Karachi Mass Transit:
Is it going anywhere?
KMT has been in every government's agenda for decades now. Will the present government be able to change KMT's history of failed revival attempts? Kolachi reviews
By Bilal Tanweer
In the last five years, over 500,000 new vehicles have been added to Karachi's existing traffic of 1.1 million vehicles, while at the same time, public transport infrastructure has not shown corresponding improvement. According to a statement by the City Nazim, Mustafa Kamal, more than 500 new vehicles are added to Karachi's traffic every day.
The primary reason for people's increasing inclination towards private ownership of cars is the lack of an efficient urban transport system. At present 60 percent of Karachi's travellers use public buses for travelling, while there are only 16,000 buses and some 72,000 vehicles (taxis, rickshaws, tongas, et al.) catering to Karachi's commuter population.
Since 1952 to 2006, there have been thirteen studies done on the Karachi Mass Transit (KMT). The latest study conducted with the technical and financial assistance of World Bank in 1990, recommended 87 km Transit Network. This study also identified six priority corridors of high travel demand. Of these, Corridors 1 and 2 have been earmarked for initial implementation. At the same time, a new study to update existing plan is also being undertaken under the auspices of Asian Development Bank which would map out planning for the next thirty to forty years.
A number of proposals are on the table. Among them are elevated Light Rail Transit (LRT), underground LRT and at-grade LRT. However, the emphasis seems to be on the elevated LRT – at least for Corridor-1, on somewhat similar lines as the one constructed in Delhi recently. A Letter of Intent has been issued to Infrastructure Development Consortium (IDC) (a consortium of Pakistani and Chinese firms) for building Corridor-1, and negotiations are in their final phases. It is expected that Corridor-1 would be completed in about three years from the date of commencement.
For Corridor-2, Expressions of Interest were invited and currently proposals are being evaluated. Other corridors will be considered once these two are in implementation phase.
Politics of political will
Despite its dire need and evident importance, a mass transit system in Karachi remains amiss. Each successive government in the past two decades has attempted to revive it but matter has not gone beyond the phase of feasibility study.
On its surface, the issue is indeed complicated because it cuts through a number of other issues which have complications of their own – relocation of katchi abadis, adjustment of existing infrastructure, land issues, transport mafia, administrative issues and most importantly, the tremendous amount of money required for the project. Hence, the vain crusades of the past governments. On a deeper level, however, one is driven to question the commitment and the priorities of the government to undertake daunting but absolute essential projects.
The Director General Mass Transit, Malik Zaheer-ul-Islam claims that the current government is keen and willing to undertake this project. "The most important thing is that there is political will in the present government. The President and the Prime Minister as well as the City Nazim, Mustafa Kamal, are taking a personal interest in the matter and we are making serious progress."
Since the present government has taken power, a number of options have been considered, a number of firms have been approved, Memorandum of Understanding (MoUs) signed, but eventually their preliminary-agreements have been terminated. American Maglev was given a green signal in 2005 but their agreement was silently aborted, because it was 'discovered' that Maglev was not tested on a commercial basis. So was the case with the Chinese CNMEG whose agreement was terminated much later on the revelation that they lacked technical expertise.
"We have to understand that the project is not simple, especially because the government wants to do it in public-private partnership, on a BOT (Build Operate and Transfer) basis, because of the large sum of money involved. It is not like building a flyover where we have the money and the site and we just build it. We are looking for investors who are technically qualified to undertake this project and run it on a long-term basis," emphasises Malik Zaheer-ul-Islam.
Dynamics of time
Time is of central importance in this issue. Karachi's frenzy for private car shopping will not cease until a viable transport alternative is available. And this adds to the problem. With over 500 vehicles being added to road traffic daily, it will become increasingly difficult to implement any Mass Transit plan in the long run. This is also a lesson with the Karachi Circular Railway (KCR). Once an efficient and a profitable enterprise, its revival has become a bane for the government.
Time becomes even a greater issue because of the finances. The construction costs of Corridor-1 exceed $600 million and the project cannot be undertaken except on a BOT basis. This is a painstaking and a long procedure because the negotiations and the nuances of agreement itself could take a lot of time. Besides, BOT usually come at a high price to the end consumer. Nonetheless, it seems that there is willingness and a sense of urgency in the government quarters to implement KMT, which are good omens.
