A transforming transport system


Peshawar’s sustainable BRT has made the lives of millions by providing modern, eco-friendly urban mobility service

Teaser Image Caption
A BRT bus is waiting for passengers to embark at a station in interior city of Peshawar.

Peshawar is the sixth largest city of Pakistan with a population of over 2.3 million. Not long ago, the residents of Peshawar along with hundreds of thousands of Afghan refugees and people migrated from other districts were compelled to commute in decades old, poorly managed and ill-equipped smoke emitting vehicles. A gigantic project of sustainable Bus Rapid Transport (BRT), launched in August 2020 in the city, has revolutionised the transport system and transformed the lives of millions of people for the better by providing them a travelling facility that is highly inclusive, safe, reliable, affordable and environmentally efficient. BRT’s energy efficient diesel hybrid electric buses have attracted millions of commuters, especially hundreds of thousands from vulnerable segments due to better security measures for women, people with disabilities and even transgenders who earlier feared boarding the public transport buses fearing harassment.

Peshawar BRT’s Zu bus is plying over its track in the city carrying passengers including women.
Peshawar BRT’s Zu bus is plying over its track in the city carrying passengers including women.

Peshawar , the sixth largest city of Pakistan, is densely populated. Located on the western edge of Pakistan near the Afghan border, it is an abode of more than 2.3 million people exclusive of hundreds of thousands of unregistered Afghan refugees and internally displaced persons who migrated to the provincial metropolis from other areas fleeing their homes in wake of increasing incidents of terrorism and militancy from years 2007 to 2017.

In recent years, a gigantic project of sustainable Bus Rapid Transport (BRT) has revolutionized the transport system in the city and transformed the lives of millions of people for better by providing them a travelling facility that is highly inclusive, safe, reliable, affordable and environmentally efficient.

In its initial stages, at the time of construction from 2019-20, the BRT project went through a difficult phase of objections over its design due to shrunken main roads. But since its commencement on 13 August 2020, the project having a fleet of 158 energy efficient diesel hybrid electric buses has attracted millions of commuters including hundreds of thousands from vulnerable segments due to better security measures for women, people with disabilities and even transgenders who earlier avoided travelling in public transport due to lack of facilities and harassment by eve teasers.

Launched with the financial support of the Asian Development Bank (ADB) and Agence Française De Développement (AFD) with an estimated cost of Pakistani Rupee (PK Rs.)71 billion (US dollar 331.83 million), the new state of the art transport facility is now being used by a record number of 260,000 passengers on a daily basis including 70,000 women utilising 25 per cent seating quota reserved for them in each bus, according to TransPeshawar, a government owned company that manages operation of BRT. The company says that around 4.5 million female passengers have already used the new bus service introduced with the brand name of `Zu’, a word of locally spoken Pashto language with meaning `go’. The number of women travelling in public transport has increased from earlier 2 per cent to 20 per cent after the introduction of Peshawar Zu service, which reflects confidence and satisfaction of womenfolk in the new transport service, claims TransPeshawar.


Women BRT Station
Rush of women passengers at a BRT station in Peshawar reflects the confidence of womenfolk in the new travelling service providing them secure, reliable and economical urban mobility.

The universally accessible infrastructure of BRT made it easy for 15,483 persons with disabilities (as registered in the district) in Peshawar to utilise public transport, which was earlier not accessible to them due to challenges in boarding and getting down from buses and wagons. Members of the transgender community for whom travelling in public transport was impossible due to harassment are now regularly seen boarding BRT buses by utilising their reserved seat quota of 2 per cent.

Environmentalists’ commendation

The BRT project is receiving praise from environmentalists who are terming it a “timely step in the right direction” in view of the dangerous level of air pollution in Peshawar. Peshawar Clean Air Alliance (PCAA), an association of civil society individuals working on a common vision of improved air quality of Peshawar with support of Sustainable Energy and Economic Development (SEED), conducted a survey in 2022. The survey, titled “Status of Air Pollution in Peshawar”, revealed that the air pollution level in Peshawar has exceeded World Health Organisation (WHO)’s quality guidelines by 12 to 16 times, leaving considerable impact on the health of city dwellers by reducing life expectancy up to 2.3 years. It found that annual PM2.5 in Peshawar had ranged between 61.40 µg/ m and 80.09 µg/ m , exceeding the current national and provincial standards by 4-5 times and the WHO air quality guidelines by 12-16 times.

