exacerbates the mess?
they need is commonsense’
institutionally handicapped force
devastating impact of car financing
DIG Khurram Gulzar speaks to Kolachi about traffic problems in Saddar Town
By Gibran Ashraf
The lack of parking spaces for vehicles; small encroachments around the market spaces and encroachment by illegal inter-city bus terminals; high volume of traffic, along with a large number of local bus routes passing through Saddar proper; and the non-implementation of laws such as PC-144 by regular police, are among the main problems which plague Saddar, according to DIG Traffic Khurram Gulzar.
He has also identified the primary reasons for congestions in the Saddar market. The crux of the problem rest with 2.2 million vehicles, including 1.2 million cars and 0.9 million motorcycles, on the roads, while lack of proper parking facilities forces motorists to park their cars on to main roads. This reduces the capacity of the roads. Encroachments is another major problem, he said.
DIG Gulzar lists the powers and duties of the Traffic Police as regulation of traffic flow; issuing tickets to violators of traffic laws and codes; provisioning licences and apprehending violators, such as carriers of fake licences or people driving without a license; checking the fitness of commercial vehicles; and ensuring a clear path for rallies and processions by issuing a traffic management plan.
All of the above mentioned powers side step the problems pointed at earlier. Heavy traffic, as is seen in other Asian mega cities, is a tricky issue. There is no set formula to solve this problem. DIG Gulzar believes that there are just too many cars and not enough road surface. While issuing licences is the job of the Traffic Police, registering cars is not. "Furthermore, the attitude of drivers these days is one of utter impatience. Everyone wants to go first. This causes problems," he said.
The DIG also spoke to Kolachi about problems of traffic and gridlocks on M.A Jinnah and Preedy Street. He pointed out the various forms of encroachment on the roads, including the mechanic and auto-part sellers at Tibet Centre, who have been using the main road as their garage. This severely reduces space on the road for actual traffic. "The City District Government Karachi (CDGK) maintains a department of encroachments which has a small force of its own. Furthermore, they can call on the local police as backup against sterner, more determined offenders. The CDGK and the police, however, have failed to remove encroachments from Saddar," DIG Gulzar said. "Whether the encroachments are coming from small pushcarts or inter-city bus operators who have set up illegal stands now refuse to budge, they are a serious problem."
So serious was the situation, that when one attempt was made to have pushcart encroachers vacate their illegal spots, armed fire fights broke out between the government and the pushcart vendors.
Last year, the then-Karachi Nazim, Mustafa Kamal, came up with the outrageous idea of making Saddar a pedestrian-only area. Planning on this was started and experiments were carried out. The completion of the first dedicated Parking Plaza in the city was part of this programme.
The Sindh government also cooperated by issuing a ban on parking in Saddar for two successive months under Section 144 of the Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC). DIG Gulzar, however, complained that the regular police had failed to do their jobs properly. "When a notification is issued by the government, it should be followed; instead of doing their jobs properly, however, the police have used this law as a pretext to mint money off the unsuspecting public," he said.
Further analysing this step, DIG Gulzar pointed out that the parking plaza built in Saddar was out of the way and far from the major markets, making it impractical. Another problem with the vehicles from being lifted was that Saddar is not a purely business district. A lot of people still live in the area. Whenever a police officer approaches a car about its parking violation, he is told that it belongs to residents and there is no real place for the residents to park their cars anyway. If their cars were to be parked in the parking centre, it would be unfair to them to pay for something that as a resident they have a legitimate right to. Further the inconvenience of a single parking tower would only be occupied by residents of Saddar rather than the hundreds of thousands of shoppers who come to area on a daily basis. A more comprehensive plan would have included setting up more parking plazas throughout the town, and identifying alternative routes for buses that pass through the area.
Moreover, apart from CCTV cameras, troop deployments needed to be reengineered, because the current system and number of traffic police officers is quite low. As a result of insufficient law-enforcement personnel, effective plans cannot be implemented. Vehicles, spotting an unguarded exit, would take routes as and how they deem correct the DIG said. This results in detours in the middle which are the source of gridlocks and jams since they cannot find a proper way out and try finding one on a trial and error basis and get stuck in small lanes.
The solution, DIG Gulzar says, is to increase the traffic police force, so that detours are properly manned at regular intervals to help guide people on the right course. A better communication system will also increase coordination between officers.
With regards to handling of processions, the DIG said that comprehensive traffic plans are drawn up and released in public spaces for rallies which they are informed about beforehand. For the unplanned rallies or incidents like accidents, officers try their utmost to provide the best detours on-the-spot.
Offence Tickets issued
Improper lane usage 548,500
Driving without safety helmets 506,000
Passengers travelling on rooftops 134,000
Reckless and negligent driving 81,000
Improper loading of goods vehicles 76,200
Disobeying traffic light signals and manual 42,000
Overloading goods vehicles over 40,000
Parking on no-parking zones 38,000
Travelling against one-way 37,000
Road obstruction 31,000
Driving without fitness certificate 28,000
Offence Tickets issued
Driving without registration book 21,100
Driving without drivers license 20,000
Driving without route permit 17,100
Pillion riding (more than two on a motorcycle) 17,000
Use of mobile phones during driving 11,000
Carrying passengers on goods vehicles 13,000
Refusal to produce drivers license 5,500
Overloading in public service vehicles 3,300
Failing to stop when required
by the traffic police 3,000
Driving licences revoked 47
By Rabia Ali
There is always a rush of people at Traffic Police's Driving License branch in Clifton, as tense applicants wait impatiently to get the golden ticket in their hands -- a driver's license. The people who pass the oral and written tests, identify the road signs correctly and park cars with perfection to obtain a driver's license, however, have little regard for traffic rules once they are on the road.
