Government officials heading the Green Line Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) project have rolled up their sleeves to design and plan the additional loop announced by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif last month during the project’s ground-breaking ceremony.
The city’s top architects and planners have been asked to give their input on the Green Line’s connectivity and supplementary transit services for serving the Central District Business (CDB) in Karachi. The Green Line BRT was originally planned to run in segregated lanes, from Surjani Town to Eid Gah intersection on MA Jinnah Road, from where, through a rotary flyover, it was supposed to turn back. The Blue Line BRT, which is supposed to run from Bahria Town, was supposed to take over the route till the Merewether Tower.
But due to delays in the Blue Line, the prime minister announced that the Green Line will be extended all the way to the CDB area. The project, worth Rs16 billion, is being funded by the federal government. Sualeh Ahmed Faruqui, chief of Karachi Infrastructure Development Company Limited (KIDCL), responsible for the building and execution of the Green Line BRT project, is of the opinion that they have to take the project to its logical end, which is Tower. He said if they turned the Green Line back right from Urdu Bazaar, the purpose of the project would not be fulfilled.
EA Consultants Pvt Ltd, which has designed the Green Line for KIDCL, is weighing options to take the Green Line to the CBD. For this purpose, they have come up with several routes.
Dr Muhammad Tahir Soomro of EA consultants, also a former director of Karachi’s mass transit cell, shared extension plans during a brainstorming session on the Green Line’s design last Friday. He maintained that 500,000 people entered the CBD area daily and 550,000 exited every day.
In order to cater to such a vast number of commuters, Soomro proposed the Green Line enter the Saddar area from Kutchery Road all the way to Pakistan Chowk and then through Court Road, touching Sharae Liaquat, come back out on MA Jinnah Road. With this route plan, EA consultants believe the volume of passengers will increase by around 0.2 million people, which will reduce the cost of the government’s subsidy. In this area, the Green Line would run in mix traffic or could be separated by bollards on the road. This route, however, does not sit well with Ashar Lodhi, an operational consultant for both Green and Blue lines. According to him, the cost of each passenger in the bus is Rs150 per journey. If the passenger pays Rs50, he said the government would have to bear the rest as subsidy.
He explained that operating the Green Line BRT in mix traffic would exclude the ‘rapid’ aspect of the project. “If the Green Line is not rapid, you don’t need to construct such expensive infrastructure for it,” he said, adding that the 18-metre-long 24 buses – 12 of Green Line and as many of Blue Line – on II Chundrigar Road would reduce the operating speed.
He said the purpose of BRT will be defeated if passengers are forced to wait at the stops owing to buses being choked in Saddar’s traffic.
Another route under discussion is to take the Green Line all the way to Merewether Tower, with a low height underpass of 1.5 metre at Campbell Street. This route was designed by Exponent Engineering Pvt Ltd for the Blue Line.
Lodhi explained this route on a field trip for journalists arranged by the KIDCL on Tuesday. The Green Line, according to him, could go straight to Merewether Tower, after passing through Jamia Cloth, where MA Jinnah Road becomes one-way. The right of way here is 25 to 30 metres.
Walking on the crowded MA Jinnah Road, bustling with illegal parking, Lodhi explained to members of the academia, architects, urban planners and civil society members who had come to give their input on the ‘all important’ project, that there will be two stations in that loop: one at Boulton Market and the other at Merewether Tower.
He said eight parking plazas could be constructed in the additional loop to make MA Jinnah Road a parking-free zone. Right after Campbell Street, Lodhi proposed that till the Tower, MA Jinnah Road would have to be turned into a pedestrian zone, with the Green Line running in the center at low speed, separated with bollards. This area, according to him, is 1.4 kilometres in length. For traffic that is supposed to go beyond Jinnah Bridge, Lodhi explained that the traffic could run on two parallel roads, Sharae Liaquat and Nishtar Road. He pointed out that without turning these two corridors free of encroachment and parking, the Green Line could not get to its logical end.
After the Tower, he proposed the Green Line turn back from the rotary Jinnah Bridge and return to MA Jinnah Road.
In order to facilitate more passengers, the third plan is to take the Green Line to II Chundrigar Road from Jinnah Bridge, all the way to the General Post Office. Then, from Muhammad Bin Qasim Road, touching the Sharae Liaquat, it will land again on MA Jinnah Road. This plan too does not sit well with most urban planners due to congestion on the route and increased operating speed of the Green Line.
Published in The Express Tribune, March 12th, 2016.