The government is also considering other options like the Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) which are much cheaper, faster to construct, easy to extend and if designed properly, can accommodate as many people as LRT (See Box 3).
Despite the constraints and the problems, it seems that the government is considering various aspects and viewing the matter in a holistic manner. The fundamental importance should be on creating an integrated transport network, wherein each mode of transport serves the need it can serve best. With the news being generated and the present fervour, it is hope that this is the start of the much awaited 'new-beginning' for Karachi and Karachi's residents.
History of KMT and current dynamics
It is important to understand the Karachi Mass Transit Project (KMTP) within the city's unique context. Karachi historically was one of the cities which had an efficient urban mass transit system, which comprised of the Tram System and the Karachi Circular Railway (KCR). The Tram was dismantled in 1975 - a 'mistake' according to the present DG Mass Transit, Malik Zaheer-ul-Islam, who is of the opinion that it should have been upgraded as was done in all the European countries.
KCR, on the other hand, ran successfully because it served the main work areas of the city, connecting them effectively with lower-income residential areas. At its peak during the sixties, KCR was registering profits and was generating as much as 104 trips per day and carrying 500,000 passengers every day. It also became a victim of the administrative negligence and while the city grew and its work and residential areas shifted, there was no upgrading of the KCR. It started to run into losses and was eventually closed in 2000.
In the meanwhile, the commuter population took to buses because bus routes kept pace with the changes in travel patterns. But along with the bus and the bus routes the transport mafia also grew. It designed bus routes according to its own convenience and wishes. Fact: Bus routes in Karachi were last rationalised in 1972. This translates into longer journeys, crowded buses, concentration of vehicles in and around major commuter-generating areas, increased volume of road accidents and traffic jams. An interesting statistic is that while public transport is around 5 percent in the vehicle population, its involvement in fatal accidents is more than 72 percent.
So whatever Mass Transit system is designed, it has to bear in mind the importance and the primacy of the buses and road networks. Means have to be sought to integrate them within larger scheme of improving Karachi's urban transport.
Elevated LRT through Corridor-1
Elevated LRT through Corridor-1 has been fraught with controversy. Arif Hasan, urban planner and architect, claims that it poses a hazard to the built heritage of the city, besides crowding up the already limited road space. There is also a concern about its effectiveness to generate commuters.
An alternative proposition is to revive and extend the existing KCR, which will generate more commuters at fraction of the cost.
The government officials have said that these concerns are being taken into account and it intends to adopt the track to the space: where there is limited road space, there is a single track instead of a double. The LRT is also environmentally-friendly because it will run on electricity.
Alternatives: Bus Rapid Transit (BRT)
Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) is a broad term given to a variety of transportation systems that, through infrastructural and scheduling improvements, attempt to use buses to provide a service that is of a higher quality than an ordinary bus line. Each BRT system uses different improvements, although many improvements are shared by many BRT systems. The goal of such systems is to at least approach the service quality of rail transit while still enjoying the cost savings of bus transit.
An ideal Bus Rapid Transit service would be expected to include most of the following features :
- High-frequency, all-day service : Like other forms of rapid transit, BRT serves a diverse all-day market. Commuter express buses that run only during rush hours are not Bus Rapid Transit.
- Bus-dedicated, grade-separated segregated right-of-way : (separated from all other traffic and dedicated to bus use for almost 70% of the route).
- Such a right of way may be elevated; on rare occasions, the right of way may be a modified rail right of way.
- A bus street or transit mall can be created in an urban center by dedicating all lanes of a city street to the exclusive use of buses.
- Traffic management improvements: Low-cost infrastructure elements that can increase the speed and reliability of bus service include bus turnouts, bus boarding islands, and curb realignments.
- Vehicles with Tram-like characteristics: Recent technological developments such as bi-articulated buses and guided buses have benefited the set up of BRT systems. The main developments are:
- Improved riding quality (guided buses, electronic drivetrain control smoothing the operation),
- Increased capacity (bi-articulated or double decker),
- Reduced operating costs (hybrid electric power train).
