean of public transport, the MBS has boosted up the confidence and sense of security in the female population of Islamabad-Rawalpindi. The Metro Bus Service not only enables females to save money they used to spend on other public transport means, but also reduces male dependence and offers safe and comfortable travel experience. That is why it has significantly improved ease in mobility and reduced male dependence for reaching workplace and taking part in social activities such as market and visiting a family or friends’ place. Before the MBS, despite several reservations, most of the females either had to use a personal vehicle or hire a cab or take other public transport means.
Overall, the Metro Bus Service in Islamabad-Rawalpindi has improved the service quality of public transportation for female passengers. This has lead to an ease in their mobility that was absent previously. The MBS has addressed the concerns of female population regarding public transportation environment. It has significantly improved female mobility in the twin cities by providing a respectful and hassle-free transportation. Despite some limitations such as difficulty in accessibility of Metro Bus stations, limited inter-connectivity, and congestion problems and unavailability of seats during peak hours, MBS has effectively addressed issues such as uncertainty and insecurity for female passengers to a large extent.