Will Karachi finally have a mass transit system?

Published: May 11, 2015
A total of 15 cities started BRT operations in 2010, 49 have BRT under construction while 31 are starting to plan. PHOTO: pcq.com.pk

A total of 15 cities started BRT operations in 2010, 49 have BRT under construction while 31 are starting to plan. PHOTO: pcq.com.pk

The rapid global urbanisation phenomenon brings with it problems of urban congestion and mobility. A major contributor to the growing chaos and degradation in Karachi is the city’s failure to put in place a mass transit system to cater to a population now ranging anywhere between 20 and 30 million people.

According to estimates, 60 per cent of Karachi’s 24.2 million daily trips are realised through the existing buses and motor rickshaws. Meanwhile, the number of registered public buses has declined from 22,313 in 2011 to 12,399 in 2014. However, after working with various ideas, it would appear that there is finally hope that Karachi may now actually get to experiment with its first public mass transit system – the Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) model.

The BRT system was first proposed for Karachi in the ‘Public-Private based environmental friendly public transport system for Karachi (2006)’. Subsequently, the Asian Development Bank (ADB) took over the BRT projects as a part of the Megacity Project and identified three priority corridors. However, the ADB withdrew the BRT project in 2007.

The Karachi Transportation Improvement Project (KTIP) was later conducted by the Japan International Cooperation Agency (Jica), in collaboration with the Karachi Mass Transit Cell (KMTC) of the city government. After the master plan stage, Jica selected two BRT corridors, namely the Green Line and the Red Line.

As it now stands, the status of the BRT lines is following different funding and management models. In the Yellow Line, a public private participation (PPP) model is proposed through a consortium. In the Blue Line, again there is a PPP model with an unsolicited proposal being made by Bahria Town. In the Green Line, there is public sector funding for infrastructure only. In the Red Line, the ADB is willing to provide a loan for detailed design, implementation and integration of the network.

In terms of BRT development, the planning is now split into two phases. In Phase 1 (Red), the planned network runs from Safoora roundabout to Tower at MA Jinnah Road through University Road, with a branch extended on Sharae Quaideen Road to accommodate integration with the proposed Yellow Line. In Phase 2 (Blue), it runs from Landhi Road to Nursery through Sharae Faisal.

The case for BRT

The BRT is considered a high-quality bus-based transit system that delivers fast and cost-effective services at metro-level capacities. It operates through the provision of dedicated lanes, with busways and stations that are normally aligned to the centre of the road, off-board fare collection and frequency in operations.

Since the BRT contains features that are to some extent similar to a light rail or metro system, it is considered a more reliable and faster mass transportation mode than regular bus services.

A BRT bus, in terms of carrying capacity, is equal to 125 cars. In terms of cost of construction and maintenance, too, this mode of public transit is cost-effective as compared to other mass transit systems.

The city of Curitiba, Brazil, introduced this system in 1974 and also became the first successful case of BRT in the world. However, the most successful and innovative BRT system is considered that of Bogota, Columbia, known as the TransMillenio, which was introduced in the year 2000 and can cater to 43,000 passengers per hour in each direction. The average capacity is considered to be 13,000 passengers per hour per direction.

Since the 2000s, the BRT system has been introduced in a number of cities in the world, including Taipei, Seoul, Jakarta, Beijing, New Delhi, Istanbul, Lima and Bangkok.  Presently, an average of 27 million people  — 1 per cent — of the global urban population use the BRT each day. A total of 15 cities started BRT operations in 2010, 49 have BRT under construction while 31 are starting to plan.

While the BRT system bodes well for Karachi, it is imperative that lessons learnt from the unsuccessful experimentations made in the metropolis in the past are made an essential part of the planning process so that plans and designs on paper find a viable and sustainable space on the ground through effective implementation.

Farhan Anwar is an urban planner and runs a non-profit organization based in Karachi city focusing on urban sustainability issues

Published in The Express Tribune, May 11th, 2015. 

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Reader Comments (17)

  • Humza
    May 11, 2015 - 2:18AM

    It’s funny how people in Pakistan with little knowledge were bad mouthing bus rapid transport just a few months ago. I suppose the success of Lahore’s transport system has made writers realize that this model advocated and tested in cities long for a while now. I went on Lahore’s Metro Bus and I can say it has transformed transport for the better in that city.Recommend

  • syed & syed
    May 11, 2015 - 3:26AM

    Government sponsored Bus Syndicate/service proved failure in the past and Karachi is falling in the same trap.. The first mistake was removal of tramway system for the sake of iron track. Secondly why circular railway has been breezed perhaps the land is taken by waders and big guns. Why can Pakistan not have an under ground railway service called metro in many countries. Will Chief Ministers of provinces consider this proposal or as usual fill their pockets from kickbacks to purchase buses and building under passes and high ways.Recommend

  • Asad Shairani
    May 11, 2015 - 10:45AM

    Nothing is happening in Karachi till a local government system is implemented and continued. The corrupt provincial government which doesn’t get a seat from Karachi has no interest in solving its problems whatsoever.Recommend

  • Hussain Ali
    May 11, 2015 - 10:53AM

    A new bus transit system will not be implemented until the existing transport mafia is involved with the decision makers. Government has been failing in formation of a proper transit system since 1971’s Free Transport Policy. This policy is what we know as a minibus. They failed to maintain the Karachi Circular Railway and in 1999 it shutdown after being pressurized by the mafia. The transport department has always put the citizens of this city in a shame.

