The Paradoxical Pakistani Transport System: An Australian’s Perspective

Contributed by: Oliver Fisher, Intern for Change in Progress 2.0 project.

I have a love hate relationship with transportation in Pakistan. Sometimes I think the transport here is the amazing, sitting in the back of a rickshaw or riding around on the back of a motorbike can give you a great perspective of a city. It gives you a chance to get a real feel for a place, you’ll pass through vibrant market places and see all walks of life. The transport is often extremely cheap as well, at least compared to Australia and our exorbitant taxi fares.

But at the same time the transport here can really wear you down, you also might not have as much mobility and freedom as you do back home. You may get tired of haggling with taxi driver’s knowing that no matter how good your persuasion skills are you will still end up getting ripped off. Transport here isn’t always punctual and it can be difficult to know the best way to get around. But it’s important to keep an open mind and keep a positive mindset. For although the transportation here may not be ideal, it will rarely be dull and you will more often than not end up on some kind if grand adventure even if you didn’t mean for it to happen.

Traffic in Pakistan is a bit chaotic, but there’s an underlying calm, a flow, that everyone seems to understand. Pakistan is a paradox. There often doesn’t seem to be any road rules at times, it seems to follow that the only rule is that you give way to whatever is bigger. As a pedestrian this means that you are at the bottom of the food chain, don’t expect anyone to stop for you anytime soon. My advice is to try and follow a local when crossing the road and be on guard at all times. But despite this there seems to be relatively few accidents, perhaps the chaos of the roads here hones everyone’s driving skills to perfection, Perhaps my biggest love hate relationship is with rickshaws, they aren’t prevailent in Islamabad but if you make it to Karachi or to Lahore then they are everywhere. As a budget traveller they are often the cheapest way to get around and a little more mobile than taxis. They give you an adventure every time you hop in to one, often because they rickshaw drivers seem to have invented their own road rules. I’ve also noticed that whenever you need a rickshaw they always strangely seem to disappear into a black hole of nothingness, but when you don’t want one then you will be asked “rickshaw sir, do you need a rickshaw” almost to the point of insanity. But despite all this I will always have a soft spot for rickshaws, they will always be a source of entertainment when I travel and I have many fond moments that I’ve experienced whilst in a rickshaw.

I think I will always remember my first introduction to buses in Pakistan, I saw one of the many colorful local buses drive past and it was packed to the brim with people. It seems that if a bus gets full here then you don’t wait for another one instead you climb on to the roof of the bus or hang off the side of it. I’m not sure if i’ll be game enough but it certainly makes for interesting viewing. I even saw people sleeping on the top of the bus, they obviously have a lot of confidence in the driver’s of the buses here, or they don’t value their own lives very highly. I’ve had the pleasure of experiencing both ends of the spectrum for intercity bus services in Pakistan. On one end sits Daewoo, they are punctual , clean and the crème de la crème of buses here. On the other end are the local buses, they are definitely not punctual or clean. They are cramped, uncomfortable and often seem to stop for no particular reason. But despite this i still prefer the local buses, they seem more authentic. Daewoo buses often seems sterile and devoid of life, local buses are where the real excitement is. Just be prepared to have a lot of patience and you should be fine. I’ve also found that it is easier to interact with people on the local buses, they seem a bit more open to conversation. Even if there are often a few languages barriers in place.

Trucks in Pakistan often provide a splash of colour to the bleak cities in which they roam. The design of the truck is often a coveted badge of status for the driver, the more colorful and more outlandish the more the truck is admired. The truck are adorned with poetry, religious calligraphy or common phrase and of course as many bright colours as possible. I don’t know exactly how this tradition started and i’ll probably never really understand why the trucks are decorated as they are but that doesn’t make them any less fascinating. The trucks are definitely a sight to behold and make for interesting viewing.

Transport in Pakistan will always continue to fascinate and confuse me. It can be exceedingly frustrating at times but I think the positives far out way the negatives here. No matter what kind of transport you are guaranteed an adventure, an exciting experience. I will always remember the conversations that I have had with locals on buses here and the times I spent riding on the back of a bike watching people going about their daily lives. Transport her may be a little chaotic, but sometimes we need a little chaos in our lives.