Hyderabad's bangle boys and girls
Child labour is rampant in the glass bangle industry of Hyderabad. Where its complete eradication is impossible, steps are being taken to educate the children and provide them with options to better their future
By Adeel Pathan
The glass bangle industry of Hyderabad is one of its kind - not just in Asia but world over for the thousands of children it employs. It is a necessity for these children to work in order to sustain their families and themselves. Not only do these children work on the expense of their childhood, but also their health which can be badly affected because of the nature of their work.
Recently, however a new project was initiated which encourages the children employed in the industry to attend school after work so that education could play its due role in sensitizing the issue.
The local community associated with the glass bangle industry welcomed the project. For them it is a sign of a better future for these children which promises better and skilled jobs.
International Program to Eliminate Child Labour (IPEC) of the International Labor Organization launched the project 'Elimination of Worst Forms of Child Labour' in the glass bangle industry in District Hyderabad which is being implemented by the National Rural Support Program (NRSP). The three-year program was initiated in October 2005 and would end in June 2008.
Currently Non-Formal Education (NFE) is being provided to the child laborers and 108 NFE centers are functioning in the area, educating children between ages 5-14 years. To date, there are 3,296 students enrolled in the centers, among them 1,442 boys and 1,854 girls. "It's only the beginning of a longer and more comprehensive process," Nazar Joyo, the Program Officer reveals adding, "This is an indirect process eliminating child labor from the bangle industry and providing these children with better options for their future."
The syllabus of Non-Formal Education centers was derived from the standard Sindh Text Book Board and certified by the District Government Education Department. Total syllabus duration is 28 months, Classes 1 and 2 syllabuses comprises five months each, whereas from classes 3 to 5 the syllabus is of six months each.
With the consent of local authorities, the Education Department is managing the examinations along with issuing leaving and passing certificates - a unique feature compared to other non-formal teaching institutions.
According to Rubina Fayaz, a teacher who runs an NFE center, initially when she approached families working in the bangle industry, the response was poor. But she wasn't discouraged, "With time not only the number of students has increased but other parents are also approaching us," she says of the centre's success.
It is people like Rubina, whose selfless interest in education for such children is making this project a success. "Parents used to ask me why I was asking them to get their children admitted in the center. They felt that there was personal or monetary interest behind mobilization for education," recalls Rubina, a mother of five.
These Non Formal Centers are situated in areas where people engaged in the bangle making industry reside. Teachers get 2,000 rupees for their efforts and 900 rupees as boarding and electricity charges every month.
Mehnaz a resident of Liaqut Colony studies at one such NFE centers. She also helps her parents make bangles in their house. According to her, "This is the first time I have attended school as I have to help my parents with work. I am happy to be here and I would like to become a teacher myself one day," she hopes.
Another teacher Nabila, who is presently an intermediate student herself, shares her experience with Kolachi, "Parents are interested but their first query is concerning the tuition fees because they can not afford education for their children. When they are informed that there are no fees involved, most willingly send their children to the centers." According to Nabila, it's not only about education but also about interaction; therefore a lot of emphasis is paid on extra curricular activities and games. The standard teaching duration for all centers is 3.5 hours. Timings have been fixed in accordance with the convenience of working children, parents and teachers.
To ensure proper functioning of the centers, the project management closely monitors the centres and field officials make regular visits. The teaching methodologies adopted by teachers are in accordance with multi-grade teaching systems.
According to Sagheer Rajput, a social activist who has been running a center in Paretabad for a year now, says that a comprehensive door-to-door campaign was carried out before starting the center. "We have monthly meetings between parents and teachers so that they can share the problems children are facing and discuss solutions."
"The people of this community have responded well and non-formal education centers are proving to be quite a success. A lot of children from the community are getting non-formal education and change is in the making," says Noor Naeem, Social Organizer of the project.
Project Manager, ILO-NRSP IPEC program Ali Nawaz Nizamani was of the view that child labor in the glass bangle industry of Hyderabad is a direct result of abject poverty, that forces families to employ their children in their ancestral work.
"A District Coordination Committee was formed by the District Government Hyderabad in collaboration with ILO to collect the exact figures of children working in the glass bangle industry and other fields in the district and to compile suggestions and recommendations to minimize this menace," he further states. Positive about the education component of the project, Nizamani says that non-formal education centers should be seen as the first step towards ending the menace of child labor from this indigenous industry.
