Profit In Public Goods

The first reading of the statistics pertaining to the Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) Peshawar indicates disaster. The BRT Peshawar faced a deficit of Rs1.882 billion during the last financial year, 2020-21, while a deficit of Rs2.79 billion was estimated for the current financial year, 2021-22, according to official sources. This amounts to a total deficit of over Rs4.673 billion during the last two years, a deficit that is being covered by government subsidies.

However, the utility of a project is not reduced to a simple model of profit and deficit. Public services are not to be judged on surplus and loss statements, but the number of people reached out to and that can access this service. The incorporation of a public good has several benefits not factored in the financial statements; for example, Peshawar BRT and similar public transport facilities like the Orange Line aim to curb pollution and climate change; thus saving the costs that environmentally bad policies like overreliance on private vehicles cause. Anyone that questions the profitability of either project while ignoring its benefits is quite clearly only looking to gain political points.

TransPeshawar, the government-owned company that operates the BRT, launched an initiative in 2019 to buy up decades-old, emissions-spewing buses to cut traffic congestion and carbon emissions. These initiatives are a way to cut the future estimated costs the government will have to make to inevitably tackle smog and air pollution.

Apart from the environmental benefits, public goods contribute to a better standard of life, which leads to a trickle-down effect in many other spheres, which might not be immediately visible, but lead to the development of the city.

This does not mean that the profitability of the BRT project and similar initiatives like Orange Line should not be assessed or criticised; but there ought to be a more comprehensive report on public services, calculating all the benefits that they bring to the people.

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