“BRT has made a significant contribution to the reduction of carbon emission by reducing the number of vehicles on road in the provincial metropolis,” said Muhammad Nafees, chairman, Department of Environmental Sciences, Peshawar University. “The new transport service has replaced hundreds of black smoke emitting ramshackle buses and wagons with low emitting hybrid diesel-electricity vehicles, which must have made a contribution in reducing the level of carbon emission.”

No study has so far been conducted on the reduction of vehicles plying in Peshawar after launching of BRT. But according to Nafees’ calculations, around 50 per cent of the total of 1,000,000 vehicle owners have stopped using their personal vehicles and are utilising BRT for going to the workplace on a daily basis, he guessed. 

Similarly, he said, scrapping of hundreds of old vehicles in line with the policy of developing modern urban mobility service also contributed to cleaning of air. 

Fleet Old buses
A fleet of decades old outdated buses that used to ply in Peshawar are now parked within the premises of BRT headquarters for scrapping in a phased manner.

“The dividends of BRT in improving air quality can be amplified, if all the old and outdated vehicles including buses, wagons and unregistered tri-wheelers (autos) are removed from its routes and banned from plying on the road,” Nafees said. 

According to Muhammad Rafiq, environmental and resource economist at the Center for Water Informatics and Climate Resilience, Institute of Management Science, Peshawar, BRT has made a good impact on the environment of Peshawar but the benefits of the new buses are subsided by poor traffic management plans and lack of proper checking of smoke spewing vehicles. Like Nafees, Rafiq too suggests special measures to fully avail benefits of BRT for cleaning Peshawar’s environment. “The air quality monitors installed at different locations of Peshawar are showing high levels of pollution, needing extra measures like installation of catalytic converters in vehicles, removal of old vehicles and installation of emission controlling equipment in industries,” he added.

International recognition

TransPeshawar communication specialist Sadaf Kamal said: “BRT Peshawar has achieved its goal of building a state of the art transport system that meets international standards of urban mobility and also received recognition from organisations like the Institute of Transportation and Development Company (ITDP), which termed Peshawar BRT as a milestone in transit strategy on the Indian Peninsula.”

In 2022, the project was appreciated at several international forums. World Resources Institute (WRI), a global research organisation with focus on seven areas including cities and climate, shortlisted BRT Peshawar among the top five finalists for its Ross Center Prize for Cities Award of 2022. Peshawar Zu was also recognised by the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy (ITDP) as `Honorable Mention’ for Sustainable Transport Award 2022 in a ceremony held in Washington. It also won the “Best Smart Ticketing Programme” award by Transport Ticketing Global over the criteria of making more than 200,000 journeys on a daily basis. 

Women Travelling
More than 260,000 passengers including 70,000 women are travelling daily in Peshawar BRT’s Zu buses.

Peshawar BRT is the only third generation bus project in Pakistan with features including a main track of 27 km, a network of 58 km of seven feeder routes with 154 bus stops, 31 stations, cycle tracks and pedestrian paths along the full corridor. It has universal and inclusive accessibility in all the stations.

Environmental impact

BRT project has also proved as sustainable, low carbon emitting and climate resilient urban transport system in Peshawar by making a reduction of 30,988 tonnes of CO2, 3 tonnes of PM 2.5, 160 tonnes NOx and 5 tons SO2, said Sadaf quoting estimates of TransPeshawar. Apart from providing travel facilities, BRT Peshawar has also focused on infrastructure improvement for non-motorised transport by developing bike lanes and footpaths that encourage cycling and walking. Around 360 latest chainless bicycles are parked at 32 docking stations set up near educational institutions for facilitation of students to avail last mile connectivity facility.

A youngster is availing Zu’s last mile connectivity facility of bi-cycle service offered on priority to students for reaching to educational institutions from bus stops.

