Raza Habib Raja
Right now the issue which is consuming many on the social media is the privatization of PIA. Many are angry that PIA is being privatized including those who have always castigated it in the past for being substandard in fact often preferring to fly on foreign airlines.
Suddenly, the way media has been projecting this issue in the spotlight has made PIA a darling of many. Some are also comparing losses of Metro bus project with that of PIA and using that to argue against the privatization of the latter.
On the surface, it is easy to make a claim that if PIA is in losses, then so is Metro Bus and therefore our criteria should be similar. Either both should be privatized or alternatively kept under government ownership. However, this is over simplistic and completely false analogy.
Airline is an elite way of travelling whereas Metro Bus comes under the bracket of urban mass transit. Both are completely different.
To give a proper perspective, in USA which is more of a capitalist country, most of the urban mass transit projects are in operating losses. However, since mass transit is a public good and it benefits a large number of people on a daily basis, therefore government is ready to bear losses. Yes, in theory you can privatize that also but most of the time governments do not do that mainly because private sector won’t be able to bear losses and will eventually have to cut routes drastically in order to remain viable. In fact urban mass transit is so expensive to set up that generally only governments can undertake that kind of investment. In short urban mass transit is where there is some rational sense for the government to bear losses.
On the other hand, airlines are a separate issue. World over airlines are owned privately or by global conglomerates. Yes, many countries have publicly owned airlines also but either they are rich enough to sustain losses or their owned airlines are not overstaffed and inefficient.
Now let’s come to PIA. It is overstaffed, inefficient and running into huge losses. Furthermore it is not even benefiting a huge mass of people other than a few thousand employees who would naturally want to retain their perks and privileges. Those who travel of PIA come from affluent class and they can continue to travel on it even after its privatization.
I fully admit that present government is as much of a guilty party in mismanagement of PIA but at some point we have to rectify the problems. Partial privatization is one way of doing that. Rather than opposing it without any proper logic, our job should be to ensure that PIA employees should be properly compensated and the privatization process is kept open and transparent.
The amount which government is spending on sustaining a while elephant like PIA ( which is not even benefiting a large number of people) can be spent somewhere else and in a much more productive manner. In fact ever since the launch of Metro Bus project, I have constantly heard -mostly from PTI supporters- that the money could have been spent on education and health. In my opinion the case for diverting the money to health and education from a white useless elephant like PIA is way more stronger! I am surprised that they are not using the same logic.
With respect to Metro Bus, I agree that the project could have been designed better and in a more cost efficient manner or that price should be raised to make it sustainable. However, if its ticket price is raised too much then the entire purpose of the project is lost. By its very nature, urban mass transit projects often have to bear losses. These are not designed to be financially self-sustainable because the central objective is to benefit a large number of lower income people and also reduce traffic congestion. In some ways, it is like a government subsidy.
A project like Metro Bus enables ordinary people to save a substantial amount of money in daily commute. This may not benefit government directly ( as the Metro is operating under losses) but nevertheless helps the economy by improving the purchasing power of the ordinary people. Yes, this fact can not be appreciated or even understood by many of my friends who come from affluent class and therefore their criteria to measure Metro Bus and PIA is the same. In reality comparing the two is completely meaningless.