Red line blues: If you get stuck in Karachi traffic, this plan could change your life

Published: March 23, 2015
This is what Karachi's traffic tends to look like around Empress Market. Note how the buses get stuck because they don't have a lane dedicated to them. PHOTO: TRADEKEY

This is what Karachi's traffic tends to look like around Empress Market. Note how the buses get stuck because they don't have a lane dedicated to them. PHOTO: TRADEKEY


You use a car or motorcycle to get to work and it takes you at least an hour to reach home after 5pm. Imagine being able to save on fuel, time and stress by taking a bus that flows through traffic uninterrupted because it has its own dedicated lane? Oh, and it’s air-conditioned and safe and one arrives every two minutes.

This is something called Bus Rapid Transit System (BRTS) and plans are afoot to build it in Karachi for the jugular of MA Jinnah Road, connecting Merewether Tower to as far as University Road.


The ADB-ITDP’s proposed design for the Red line merges with 23 existing bus routes that 45,000 people use daily. The blue lines show how they will all feed into the BRT corridor. PHOTO: ITDP

But wait, you say. I prefer my car and I don’t use that route anyway. Fair enough. But you still get stuck in traffic a lot because Karachi has too many cars and not enough public transport (only 9,000 buses for 22 million people). Imagine a system that would take the pressure off our roads?

But more than that, think of the future. You live in the world’s fastest growing megacity. Experts have estimated that we take 24 million trips a day in the city. Being stuck in traffic is costing us $678 million a year. If we don’t do something now, our economy will suffer. Plus, we will just go mad.

The good news is that the Asian Development Bank (ADB) and an experienced transport group, the ITDP, have designed a dedicated bus lane system for MA Jinnah Road. They unveiled it on March 20. The bad news is that the Sindh government doesn’t want them to build it.

What is the Red Line?

The ADB asked BRTS experts, the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy (ITDP), to make a plan for Karachi. They have been working since August 2014.

The Red line runs from Safoora roundabout, through University Road, and ends at Merewether Tower. Part of it branches out on Sharae Quaideen past Noorani Kebab House. Another branch goes to Landhi from Nursery on Sharae Faisal.


The ADB and ITDP have planned a Red Line for dedicated bus lanes from Safoora Chowrangi to Merewether Tower, branching out on Shahrah-e-Quaideen, past Nursery, along Shahrah-e-Faisal to go to Landhi. PHOTO: ITDP

“We only have one corridor but we include the existing public bus routes,” explained the ITDP’s Yoga Adiwinarto to The Express Tribune. “This uses third-generation BRT design.” Buses can travel outside the BRT corridor and merge with it. This is how the ADB will fold 23 existing bus routes into the system. These routes include the W-11, Marwat Coach and Gulistan.

Transporters will be helped to acquire the new BRT buses. About 1,500 will be needed. The ITDP counted passengers and found that 45,000 people use these 23 routes daily. Adding BRTS could transport 637,000 people because the buses are not competing or maneuvering against cars and motorcycles in traffic and are stopping at stations.

The Red line will have 38 stations which will be so close that people will only have to walk 250 metres to reach one. The engineers planned them according to where they surveyed people actually stop for buses right now.



The ITDP’s ​cross section of what a BRT line will look like at Safoora.


And all these stations will be on the ground, not elevated, to not only preserve open spaces but also cater to people who find it difficult to climb stairs. Other people’s designs are elevated which stand to destroy the beauty of MA Jinnah Road’s heritage buildings. “[At some point on MA Jinnah Road, the space] is 19 metres wall to wall,” explained Adiwinarto. “We hear that the people who want to build elevated structures will take 14 metres.” That leaves just 2.5 metres of space between the elevated structure and the front of the buildings on either side.

The Red line is cheap as it will cost $4 million per km to build compared to a metro, which costs $10 million per kilometre. You can start immediately and it will take a maximum of 24 months. Metro takes a minimum of three years.


The BRT on MA Jinnah road will have stations in red and the spread of the walking access shows in green. Image: ITDP

BRTS is big news these days because several people are racing to be the first to do it. This is a good thing because the city needs mass transit to move the ‘masses’ who need to get around but hopefully the Sindh Mass Transit Authority will be passed in the next Sindh Assembly session and be staffed by qualified and honest people. A regulator is needed to manage all the different entities who are rushing to make Karachi’s BRT. You can’t have four different systems made by four different people.

The ADB-ITDP are not the first people to ever design a BRT corridor for Karachi. This has been going on since 1972. What is different this time, though, is that they have fixed a lot of the problems old designs had. It merges with existing bus routes, proposes public transport reform, parking solutions and urban renewal.