    Niamatullah Khan’s ‘Green bus project’ ended with his reign and Mustafa Kamal’s CNG buses were molested by ‘na maloom afraad.’ In 2007, government banned two stroke rickshaws and a new era of CNG rickshaws started. Currently about 60,000 rickshaws are on our roads. The un fit rickshaws are running bombs and are too dangerous.

    These CNG rickshaws weren’t enough so in 2009 a new sort of hybrid vehicle started to appear. A carriage welded with a motorcycle known as chingchi started to take over. The mafia grew so strong that now government cant even regulate them. Sindh Highcourt banned these chingchis and owners of this cheap took out rallies and protested. High court had to take the decision back. Sigh! Recommend

  • Ridwan
    May 11, 2015 - 11:39AM

    There are way too many stops in this BRT proposal. They need to cut the station number in half so that the bus can be fast. Even that will be a generous number. These should be thought of more like metrorail/subway stations rather than bus stops.Recommend

  • Zain
    May 11, 2015 - 12:03PM

    I hope it is acted upon. Getting rid of ‘chinchis’ and overstuffed minibuses will be a relief to the citizens. Secondarily it will aesthetically good. Recommend

  • Farid M Mahmood
    May 11, 2015 - 12:03PM

    Are you kidding? Karachi already has Mess Transit. It is called Ching Cheeee in local language.Recommend

  • ZAK
    May 11, 2015 - 12:23PM

    BRT for Karachi is need of hour.

    Sindh Govt must work on it seriously.

    Allow no room for corrupt officials.Recommend

  • AsR
    May 11, 2015 - 1:00PM

    Bring Mustafa Kamal back if you want to have such great project in Karachi.Recommend

  • Khurram
    May 11, 2015 - 1:10PM

    as long as we have PPP in government don’t expect anything good for Karachi. As they have an excuse for everthying but not any solution. On the other hand their behavior towards karachi is the same as Narinder Modi with the Indian Muslim.Recommend

  • John
    May 11, 2015 - 2:23PM

    Mate,he cant come back,remember he quit MQM?No one wants to end up like late Dr Imran Farooque,Azeem Tariq or in a gunny sack.Leave him where he is,he is safe there.Recommend

  • Hammad Hayat
    May 11, 2015 - 3:07PM

    BRT has its value with respect to KCR, Alone BRT would be a failure for me.Recommend

  • armughan
    May 11, 2015 - 4:48PM

    Hamza and people who likes to compare Lahore with Karachi, please step out from your lala land. the population size, demographics, political system, every single thing is different from that of Karachi so there can never be 2+2=4. Karachi doesnot need a bus transport system. It needs a railway or an overhead monorail system. System which runs “parallel” to the already suffocating traffic of Karachi. Mini buses are the primary source of that issue. Every metropolis in the world has multiple ways of commuting in the city. Why don’t we have one. That is how it should work to sustain the traffic for the next 40-50 years ahead from us. Nothing is impossible, especially when you have a fraction of $46billion in your pocket from your friends ;)Recommend

  • Morons
    May 12, 2015 - 5:33AM

    All those people who think that BRT is not for Karachi, please think over. A railway solution requires extensive infrastructure which cannot be afforded due to population boom in congested areas. Also, we don’t have reliable fueling options for railways, whether it be combustible or non-combustible. BRT, on the other hand, requires minimal setup interruption and is something which ADB is ready to fund (probably due to lower cost). Besides, the current transport mafia can be curbed by giving them employments in a transport medium which they are used to.Recommend

  • Usman
    May 12, 2015 - 7:26PM

    Sind Government is the most corrupt government. Recommend

  • Xoheb
    Jun 10, 2015 - 7:49PM

    I fail to understand as to why the existing KCR track cannot be utilized as the BRT’s pathway. Why try to reinvent the wheel? Recommend

  • syed & syed
    Jun 11, 2015 - 1:56AM

    @ZAK:; Not only officials but the drivers, cleaners and garrage walas all involved in selling tyre / tubes, batteries and parts. Bus service is not the answer. Have circular train service and underground rail track Recommend

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