Pakistan opens first major urban public transport scheme

Authorities in Pakistan on Sunday launched a "Metro Bus" system in the second largest city, Lahore, opening the restive country's first major urban public transport scheme.

The 30 billion rupee ($300 million) project, completed in collaboration with Turkish company Al-Buraq, will ferry up to 12,000 passengers an hour along a dedicated 29-kilometre (20 mile) roadway from the suburbs to the city centre, officials said.

Thousands of well-wishers lined the way as Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif and Turkish deputy prime minister Bekir Bozdag launched the service by riding the 27-station route, which was decorated with Turkish and Pakistani flags.

A general election is due in the coming months and the opposition Pakistan Muslim League-N, led by Sharif's brother Nawaz, will hope the new scheme gives them a boost going into polls, as well as easing traffic on Lahore's busy roads.

Commuters in Pakistan's other major cities without their own cars rely on an ad-hoc network of privately-run buses, minibuses, taxis and motorised rickshaws to get around.

The design of the new bus stations is similar to the Metrobus service run by Al-Buraq in Istanbul, with the addition of a nine-kilometre elevated roadway through the centre of Lahore to avoid the city's congested streets.

Building work was completed in under a year and Sharif hailed the Turkish cooperation.

"Turkey gave us lot of concessions in materialising this project. Had we contacted any other country they would have charged millions of dollars," he said in his inaugural speech.

"This is a clean and dedicated transport system which will be equally used by rich and poor."

Ahad Khan Cheema of Lahore Development Authority (LDA) told AFP that 25,000 workers toiled round the clock to complete the scheme in under a year and said the system had the capacity to carry up to 12,000 people an hour.

Iftikhar Ahmed, 45, a government employee, said the new system -- which will be free for the first month -- would make commuting much easier.

"Earlier we had to change two to three buses to reach our office, now we will be at our destination on time," he told AFP.

The Lahore scheme is not the first transport operation to be run in Pakistan by a foreign company. South Korea's Daewoo has a network of bus routes including a popular express service between Lahore and Islamabad noted for its reliability.

Student Mohammad Arsalan, 23, said he was pleased the Turkish company was involved.

"It is good that the project will be run by a foreign company and we can expect a proper mechanism to avoid any delays," he said.

wh-sz/pdw/pj

  • Wednesday #sgroundup: Pirates kidnap three on Singapore tanker off Malaysia 2 hours 1 minute ago
    Wednesday #sgroundup: Pirates kidnap three on Singapore tanker off Malaysia

    Here are today’s top trending stories in case you missed them.

  • The Lotus breadvan: Flickr photo of the day 16 hours ago
    The Lotus breadvan: Flickr photo of the day

    The Lotus Europa was one of the stranger sports cars of the '70s, but still managed to corner like a sheepdog thanks to its low weight and fiberglass body. This example caught by Dave Lindsay is fairly typical of the nicer early '70s Type 62 Europas Lotus exported to the United States; by today's standards they're odd, underpowered and unreliable — which means they have a fervent fan base.

  • Inside MotoGP, elbow on asphalt at 210 mph 17 hours ago
    Inside MotoGP, elbow on asphalt at 210 mph

    In MotoGP, a most strange sport, compact, highly fit men, most of them Spanish, Italian, Japanese, or Australian, maneuver 350-lb., multimillion-dollar motorcycles around Formula One tracks at 220 mph while wearing computerized suits that inflate when they fall off at speed. It feels as though you’re watching Tron live, and the crashes are just as spectacular. Driving these things requires a lot of nerve, as well as generous levels of Euro-style machismo. The riders of MotoGP can’t walk down the street in Barcelona or Milan without being followed by screaming fans. They’re like some sort of unholy marriage between Daft Punk and Apollo astronauts. In the United States, they’re just guys walking down the street.

  • Pirates kidnap three on Singapore tanker off Malaysia
    Pirates kidnap three on Singapore tanker off Malaysia

    Armed pirates boarded a Singapore-managed oil tanker in the Strait of Malacca, kidnapping three Indonesian crew and stealing some of the vessel's shipment of diesel fuel, the International Maritime Bureau said Wednesday. The attack occurred early Tuesday off Malaysia's west coast, said Noel Choong, head of IMB's Kuala Lumpur-based piracy reporting centre. The diesel oil tanker was believed to be en route to Myanmar. "IMB is aware of the attack on the Singapore-managed ship in the Malacca Straits.

  • McDonald's Hello Kitty sale site temporarily suspended due to fresh wave of Kitty mania
    McDonald's Hello Kitty sale site temporarily suspended due to fresh wave of Kitty mania

    It may not be safe to enter a McDonald’s restaurant in Singapore on Mondays starting 28 April. To celebrate the iconic Japanese character Hello Kitty’s 40th anniversary, the fast food chain announced last Friday that it would be releasing a new collection of Hello Kitty toys in McDonald’s restaurants island wide next Monday.

  • First sign of S.Korea ferry disaster was call from a frightened boy
    First sign of S.Korea ferry disaster was call from a frightened boy

    He called the emergency 119 number which put him through to the fire service, which in turn forwarded him to the coastguard two minutes later. That was followed by about 20 other calls from children on board the ship to the emergency number, a fire service officer told Reuters.