The project is a welcome and positive step but should not end after the three years of the project. Similarly, the agencies involved should also play their due role towards fulfilling the basic goals of the project.
Education on the whole in our country is unsatisfactory and requires overhauling at all levels. It's high time for education managers to sit and think about provision of education to all. Such projects should be replicated in other areas where child labour is high. Complete eradication of child labour is impossible but steps like these will achieve the target in the best and fastest way possible.
Inadequate health facilities in rural Sindh make medical intervention from the cities a necessity. Kolachi takes a look at one such medical camp that visits interior Sindh and provides a very unorthodox medical service
By Imran Ayub
Rafiq Khaskeli is in town to arrange a doctor's team to be sent to the interior parts of Sindh. Being a social activist organising free medical camps in remote and often inaccessible parts of the province is nothing new for Khaskeli.
But the treatment his team provides is altogether novel and different from other healthcare campaigns. It is not about caring for more obvious rural diseases, nor does it have a remedy for tuberculosis and hepatitis. Neither does it offers a cure for polio and the much-hyped Aids to the people who are condemned to live a life, barely a step ahead of their cattle.
For the last five years the team undertakes tedious journeys to the remotest parts of the province to circumcise Muslim men as old as 30 years.
Professional commitment and social approach succeeds Khaskeli's team to conduct circumcision on more than 12,000 men aged between 18 to 30 years in several weeklong camps.
"We though of this idea in 2001 and finally organised our first camp in 2002," he says. "Since then we have managed to conduct circumcision on over 12,000 children and men in more than 10 districts of the province."
While living in the metropolis, Khaskeli says, one cannot even imagine how difficult circumcision is in interior Sindh, as it is as expensive as one's wedding in the province.
"Poor parents there can't afford circumcision on their sons, as Sindhi customs demand a proper ceremony to celebrate circumcision with a grand meal for the whole hamlet or village, called Bhutt," Khaskeli who leads PASBAN, a youth organisation in Sindh, says.
Such traditions and an urge to serve his people pushed Khaskeli and his friends to initiate these unorthodox camps for which he found contacts in Karachi.
Since 2002 after every few months he normally arranges for a twelve member medical team of doctors and paramedics from Karachi and takes them to different parts of the province as close as Thatta and as far as Tharparkar.
Khaskeli is not very interested in accounting for medical benefits his campaign provides, as he initially decided to arrange these camps to meet Islamic traditions.
But Dr Zafar Iqbal, his friend and a key member of the team, believes the minor surgery is also essential for paternal health.
"Obviously it's a Sunnah and as Muslims, we must follow that," he says. "But it makes your belief stronger when modern medical science proves the practice ordered more than 1,400 years ago is very effective and a cure to several diseases."
A recent study of the United States' National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) reflects his thoughts in which interim review of trial data revealed that medically performed circumcision significantly reduces a man's risk of acquiring HIV.
"The trial in Kisumu, Kenya, of 2,784 HIV-negative men showed a 53 per cent reduction of HIV acquisition in circumcised men relative to uncircumcised men, while a trial of 4,996 HIV-negative men in Rakai, Uganda, showed that HIV acquisition was reduced by 48 per cent in circumcised men," says Dr Iqbal.
The efforts of Dr Iqbal and his friends seem to be paying off. The camp which was initially organised with a single tent in Thana Bulla Khan of Dadu District is now properly publicised in the planned area and registers candidates at least a week before it starts surgeries.
"It is really a very good service particularly in Sindh, where most parents normally wait for their sons to grow up and afford such expenses themselves," said Raza Qureshi, whose three nephews benefited from Khaskeli's camps in Tando Muhammad Khan.
Success of each camp brings new life to Khaskeli and his associates like Dr Iqbal to prepare for the next one but it has sent alarm bells ringing in the typical feudal culture of interior Sindh.
"Initially we couldn't even imagine why one would mind such camps in his area," says Khaskeli. "But later we realised that due to the feudal mindset they (the landlords) feel threatened and don't allow any individual or group to serve their own people and win popularity in their villages."
He recalls a couple of incidents of resistance from local landlords in a few parts of the province but it doesn't seem to shake his confidence.
"We know people need and want such camps, as we convince them these are for their own benefits. A few individuals can't affect this. That's why I am here to make arrangements for our next camp hopefully in April," he says leaving one marvelling at the idea.