This is what BRT looks like in Bogota, Colombia after mayor Enrique Penalosa removed cars. He was nearly impeached for trying. PHOTO: ITDP​


And so, even though this is a good plan, which incidentally Karachi urban planner Arif Hasan backs as well, the Sindh government has not decided to use it. “We had a long dialogue with the ADB,” said transport secretary Taha Farooqui on March 20. “It offered to build and finance [BRT] but the Sindh government has decided that it will use its own resources and do it through international tendering.”

Published in The Express Tribune, March 24th, 2015.

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Reader Comments (17)

  • Imran Qadri
    Mar 24, 2015 - 1:29AM

    Swedish Scania Green A/C buses that were introduced in 2002 during Ex Nazim Niamat Ullah era were also like these BRTS metro buses, only difference was that they didn’t had dedicated track which is the main feature of Bus rapid transit.Recommend

  • Asad S
    Mar 24, 2015 - 6:30AM

    Sindh government wants to build this themselves and do corruption as always.Recommend

  • Zuhair
    Mar 24, 2015 - 9:55AM

    What is wrong with Sindh government? Why are they not developing Karachi? Overpopulated city needs a reliable, good transit system. This must be done. I know it is far from even getting slightest consideration, but it will be great if rapid train transit is developed covering major areas in Karachi. Recommend

  • pak47
    Mar 24, 2015 - 10:31AM

    Karachi is the biggest city in the country with over 20 million people. It needs Metro Rail not Buses.Recommend

  • urooj saifi
    Mar 24, 2015 - 11:07AM

    @pak47: and buses – metro rail will not reach everywhere.Recommend

  • Azm Dar
    Mar 24, 2015 - 11:39AM

    the reason we can’t get a metro rail is because we don’t have enough money and NO ELECTRICITY ! Recommend

  • Hatim
    Mar 24, 2015 - 12:45PM

    @Azm Dar And the reason we don’t have enough money is corruption.Recommend

  • N.Sid
    Mar 24, 2015 - 1:02PM

    I would love to have dedicated pedestrianized zones, boulevards in Karachi where only BRTS is allowed and cars are banned. Just what the mayor of Bagota has done in the city. A bus carrying 90 passengers has more right of way than say a car carrying just 1 person.
    Embark lot of places like I.I Chundrigar road as a car free zone with just BRTS. Back lanes can be used for cars not on a daily basis, but as a car pool, like in Singapore. Recommend

  • Hammad Siddiqui
    Mar 24, 2015 - 2:43PM

    Karachi needs a mass transit system.
    It must be built as quickly as possible. Recommend

  • Aijaz Hussain
    Mar 24, 2015 - 4:10PM

    Sounds like a good plan. Something that is very much needed. How do we Karachiites convince our “elected” government that this is what WE want and need?Recommend

  • Zubair
    Mar 24, 2015 - 5:59PM

    Sounds like a plan but to make it more sustainable and cost effective, they need to look into the Dubai Metro as a template. Buses will do well but trains will do better with shorter departure timings and more passenger capacity. Let’s hope this plan manages to see the light of day.Recommend

  • M.Babar
    Mar 24, 2015 - 5:59PM

    plzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz do it… it takes 2 hours to reach from tower to NED uni.. we people of old town, kharadar, saddar town would be glad.. if it is done :) plzz …It is much required development in these areas as every project is concerned on other areas… These areas are initial areas and they should not be neglected! Recommend

  • M.Babar
    Mar 24, 2015 - 6:15PM

    and yes What I was thinking about is same as you are thinking… ! Every thing will hide on M.A jinnah road..! so instead of constructing elevated metros this is more good idea… !Recommend

  • Ahmad Mirza
    Mar 24, 2015 - 6:33PM

    Rejecting the best and getting the worst try googling “Karachi Circular Railway”Recommend

  • Lobster
    Mar 24, 2015 - 6:41PM

    With Qaim Ali Shah at helm and usual corruption, nothing good can come to Karachi (or Sindh)!Recommend

  • Haroon Rashid
    Mar 24, 2015 - 9:12PM

    Today world is producing ITS (Intelligent Transport System) technology under UN umbrella. We should essentially punitive car tax by the authorities for registration, and running of the car. Collection of toll charges in peak hours practise worldwide, to collect revenue, and divert traffic from peak hours rush. Toll collection can be managed by technology under GSM umbrella, very practical, effective. Unless Driving License Fee, procedure, obtainment, Car taxation, is heavily taxed by Toll Charges, this will not stop. We don’t even have foot path to run the car in Karachi. Please tax the car driving. Recommend

  • Naveed Sethi
    Mar 25, 2015 - 1:02PM

    Shame on this SINDH GOVERNMENT. Recommend

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