Metro Bus: No More Traffic Jams
Perhaps the most iconic centerpiece of development in the second decade of the new millennium, the Metro Bus Project cuts through the estranged contours of Lahore, from one end to another. I have known Lahore for the past six-ish years. Although I have never met the Metro Bus formally, I have been well acquainted with its existence. The bus line is a sort of Minar-e-Pakistan to me. It represents the essence of Lahore: a city coming to life by the grace of those that surround it. If there was ever a way to experience Lahore, it is definitely through the Metro Bus.
In a Nutshell:
- Explore the city like never before
- Easily accessible, no matter where you live
- A novel experience for bored millennials
- A shoestring budget? No problem
- Forget the concept of ‘private space’
- Don’t be a pushover, literally
The Metro Bus Project came to life in front of my eyes. I saw heavy machinery cut up pavements and clear roads for months on end. However, I had never boarded the bus. It all happened rather suddenly. A friend visiting from Islamabad had this wild idea of wanting to explore the city on the Metro Bus. This used to be a thing in my Sophomore year; people aren’t that enraptured by the Metro Bus anymore. Like I said, it’s like the Minar-e-Pakistan. I didn’t take her seriously and was hoping she would let go of the idea. But as the day progressed, and the sun climbed higher and higher, I got more and more comfortable with the idea.
We decided that the nearest Metro Bus station near DHA would be somewhere near Qainchi. Except, we didn’t know if there was a bus stop there, having never paid any attention to it. But we decided to take a shot in the dark. I knew that the line goes through Ferozepur Road, and then turns in the other direction to DHA (yes, this is how I remember ways). So, the plan was to get near Ferozepur Road and hope to see a bus stop before I ran out of miles on my Careem.
We ordered the Careem. Much to our benefit, the Careem Captain was aware of the Qainchi bus stop and took us there immediately. We got off on one side of the road, traffic literally whizzing by. It was nauseating. My friend and I fixed chaddars on our heads, trying not to stand out like idiots (I bet we still did). I let my friend lead the way, and wished someone had written a little guide for this place! The steel structures, even the escalator was intimidating, if nothing else. The strangeness of the scenery was enhanced by the traffic whooshing-by underneath my feet. A sort of urgency was lent to the situation, making it all very dramatic.
The overhead bridge on which the ticketing counter was perched was all a rusted grey. Even the people on it looked a little grey to me. Grey but sturdy, full of life and vigor, trotting with a purpose, from the buses to the road, and vice versa. The ticketing counter was a small cabin, with a separate counter for men and women. Above the counter there is a display of the route of the Bus. The last station is Gajjumata on one end, and I never reached the other end, so I’m not sure what was at the other end. They didn’t let me take a picture of the route, because apparently photography was not allowed. I just wanted it to reduce my anxiety about where I’ll end up, getting dragged out of the comfort of my home to this alien place. (Hey, I get nervous, okay?!)
Anyways, my friend got tickets, PKR 20 per pass, and you can get off at any stop, the next or the last. For tickets we got little yellow coins, that looked like candy. We move down from the the pedestrian bridge, towards the bus station. At the entrance of the little hanger for the busses, there is a revolving door at the entrance point. You put the coin in the slot and it allows you to pass. I put my friend in front of me to lead the way. My eyes followed her hands closely, trying to understand the process. She deftly put the coin in the slot and with a small, short whizzing sound the door turned to let her in. We made our way forward, to the benches in the bus station, and sat down. The signboard hanging from the ceiling announced the upcoming bus before we saw it. It read 1 min. I suspected it was broken, not knowing how the Metro Bus works. I had just settled on the bench, and was trying to understand this glass and steel cabin I was in, in the middle of Ferozpur Road. Another lady sat on the bench beside me.
A minute later, The Bus was here. The door opened to reveal a space on wheels, filled to the brim. We entered from the door in the middle of the bus, where we could see women huddle. The women occupied some 25 to 30 percent of the bus from the front. The first booth is reserved for women. Even though the bus was pretty much full, they made space for us. I quickly grabbed on the bar in front of me, as the bus began to move. I felt like I was surfing, except in a sea of people. Most of the commuters were standing in the bus. It was about 4 PM on a Sunday. I guess people were going home before nightfall.
The ladies were accommodating, but kinda pushy too. You have to make your own space, or they trample over you. There are some 8 seats for women to sit, and some twenty women, probably more, on the bus. So, most of the commuters are standing. However, it is not tedious, because the bus gets from one station to the next in two, three minutes. The key is not to be swayed by inertia when the driver hits the breaks.
To my absolute horror, every time we stopped at a station, the computerized voice announced stories of doom, warning everyone to take care of their belongings. Every time she said that, I clutched at my bag tightly, looking around suspiciously. The lady sitting in front of me in a burqa kept looking straight. Her belongings safely tucked between her legs, she held on to the bar. Another woman sitting from across her looked at us, amused, as we tried not to lose our balance.
Some fifteen minutes later we approached the last stop. We could see the Bus Line end at Gajjumatta, so with the last of our fellow commuters, we got off the bus. From the urban sprawl of Ferozepur Road, the wide roads of Gajjumatta were refreshing. We got off the bus, and walked around a bit. The shops are restaurants around were wildly unfamiliar. It’s always really interesting to see a new place, with all its sounds and colors. Spotting no women in the shops around, we decided against exploring this part of the city without any information, and made our way back to the other side.
The ride back into the city was quite interesting. To get on the bus, we got another ticket, and followed the same procedure. The bus was almost empty. We were the only women on the bus, so we got to sit down. The cityscape changed before our eyes. Lahore changed from wide roads – and what I’m hoping are green pastures beyond the thinly squeezed shops and restaurants, one on top of the other – to a burg of Ferozepur Road. As we got closer to the city centre, more and more people started to get on the bus. After a few stops after Gajjumatta, a woman asked us to squeeze in so she could also sit. We gave her the seat and stood in the absolute front of the bus, right next to the driver.
The view of the city from the front of the bus was absolutely amazing. It was like being in a glass cage. I could see the bridges rise and fall, buildings shoot out of the sky, city lights, turning on slowly, like a child waking up with a yawn. Meanwhile, a woman kept trying to squeeze in between us, literally shoving her hand between us to hold on to the railing we were holding on to. If you expect a sense of personal space, you will certainly be disappointed. You have to be confident, or you fall on your face. It’s like an adventure, except it’s also normal life. We got off at the Ichra stop, since we were familiar with the neighborhood.
I imagine a Metro Bus ride at night would possibly be the best way to explore the city, and would recommend it to everyone trying to get to know Lahore a little bit better, because here is a cost-effective, holistic way to experience the city, end to end.