KARACHI : 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.
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.
“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.
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.
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.
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.