Ups and downs
By Sumaira Jajja
Meet Syed Zohaib Ali, a bright, young Karachiite with an attitude that is definitely positive. Working as an assistant production coordinator at a TV channel. It's a young environment. He is often mingling around with youngsters who want to make it big on TV.
Doing well for himself economically Zohaib still has issues. Karachi is not an easy city to live in, even for educated people who earn more than most Karachiites. Imagine losing a mother thanks to the VIP culture of stopping the flow of traffic. It could happen to anyone and it did happen to Zohaib.
Kolachi: Tell us a bit about yourself.
Zohaib: You know my name by now so I can skip that bit. I am 22 years old, pretty much an average Karachi youth. I was born and bred in Karachi while my family hails from Khairpur Miras, in interior Sindh. I am the middle kid, with one elder sister and a younger sister. And as much as I would hate to admit, I have been a pampered kid at home. I have done my Bachelors in Commerce from Karachi University.
Kolachi: What is your job about?
Zohaib: Since I am an assistant production coordinator, my work is pretty diversified. From budgeting to taking care of the censorship as well as getting hold of production equipment to pooling in new talent, I oversee all this.
Kolachi: Describe your average workday.
Zohaib: I get up at 8 am and rush to work. I work in a 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. shift. Once I am home, I watch TV and spend some time with my family and then hit the sack after dinner. As for weekends, Saturday night is spent with friends, watching movies or having a dinner at some place or the other.
Kolachi: What is it about Karachi that you like the most?
Zohaib: I like the nightlife. Also, the food here is fabulous. You can go to an up market eatery or a downtown dhaba and give your taste buds some gastronomic treats. I am a food buff and I can vouch for the fact that no place offers food as good as Karachi.
Kolachi: What are your favourite eateries?
Zohaib: I like Arizona Grill, the steaks there are delicious. Apart from that I really enjoy having Sabri Nihari at Burns Road. As for a nice cup of tea, I highly recommend Cafe Piyala ki chai. It's a small teashop in Nizamabad but it offers the best tea. I would say that Karachi can suffice the gastronomic needs of any man, on any budget.
Kolachi: Since you get to meet so many people on a daily basis, what is your general observation about Karachiites?
Zohaib: I do come across a lot of people not only because of my job but also otherwise and the one thing I have observed is that the people of this city lack patience and flare up on the slightest pretext. Attitude is a major problem in Karachi. I have traveled to Islamabad and Lahore as well, but nowhere have I come across people who are so eager to shout or scream. People here have no patience and fight on the slightest pretext. People end up in fistfights in buses and it's very common to see office mates yelling at one another in trivial issues. Karachi is a fast paced city and there are a lot of pressures on all of us. But one must try to keep cool and calm in situations rather than flaring up. If you think you have problems, then the other person also would be having some issues of his own. Two wrongs never make a right. I wish that there would be an anger management course for all the citizens. Karachi people need to chill. Think about the pleasant things in life, enjoy the small pleasures, learn to smile often and thank Allah for his blessings.
Kolachi: How was your experience at Karachi University?
Zohaib: I wasn't really that regular but I do have some great bunking experiences. KU has people from different socio-economic backgrounds, and the place sure thrives with energy. It was quite an experience.
Kolachi: What is the one thing that needs to be changed in Karachi ASAP?
Zohaib: Something needs to be done about the traffic congestion I have gone through a horrible experience because of this. My late mother was in hospital for her surgery and we needed blood. While my mother was in the OT, I was stuck in a jam at Reagent Plaza due to VIP movement. By the time I got back to the hospital it was late and her surgery had already taken place. I can never forget the pain of those hours. I hope that no one ever has to go through that pain. But sadly, the case is otherwise thanks to manmade problems. A lot of precious time and lives can be saved if the traffic mess is sorted out.
Taking a break from this conversation, Zohaib rushes around the floor trying to wrap up his work. As he settles in his seat, he contemplates that someday he will open up a restaurant in Karachi. "Being a food connoisseur, I would like other people to experience the joy of good food as well". Multitasking, as he greets everyone with a genuine smile and polite demeanour, Zohaib is a positive being. Exhibiting optimism even in the face of troubles, such is Karachi's character.