Social Protection Resource Centre

Sustainable Public Transportation

Author: Assad Hamid (Research Intern)

Transportation plays a vital role in driving socioeconomic development by connecting people to job opportunities, markets, education, and essential services. It enables individuals to escape poverty and overcome social exclusion while adding value to goods and fostering economic growth. However, the consistent increase in population and subsequent rise in travel demand are placing immense pressure on the existing transport infrastructure in Pakistan. The Planning Commission estimates that Pakistan’s population currently travels nearly 400 billion passenger kilometers (pkm) per year, a number projected to surge to 1,000 billion pkm by 2030.


Sustainable Public Transportation

Figure 1: Global energy-related CO2 emissions by sector

According to a World Bank report in 2019, Transportation is responsible for around 64% of global oil consumption, 27% of total energy use, and 23% of energy-related CO2 emissions. Nearly 60,000 people die each year from air pollution-related diseases in Pakistan and all large cities in Pakistan have severe air pollution problems (World Health Organization, 2016)

Furthermore, restricted mobility has been identified as a main barrier for women in accessing key services. Arranging transport is considered a problem for 40% of women in Pakistan in accessing health care as car and motorcycle ownership levels by women are lower than for men (Asian Development Bank, 2015). Women have to rely on extended family members, neighbors, or unsustainable and inefficient public transport for travel, leading to women having limited access to economic opportunity, healthcare, and education.


It is crucial to address these challenges through sustainable public transportation systems that are accessible, efficient, and safe.

To combat these challenges, the International Association of Public Transport (UITP) defines sustainable public transportation as “… the provision of accessible, efficient, safe, and environmentally friendly mobility services to meet the needs of people and communities while minimizing negative impacts on the environment and society. It involves the integration of various modes of public transport, such as buses, trams, trains, and metros, as well as non-motorized modes like walking and cycling, to create a comprehensive and sustainable transportation network.”

By leveraging these modes, sustainable public transportation systems can transport large numbers of people simultaneously, significantly reducing carbon emissions.


The benefits of adopting sustainable public transportation are multifaceted. Firstly, it leads to less pollution and clearer skies. By reducing reliance on private vehicles and promoting greener alternatives, such as electric buses and trains, air quality improves, providing significant health benefits to communities. Secondly, these systems help minimize the presence of harmful chemicals, further safeguarding public health. Thirdly, by encouraging the use of public transportation, there will be a decrease in the number of cars on the road, ultimately leading to fewer roads, less congestion, and quieter neighborhoods.



Zu Peshawar is a milestone BRT and transit strategy in Pakistan and has been moving over 250,000 passengers daily, providing critical access to the city for everyone — especially women, persons with disabilities, low-income residents, and youth.

According to Institute for Transportation and Development Policy (ITDP), the system reduced Peshawar’s greenhouse gas emissions by 31,000 tons in the first year of operation. As of 2022, the system has over 240 hybrid buses in its fleet with amenities like air conditioning, CCTV, dedicated seats for the disabled, and women-only entrances.

The city of Peshawar, Pakistan was the 2022 recipient of the ITDP Sustainable Transport Award’s Honorable Mention.


In October 2020, Jakarta became the first Southeast Asian city to win the Sustainable Transport Award for its integrated public transportation system. Trans Jakarta, the city’s bus rapid transit (BRT) system, achieved a significant milestone by serving one million passengers per day in February 2020. Spanning over 250 km (155 miles) and equipped with dedicated bus lanes, Trans Jakarta is the world’s longest BRT system. Furthermore, it seamlessly connects with other modes of transportation, such as local buses and microbuses, enabling it to reach a larger region, including residential areas inaccessible by BRT alone (ITDP, 2020; ICCT, 2020).


Embracing sustainable public transportation aligns with the global vision for a greener future. The 2012 UN Conference on Sustainable Development acknowledged that sustainable transport can foster economic growth, environmental protection, social equity, public health, urban resilience, and improved urban-rural linkages and productivity. This vision is further echoed by SDG 9 which focuses on high-quality, reliable, sustainable, and resilient infrastructure.


(As per the European Commission’s A Concept for sustainable urban mobility plans, 2013)

Sustainable Public Transportation has as its central goal in improving accessibility of urban areas and providing high-quality and sustainable mobility and transport to, through, and within the urban area. It regards the needs of the ‘functioning city’ and its hinterland rather than a municipal administrative region. It has the following goals and Objectives

(a) Is accessible and meets the basic mobility needs of all users;
(b) Balances and responds to the diverse demands for mobility and transport services by citizens, businesses, and industry;
(c) Guides a balanced development and better integration of the different transport modes;
(d) Meets the requirements of sustainability, balancing the need for economic viability, social equity, health, and environmental quality;
(e) Optimizes efficiency and cost-effectiveness;
(f) Makes better use of urban space and of existing transport infrastructure and services;
(g) Enhances the attractiveness of the urban environment, quality of life, and public health;
(h) Improves traffic safety and security;
(i) Reduces air and noise pollution, greenhouse gas emissions, and energy consumption

In conclusion, sustainable public transportation is critical to building a greener future for all. By focusing on accessible, efficient, safe, and environmentally friendly mobility services, we can minimize negative impacts on the environment and society. The benefits are far-reaching, including reduced pollution, improved public health, quieter neighborhoods, and increased economic growth. As Pakistan embrace a sustainable transportation system, we move closer to a more sustainable and inclusive future for generations to come.