In Karachi, a new transport system is in the making. In this metropolis, where absence of subways or metros leaves the citizens with no other inexpensive option than to board the old, rusted passenger buses, finally there may be an alternative which allows them to shun the rickety coaches that take forever to reach one part of the city from another.
Construction is about to start on a dedicated bus lane for the Bus Rapid Transit System (BRTS). The 22.4-kilometre track from Dawood Chowrangi in Landhi to Numaish Chowrangi in Saddar is expected to reduce the travelling time by half in this ever-expanding city. Another couple of months remain in its paperwork but the actual service will become available before 2014.
The city administration – Karachi Metropolitan Corporation (KMC) – thinks the project is imperative, considering the worsening traffic chaos.
“This is the way forward for Karachi,” says Anwer Baig, the director of Karachi Mass Transit Cell (KMTC). “It is the quickest and the most affordable way to travel around a city, which is fast expanding.”
With fuel prices soaring and car parking increasingly becoming a headache, the authorities have shown renewed interest in fixing the public transport system. The BRTS envisages around 200 large articulated buses running on either sides of the road’s green belt at an interval of few minutes.
“The median will be dedicated for buses only and the New Jersey barriers will be placed parallel with the track to stop motorcycles and cars from coming in,” said Baig.
The first BRTS track has been named Yellow Line. Once it is complete, around 13,000 passengers will be using it every hour.
The official said that the success of the project will centre on speed, convenience and privilege. While the average speed of traffic in Karachi is between 14km and 17km per hour, the rapid transit will offer the travellers to travel at 25km to 30km per hour. At present, the public transport buses are the most used medium of commuting but the most disliked also. Passengers are forced to ride atop the buses due to congestion and there are no speed regulations.
The passengers using rapid transit will have some privileges. At many intersections on its route, the buses will get longer “green time” – which means the people in private cars would have to wait at the stops a bit longer.
“We cannot have a dedicated track on the entire length of a route like Sharae Faisal. Rapid transit buses will mix with regular traffic before re-entering the tracks. This is done everywhere in the world but the traffic needs to be regulated at such points,” Baig said.
“Intelligent traffic lights will have to be installed for this purpose,” he said. “The role of traffic police to make [rapid transit] a success remains imperative.”
Too grand for Karachi?
The authorities believe there is every reason to be optimistic. “Many cities around the world are rapidly adopting this solution,” says Baig, who has been associated with the project since its inception.
Previously, many government-sponsored transport projects have come to a standstill. The poor condition of Green Buses and Metro Coaches are an example of the official apathy towards the issue. Even the rapid transit project was conceived a couple of years ago, but no headway were made until recently. But the KMTC director says some things have changed for the better this time.
“We have the Karachi Master Plan 2020 and a separate transportation plan. The Public Private Partnership Act 2010 is already in place, so we have legal cover,” he said. “Things will go smoothly.”
The authorities’ seriousness can be gauged from fact that the KMC is finally inviting expressions of interest (EOI) to carry out a feasibility study of the Yellow Line. An amount of Rs500 million has already been set aside for the rapid transit buses in this year’s budget.
It’s all business
The Yellow Line has been conceived on public-private partnership to make sure government has some role in public transport. According to officials, the cost of the project is estimated at Rs2 billion, which means Rs20 bus tickets would be enough to sustain it. “Any company which runs the system can easily good earn money without pushing up fares,” said another official. “There are 21 stations along the route. They can use them for earning advertisement revenue. There are many other ways to make use of the space.”
The stations will be built at the median of the road and will be four metres wide. Once a bus leaves the station, the median’s width will reduce to 0.75 metres to provide enough space for the buses to run on the roads. Each bus track is 3.5 metres wide.
The stations will be connected to sidewalks with a pedestrian bridge to let people coming from both sides to come onto the platform. The platform will be at an elevation to let passengers easily walk onto the bus without using stairs.
According to initial details, the buses will not be air conditioned, which has been done mainly to keep costs low and the fare within affordable limits. There is one problem, however. “People will have to get used to using the right-side door of the bus,” Baig says. “This means the driver’s side as the platform is in the middle of the road.” A Japanese firm – Japan International Cooperation Agency – has carried out detailed studies for two more rapid transit tracks. Six BRTS have been proposed for Karachi.
Published in The Express Tribune, August 2nd, 2012.