Public transportation in Lahore, Pakistan

I’ve typed up a little section of my handwritten journal. These are just my observations/feelings :)

Lahore is the second largest city in Pakistan. A city of over 11 million people! Transportation here is quite interesting. This is a city where I need to wear a surgical mask in the streets (Not kidding. Something gross- if I look at my snot when I blow my nose after being in the polluted streets for a long time, it’s black hahaha). The city is very overcrowded and had basically no public transit until 2013 when the above road system was built. It looks like the one in Chicago, however instead of trains, the above road 2 lane bridge system has buses running in both directions. The fare is really cheap if you compare it to Canadian/American prices. It’s 20 rupees. That’s only 25 Canadian cents. However in Pakistan wages are extremely low. I asked about 5 rickshaw drivers what their monthly income was and the average was about 17,000 rupees/month. That’s only $205 CAD, per month!

In almost all of my travels, I try to take public transportation. In Lahore, I was quite fascinated with their public transportation because it was the first of its kind in the whole country! However I was warned, by everyone I knew who had been to the city and/or lived there that I should not take it. And although they did not say it, I could feel why. It was something only poor people did. Taking public transportation, was apparently not for ‘people like me’. That bothered me. It still bothers me. There is so much stigma attached to public transportation, some of the people I told were uneasy. However everyone I told was very surprised.

“You?! Took the metro!! Why would YOU do that?!” A local upperclass Lahori said.

I don’t think anyone is trying to be elitist by having these beliefs. It’s just the status quo. And more often than not, the status quo just isn’t questioned. I’m victim to it too.

The busses come every 2–5 minutes and each bus is packed, every square inch with human. I’ve seen videos of public transit in places like Tokyo and Seoul where humans are packed in train cars like sardines in a can but I’ve never seen and felt it in person. I tried to take a picture but honestly couldn’t reach into my pocket to get my phone out. At the stations I saw a lot of students in uniforms. I saw kids with no shoes. I saw that the ratio of men to women seemed to be about 4:1. I saw struggle and I saw kindness.

A couple very sweet things happened to us on the metro.

The first:

Ladies have their own section in the bus. For one of the times I took the metro, two of the seats in the ladies section were being occupied by men. The male station attendant waved his hand to shoo the men so my mother and an elderly lady can sit down. Other men in the bus gave dissaproving looks to the men occupying the seats, like “how could you stay seated when you saw them” looks. That was nice.

The second:

My family and I were lost as hell. And although we didn’t say anything to anyone else, the ladies overheard my mom and I speaking about where the hell to get off. A few minutes later almost all of the women were talking to us to help us figure out where we going! It was a whole group effort with so many smiling faces and so much warmth. I’ve never experienced that before.

My main reflections are these. That Pakistan’s super thin middle class and thick lower and upper classes are extremely evident when it comes to transportation. Based on my biased view and acknowledging my privileged ass, the middle and upper classes don’t take public transport. The streets are heavily crowded/polluted. The people are suffering because it’s hard to breathe and you often hear people coughing. And all this pollution is hurting our only earth. I hope for two things:

1) That this stigma of public transportation through various awareness campaigns (eg: climate change) ends. It cannot be something only for the poor. That’s just crazy.

2) That the Pakistani/Punjabi government get their shit together and quickly increase the number of busses & add trains so people aren’t packed like sardines. Also to build public transportation in all major cities (as Karachi still doesn’t have anything – and it’s Pakistan’s largest city with basically the population of Canada!)

Taken from the above road bus station. A view of busy Lahori streets.

Also I have to add that Pakistanis are the most hospitable people I’ve ever met. I’ve literally cried a few times already because of how overwhelmed I’ve felt. I just can’t believe how warm people are. Just for the sake of it. Treating guests well is an act of service for God. They put their souls into it and it’s absolutely beautiful.