The Pink Bus service was started by the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government in Mardan and Abbotabad district in April 2019. It was touted as a game changer enabling women to travel independently within city acquitting them from the hassle of public transport. In male dominant society, where women are usually not allowed to go out of their homes independently due to various reasons including fear of harassment in local buses, Pink Bus Project emerge as a breath of the fresh air.
Pink Bus Project also known as Sakura Women Bus Service was started by The KP government and Mass Transit Department with an estimated cost of $1.79 million. The project was initiated with the financial assistance of Government of Japan and technical assistance of UNOPS and UN women. The move was greatly hailed by the local women and female students who regularly faces harassment during travelling. It was an important development and would have certainly contributed towards women freedom if planned properly. However, it is very sad to see that the initiative was short lived and has come to a halt due to various reasons.
Initially when Japan government donated these 14 buses back in May 2018, KP government decided to incorporate it in BRT Peshawar for women commuters. However, due to delay in BRT, KP government announced to launch these buses as an independent project in Mardan and Abbottabad. The project was officially launched by Mushtaq Ghani in April 2018 in both districts.
The Project was launched based on political consideration without any prior planning or long-term sustenance measures. Pink bus project neither had a proper route plan based on scientific data to facilitate maximum women commuters nor had requisite planning. Furthermore, the buses were parked in Peshawar for at least one year before the launching ceremony and according to the sources in the management, condition of the buses has deteriorated significantly due to non-maintenance. KP government spent millions to repair all 14 buses for the project.
The project was also marred by political meddling. While talking to us on phone, a senior official revealed that the PTI-led government and its MPAs were directly interfering in the matters of the management which was also one of the main reason for its failure.
The official claimed that a female MPA hailing from Mardan, a co-owner of private schools, had forced the pink bus management to permanently reserve four of the buses for her schools but the management had refused. However, a former provincial Minister forced the management to provide these buses as he had shares in those schools.
After some time, management realized that the project was going in loss due to poor route planning and less commuters. They asked the concerned officials to allow men commuters to travel in the buses truly putting a question mark on the status of the project. Women commuters traveling on pink buses dramatically reduced after permission was given to men commuters. This has practically put an end to the project transforming it into ordinary government owned buses with pink color without any facilitation for women.
Though the aim of this project was to ensure provision of safe, cheap, reliable, and harassment-free journey for women travelers, it miserably failed to deliver and has caused significant loss to government exchequer. All the buses are now parked and the KP government is paying no attention towards this project. It has put a huge question mark on KP government competence and capabilities. Reportedly, Japan government has also showed annoyance on the closure of the project badly affecting credibility of the KP government. KP government needs to realize that for a success of any project, long term planning alongwith sustenance is necessary to ensure its durability.