The plans for transport to a gated community off the Super Highway are just as spectacular as the real estate project itself. The developer has enlisted global experts to design the route that will connect Merewether Tower to Sohrab Goth where the project sits.
This route is called the Blue line, which was designed by the Japanese when they came up for solutions to Karachi’s traffic woes in 2010. The Blue line is meant to be BRTS or bus rapid transit in which a cordoned-off strip is dedicated to fast-moving buses in the middle of the road. BRTS, or the ‘jangla bus’ as it is known in Lahore, is internationally accepted as the cheapest and most effective way to move thousands of people.
The Blue line is just one of several lines designed around the old Karachi Circular Railway system. Other international groups have been visiting Karachi to prepare feasibility reports. The ITDP in Indonesia has been exploring the Yellow line and the ADB is said to be looking at the Red line.
Bahria Town’s interest in the Blue line is understandable given that it cuts through the city. It has proposed to the Sindh government that it will pay for this line. But as the project is a big one, the Sindh government has to open a bid. In the meantime, however, Bahria is already designing it, “so work could start immediately just in case the government gives the go-ahead tomorrow,” according to Ashar Lodhi of the local consultant Exponent Engineering.
Bahria Town has brought on board the people who created the world’s most famous BRTS line, TransMilenio in Bogota, Colombia. On Tuesday, an intelligent transport systems expert, Adriana Palacio of consultant GSDplus, spoke at NED University. TransMilenio is owned by the people in Bogota and has become a part of its culture, she said. “This is Karachi’s BRT system,” she argued. “It should be branded according to the city.”
Palacio is helping design the technology for fare collection, ticketing and fleet management among other elements for the Blue line. “You can have a smart card,” she told The Express Tribune on Monday. “We have to see how comfortable people are with technology.” A passenger needs to only touch or hover the card over the reader to pay and get on the bus. They can then recharge it at the ticketing booths. No swiping will be needed.
“We found in Bogota that people on average tended to pay for 2.5 trips,” she had explained. So if in Karachi one trip will cost, say Rs30, people are expected to give Rs75 each time they recharge their card. The smart cards can be blocked over a helpline if stolen.
Palacio will be working on a passenger info system, one that gauges when the next bus should come and a bus docking system. One concern is coordinating with the other parties that might be building the other lines in Karachi. “Integration is not just about convenience,” she said. “We need to work more on it because without it, the system wouldn’t work at all.” If the Green line intersects with the Blue line at Gurumandir, for example, Bahria’s team would ideally want to integrate the IT systems so buses don’t smash into each other.
Palacio listed other elements for the BRTS such as a website, a call centre for complaints and information and a surveillance system. Given that service and safety are high priorities, Lodhi said that they will push for a BRTS police as mentioned in the new Sindh Mass Transit Authority law. The violence that broke out in Lahore when people attacked the Metrobus is a concern in Karachi. “That is why [the Blue line] will be elevated,” explained Lodhi. When questioned about the historic buildings along Bunder Road, he said: “Can we afford not to make it.” The ultimate solution would be to turn the road pedestrian and ban cars but it is unlikely any political party will be able to take that pressure.
Former Bogota mayor Enrique Penalosa will be speaking at NED as well.
Published in The Express Tribune, March 18th, 2015.