Trans­port plans for Karachi

The Pak Banker - - EDITORIAL - No­man Ahmed

IN the name of de­vel­op­ment, Pak­istani cities are ex­pe­ri­enc­ing a sur­gi­cal trans­for­ma­tion in the ur­ban land­scape. Af­ter the com­ple­tion and launch of the first sec­tion of the La­hore Bus Rapid Tran­sit (pop­u­larly called jangla bus by or­di­nary folk for its ded­i­cated right of way), swift ini­tia­tives are un­der way to launch sim­i­lar projects in other cities. Karachi is all set to 'ben­e­fit' from this so-called uni­ver­sal recipe ad­dress­ing the trans­port and com­mut­ing chal­lenges faced by the city's over 20 mil­lion res­i­dents.

Be­fore we re­view the pros and cons of what is called the Karachi Mass Tran­sit Mas­ter Plan (KMTMP) 2030, it would be ap­pro­pri­ate to ex­am­ine the present sit­u­a­tion. Ever since the clos­ing down of the Karachi Trans­port Cor­po­ra­tion and Karachi Cir­cu­lar Rail­way in 1996 and 1999 re­spec­tively, there has been no fo­cused ef­fort to fa­cil­i­tate the in­creas­ing com­muters in this sprawl­ing me­trop­o­lis.As per a re­port by a se­nior Karachi po­lice of­fi­cial a few months ago, the num­ber of op­er­at­ing buses, minibuses and coaches on in­tracity routes is in the vicin­ity of 8,000 - a ridicu­lously low fig­ure when com­pared to the con­ser­va­tive tally of the 24.2 mil­lion work trips per day.

Qingqis and larger edi­tions of CNG rick­shaws pro­vided some re­lief un­til they were or­dered to sus­pend op­er­a­tions for safety rea­sons. Frus­trated by the in­ac­tion on the part of au­thor­i­ties, or­di­nary peo­ple of the city re­sort to two-wheel­ers. Whereas the city has over 1.8 mil­lion mo­tor­bikes - as con­cluded by a study - it is not con­sid­ered the best trans­port so­lu­tion. Pub­lic-sec­tor in­put and in­vest­ment in the trans­port sec­tor has mainly fo­cused on con­ges­tion-re­lief projects in­clud­ing grade-sep­a­rated fly­overs, un­der­passes and sig­nal-free cor­ri­dors. But with­out any ad­di­tion to the pub­lic buses and minibuses, th­ese roads be­came to­tally congested, dom­i­nated by pri­vate cars that in­creased at the phe­nom­e­nal rate of over 600 per day. Bil­lions of ru­pees have been spent in pub­lic-funded projects with­out com­men­su­rate ben­e­fit to the cit­i­zens.

The Lyari Ex­press­way, a poorly de­signed and in­ap­pro­pri­ately ex­e­cuted scheme, alone has ac­counted for around Rs13 bil­lion with­out any com­pa­ra­ble ad­van­tage to the city. Traf­fic jams, in­ci­dences of road rage due to in­ef­fec­tive traf­fic man­age­ment and cal­lous driv­ing at­ti­tudes have re­sulted in fa­tal ac­ci­dents, loss of re­source and the com­muter's time. An in­crease in psy­cho­log­i­cal dis­or­ders among road users and passersby has been ob­served.

Keep­ing alive its tra­di­tion of com­ing up with high-spend­ing grandiose schemes, the com­bine of the fed­eral and pro­vin­cial gov­ern­ments, donors in­clud­ing the Asian De­vel­op­ment Bank, and a well-known realtor of the coun­try have joined hands to have a Bus Rapid Tran­sit plan for Karachi. Ninety-two kilo­me­tres of six BRT cor­ri­dors, 43km of re­vi­talised KCR and 41km of rail-based rapid tran­sit on three cor­ri­dors con­sti­tute the core hard­ware to be de­liv­ered through this plan. The es­ti­mated cost of this mega ven­ture is around Rs160bn. The plan would re­quire enor­mous ad­just­ments in ex­ist­ing ser­vices and land use. For ex­am­ple, small- to medium-scale evic­tions of set­tle­ments, busi­nesses and struc­tures of mul­ti­ple cat­e­gories would be needed to en­sure right of way. In many cases, the ex­ist­ing fly­overs, road shoul­der spa­ces and green belts will be de­stroyed, par­tially or com­pletely, by the pas­sage for the BRT cor­ri­dor.

Shahrah-i-Sher­shah Suri, the cen­tral road in North Naz­imabad with a spa­cious green belt, would be re­duced to a frac­tion of its width. The is­sue of the re­sult­ing traf­fic con­ges­tion on ex­ist­ing roads, in­te­gra­tion of mul­ti­ple BRT lines un­der mul­ti­ple spon­sors, the link­age of ex­ist­ing modes of trans­port, the chal­lenge of ju­ris­dic­tional co­or­di­na­tion and cost re­cov­ery of this colos­sal in­vest­ment, fare lev­els and the cost bur­den on com­muters, emerg­ing land use is­sues and the ur­ban man­age­ment re­sponse are im­por­tant mat­ters that should be stud­ied and re­solved, be­fore any step is taken to im­ple­ment the plan.

A ca­pa­ble and rea­son­ably in­de­pen­dent man­age­ment au­thor­ity is also needed to man­age this com­plex ser­vice with mul­ti­ple own­ers, in­vestors and stake­hold­ers. Dis­ap­point­ingly, the Sindh Mass Tran­sit Au­thor­ity, cre­ated for this task, is evolv­ing at a slow pace. From the ci­ti­zen's per­spec­tive, the ques­tions re­lated to com­mut­ing op­tions are very dif­fer­ent. Many of them have not been ad­dressed through the KMTMP 2030. Scores of stud­ies by in­de­pen­dent re­searchers have shown that there are many mea­sures that must be taken.

Th­ese in­clude: af­ford­able fare lev­els; the seg­re­ga­tion of fast-mov­ing through traf­fic from neigh­bour­hood­bound lo­cal traf­fic; ad­e­quate spa­ces for pedes­trian move­ment; suit­able lo­cal roads for in­ter­nal con­nec­tiv­ity and bi­cy­cles; regulation of freight traf­fic and large ve­hi­cles; an in­crease in the num­ber of buses; the al­lo­ca­tion and cre­ation of car and mo­tor­bike park­ing spa­ces; in­te­gra­tion of non-mo­torised trans­port; reg­u­lar re­pairs and car­pet­ing of roads; proper il­lu­mi­na­tion of streets; main­te­nance of bus stops; and en­sur­ing an im­prove­ment in driv­ing at­ti­tudes.

In other words, sev­eral short- and medium-term ac­tions are needed with­out de­lay. Com­plex prob­lems can be re­solved through a com­bi­na­tion of sim­ple so­lu­tions. KCR can be re­vived by start­ing a train ser­vice in the morn­ing and evening peak hours by op­er­at­ing some half a dozen trains be­tween Pipri and City Sta­tion on the ex­ist­ing tracks. This ser­vice will be able to at­tract city-bound pas­sen­gers from Gul­shan-i-Hadeed, Steel Town, Landhi, Malir, Ko­rangi and Shah Faisal Colony. If aligned with lo­cal minibus and CNG rick­shaw routes, this op­tion can pro­vide use­ful re­lief to res­i­dents who spend hours on the congested Sharea Faisal/Na­tional High­way dur­ing peak hours.

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