The bicycle facility is also used by some female students as 17 have registered themselves in TransPeshawar. Others are willing to utilise it but hesitant to ride in a male dominating society.

Future plans 

According to Sadaf, the transport service is increasing its buses from existing 158 to 244 out of which 62 have arrived and passing through the registration process while 24 more are on their way to Pakistan from China.

Buses fleet
The fleet of 158 buses of BRT Peshawar is parked at its headquarters on the outskirts of Peshawar.

Induction of 86 new buses into BRT’s fleet is expected to increase number of commuters from existing 260,000 to 401,518.9 as each bus carries 1,645 passengers daily. After increase in buses, the travel routes of BRT will be enhanced from 10 to 15, providing more access to people, especially of those areas living in congested localities of the centuries’ old ancient city of South Asia. Travelling is economical too as, Kamal said, it was only PK Rs.15 (0.06 US cent) per every 10 kilometers. For the whole travel of the 27 km track, the charged is PK Rs.55 (0.244 US cent).

Public applause

For Shela Nazeen,a teacher at Peshawar University, Peshawar BRT has brought an ease in her life. It has removed the concerns and fear she had in mind for the safety of her daughter who had to travel daily for attending extra classes at a coaching academy.  She used to book a cab from Uber service for her daughter and kept on looking at her mobile to check her ride till she reached the destination. 

Women in Bus
Women are travelling with ease in a BRT bus. Women travelling on public transport increased from existing 2 per cent to 20 per cent after the launching of state of the art urban transport service in Peshawar, according to TransPeshawar.


“With foolproof safety and strong vigilance through CCTV, now I am quite relaxed about the safety of my daughter as she uses BRT bus service to her coaching class,” said Nazeen.


Staff BRT Peshawar
A staff member of BRT Peshawar is keeping a vigil by checking CCTV cameras installed at different bus stations to ensure safe and secure travel for passengers.


Transgender in Bus
A transgender sits on his reserved seat in a relaxed mood while travelling in BRT Peshawar. Transgenders were unable to utilise public transport due to indecent treatment and harassment in jam-packed buses and wagons.

Sobia Khan, a transgender, works in a news organisation and had to spend a major portion of her earnings by hiring special cabs for movement to the office and other places. She is now very much satisfied with the launching of a modern urban transport service in her native city providing her travel facility, which is not only economical but also free from harassment and teasing.

Sobia, who is the vice president of the Transgender Association Peshawar, made a startling disclosure: More than 50,000 transgenders in the city are now beneficiaries of BRT service. “Our community members faced a lot of hardship while moving to different places and travel in public transport was impossible for us because of indecent behaviour of people who not only made nasty remarks but also misbehaved us physically. However, now we feel honoured to see reserved seats for transgender community in BRT,” she said.

BRT also provides a great relief to Muhammad Mobeen Rafiq, a young boy with disability when he has to travel in public transport in search of jobs relevant to his qualification of Diploma in Information Technology (DIT). “A few months earlier, I got a job for six months. I could not have taken it up without the facility of economical travelling in BRT. It was not feasible for me to pay the fare of special taxi rides for going to the office and coming back home,” Rafiq said. 

Man in chair
A person in a wheelchair is being pushed towards his reserved seat in a BRT bus.

Rafiq and his brother both are persons with disabilities and are of the opinion that launching of sustainable urban transport service brought a turnaround in their life, enhancing their confidence of freely travelling with other people and visiting different offices for interviews and for performing duties.

BRT’s role in attaining SDGs

“Launching of BRT in a developing city like Peshawar is a landmark step in attainment of different Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) related to public health like good air quality, pollution control through emission stemming reduction of noise pollution, etc.,” said Hamid Mir, environment specialist, SDGs Unit of Planning and Development (P&D) Department of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province of Pakistan.

The project also has a very good impact towards attainment of SDG 9 calling for sustainable transport and SDG 11 and SDG 12 as well related to sustainable cities, communities, and responsible consumption, respectively. The project has both direct and much more indirect contributions towards attainment of SDGs and is considered as a major development in provision of sustainable transport in a city whose denizens were compelled to commute in decades old, substandard, smoke releasing and highly uncomfortable transport, Mir added.