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World Sustainable Transport Day: A Critical Analysis of Significance and Challenges in Pakistan

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Naveed Hussain

World Sustainable Transport Day: A Critical Analysis of Significance and Challenges in Pakistan

In an era of rapid urbanization, burgeoning populations, and mounting environmental concerns, sustainable transport has emerged as a crucial component of a thriving society. Recognizing the importance of this paradigm, the United Nations General Assembly established World Sustainable Transport Day (WSTDay) on September 17th, 2020. This annual observance aims to raise awareness about the pressing need for environmentally friendly, equitable, and accessible transportation systems worldwide.

The Significance of World Sustainable Transport Day:

WSTDay serves as a pivotal platform to highlight the critical role of sustainable transport in achieving sustainable development goals. It underscores the urgency of transitioning away from reliance on fossil fuel-dependent transportation modes, which contribute significantly to air pollution, climate change, and public health issues.

Sustainable transport promotes a healthier planet by reducing greenhouse gas emissions, improving air quality, and minimizing noise pollution. It fosters economic growth by enhancing connectivity, facilitating trade, and stimulating job creation. Moreover, it promotes social equity by ensuring access to transportation for all, regardless of socioeconomic status or physical limitations.

World Sustainable Transport Day serves as a vital reminder that sustainable transport is not just an environmental imperative but also an economic and social necessity. By addressing the transport challenges in Pakistan through a comprehensive and forward-looking approach, the country can pave the way for a healthier, more equitable, and more sustainable future for its citizens.

Transport issues in Pakistan are also a major concern for the country’s development and well-being. Pakistan is facing grave congestion problems that seem to become more serious in the coming years. Growth of the population and pressure on urban areas, coupled with increasing national income and output are increasing the demand for freight and passengers transport. However, the supply of transport services and infrastructure is inadequate, inefficient and unsustainable. Some of the transport issues in Pakistan are:

  • Traffic congestion: An increasing vehicle density in Pakistan has led to severe traffic congestion on poorly planned and built roads. The current road infrastructure is not capable enough to accommodate the growing number of vehicles. According to estimates, 250,000 cars are being registered every year in Pakistan. Most of these cars are assembled by Japanese car making companies. Besides cars, motorbikes have the majority share (74%) of the total vehicle share in Pakistan’s transportation sector, followed by cars at 13%. On the other hand, Pakistan’s road network is 263,000 km with 12,500 km of national highways and 93,000 km of provincial highways, with the remainder classified as either district or urban roads. The national highway network is less than 5% of the total road network and caters to about 80% of the commercial traffic. This shows the lack of infrastructure in Pakistan’s urban transport sector for the proper accommodation of all vehicles utilising the transport network.
  • Travelling uncertainty: A broken urban transportation system leads to travelling uncertainty. People travel from one part of the city to another or even between cities for education, employment, health, or other reasons daily. Traffic congestion and the unavailability of affordable and accessible vehicles can limit transportation options for millions of people. This reduces the ability of individuals to approach opportunities, thus, marginalizing certain income demographics. As a result, these factors snowball to create travelling uncertainty for a large demographic. This has a particular impact on the tourism sector of Pakistan. Pakistan experienced an increase in its local tourism after the COVID-19 restrictions were removed last year. However, travel uncertainty in the northern regions has also restricted many tourists from planning their visits, ultimately leading to a decline in tourism revenue.
  • Public transport system: The public transport system in Pakistan is fragmented, inefficient and unsafe. There is no integrated intermodal transport system that can provide seamless connectivity and mobility to the urban population. The public transport system consists of buses, minibuses, vans, rickshaws, taxis and motorcycles, which operate under different ownerships, regulations and fares. There is no standardization of service quality, safety and environmental standards among these modes of transport. Moreover, there is a lack of coordination and cooperation among the various stakeholders, such as the federal, provincial and local governments, the transport operators, the commuters and the civil society. The public transport system is also vulnerable to security threats, such as terrorist attacks, accidents and crimes.
  • Environmental impact: The transport sector in Pakistan is a major contributor to environmental degradation and climate change. The sector accounts for about one-quarter of global energy-related carbon dioxide emissions and is at a crossroads. It is a challenging sector to set on a sustainable, low-carbon pathway. The transport sector in Pakistan relies heavily on imported fossil fuels, which are not only costly but also harmful to the environment. According to the World Bank, one freight train is equivalent to 100 trucks. However, Pakistan Railways is perpetually running at loss due to low freight traffic and subsidized passenger traffic. Moreover, the transport sector in Pakistan lacks emission control and fuel efficiency standards, which result in high levels of air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions. The transport sector in Pakistan also consumes a large amount of land and other resources, which affects the natural habitats and biodiversity.

Therefore, the transport issues in Pakistan require urgent attention and action from the government and the private sector. The transport sector in Pakistan needs to be reformed and modernized to meet the growing demand and to reduce the negative impacts on the economy, society and environment. Some of the possible solutions are:

  • Developing and implementing a national transport policy and strategy that can provide a coherent and comprehensive vision and framework for the transport sector in Pakistan. The policy and strategy should be based on the principles of sustainability, inclusiveness, efficiency and resilience, and should align with the national development goals and the international commitments, such as the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the Paris Agreement.
  • Investing and improving the transport infrastructure and services, especially the public transport system, to enhance the connectivity and mobility of the urban population. The transport infrastructure and services should be planned and designed in an integrated and intermodal manner, taking into account the needs and preferences of the different segments of the society, such as women, children, elderly, disabled and low-income groups. The transport infrastructure and services should also be built and operated in a way that minimizes the consumption of energy, land and other resources, generates lower emissions of greenhouse gases and other pollutants, and ensures a positive social impact.
  • Promoting and supporting the use of alternative and renewable energy sources and technologies in the transport sector, such as electric vehicles, hybrid vehicles, biofuels, solar power and wind power. These sources and technologies can reduce the dependence on imported fossil fuels, lower the cost of transport, and improve the environmental performance of the transport sector. The government should provide incentives and subsidies to encourage the adoption and diffusion of these sources and technologies, as well as establish and enforce emission control and fuel efficiency standards for the transport sector.
  • Enhancing the coordination and cooperation among the various stakeholders involved in the transport sector, such as the federal, provincial and local governments, the transport operators, the commuters and the civil society. The stakeholders should work together to develop and implement policies, plans and programmes that can address the transport issues in Pakistan in a holistic and participatory manner. The stakeholders should also share information, data and best practices, and monitor and evaluate the progress and impact of the transport interventions.

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