Muhammad Malik, a senior superintendent of police (SSP) at the Driving License branch, said that the number of citizens who follow traffic rules is negligible. "The mindset of our people is quite strange. They know what is wrong, but once they sit in the driving seat, they consider themselves as kings of the roads and go on breaking the laws without any fear," he said.
The race for survive has made citizens forget their values, and no one is willing to take responsibility once out on the roads of Karachi. "People are no longer tolerant. There is no fear of breaking signals. Even pedestrians don't follow rules when crossing the road or walking on the footpath. They should all realise that because of this ignorant attitude, people may end up losing their lives," SSP Malik said.
While officials are quick to blame citizens, drivers, on the other hand, point fingers the failed traffic system, which encourages them to disobey rules and break signals. Muhammad Abdullah, a cab driver, who worked in the Middle East for 13 years before coming to Karachi, said that no proper traffic system exists here. "In the Middle East, people are scared of making even one wrong move because cameras monitor them," he said. "Even though big cars reign the road, everyone has to follow the rules. Here, however, a driver can get away with all sorts of things after bribing police constables. Since both, the law-breaker and the law-enforcer are corrupt, the authorities cannot expect citizens to respect laws."
A young motorcyclist, Mohsin Raza, said motorcyclists are often blamed for creating chaos on the street, and are held responsible for road accidents. "Everyone points fingers at us, but we are the worst sufferers when accidents take place. Heavy vehicles hit us and squash us under their wheels," he complained.
One such victim was the 18-year-old brother of Asma, an employee at a private TV channel. "In 2005, I lost my only brother to rough driving. My brother on his motorbike was stalled at Pakistan Chowk when a heavy vehicle came from the opposite side and rammed into the bike, killing him," she said.
To make the system effective, SSP Malik strongly stresses the need for hefty fines and stricter punishments so that people think twice before breaking rules. "The law-breaker escapes easily by paying a meagre Rs50 or Rs100 fine which is why they feel that they do not need to change their ways," he said. For instance, a driver is fined only Rs100 for driving an unfit car, which is nothing as compared to fines in other countries.
Raja Abdul Ghaffar, the in-charge of the Clifton traffic section, said that the government had raised minimum fines to Rs200 in 2008. The scheme was withdrawn, however, after people raised a hue and cry. Now the minimum fine is merely Rs50 and the maximum is Rs500 for usage of cell phones during driving. Other fines include Rs300 for driving without a license; and Rs350 for underage driving. "By charging so little for actions that can result in accidents, the person committing the mistake never mends his ways. We need to have an advanced and computerised system so that track records are kept of every driver. Even minor offenses should be recorded so that he can be warned of consequences," he said.
According to officials at the license branch, an average of around 100 permanent new licenses are issued every day. Since the numbers of drivers and cars seem to be increasing, there is also a need to reintroduce traffic rules, increase fines, create awareness among people, and enhance civic sense, so that an effective system of checks and balances can be built, Ghaffar maintains.
The mega-city jargon, that seems to have become trendy over the past few years, seems to revolve around the concept of mega structures - flyovers, underpasses, expressways and the like. While the state of the road network before the construction of these structures was apathetic, and credit should be given where it is due, newer contradictions in traffic management have emerged out of these developments.
With the construction of flyovers, the city seems to have become even more fast-paced and distances seem to have been reduced, but a number of areas have also become prone to increased and prolonged gridlocks. This dialectic breeds an interesting conundrum for the government: to tackle the root-cause(s) of the issue, or to build more flyovers so as to speed up the flow of traffic in a particular area.
Given the evidence of the last few years, it seems as if the official policy orientation is towards creating more flyovers. The Mustafa Kamal-led city government seemed to have patented flyover construction, but even the Defence Housing Authority (DHA) jumped on board the bandwagon, and launched the Gizri flyover on the premise that commuters would easily be able to bypass the cramped Gizri market.
Notwithstanding the arguments raised by residents of the area in court, the Gizri flyover has given birth to more problems, such as unsystematic criss-crossing of traffic at the exit on the Punjab Chowrangi side, extended gridlocks, and to a certain extent, more volume of traffic that traffic sergeants can handle. Perhaps the flyover should have been constructed over Punjab Chowrangi, rather than stopping short of it.
Encroachments on pavements and roads, as well as the arbitrary stopping of public transportation lead to more gridlocks as well. The intersection opposite Aladdin Park in Gulshan-e-Iqbal is one of the widest thoroughfares of the city, but its impressive character is compromised by public transportation stopping outside Aladdin Park, as well as encroachments further narrowing the road. Chaos is a natural outcome, and the night-time rush even more traumatic.
What is the solution?
The default position of most citizens is to pin the blame for gridlocks on the traffic police, claiming that a manual mechanism of controlling traffic cannot be as efficient as an automated one. While this argument has some merit, what needs to be appreciated is the fact that civic sense seems to be missing from many citizens. When stuck in a traffic jam, many hope to find that little avenue where they could direct their car in the hope of inching forward a little. This mindset breeds problems, not solve them.
Social activists and intellectuals have long lamented the lack of a government-operated public transport system. Proposals to reactivate the Karachi Circular Railway also seem to have gone in cold storage.
Similarly, officials from the traffic police point to the lack of personnel in the force. Naturally, a city of over 18 million cannot be controlled by a few hundred cops, and this is an area which needs reinforcement from the government.
Gizri Flyover, which was opened for the public on January 15 this year after a spate of court hearings, is creating more nuisance than relief, according to traffic police officials
By Saher Baloch
Considering the flow of heavy traffic that comes from Submarine Chowk and Gizri's main residential area, the flyover is just adding to the problem rather than solving it, Saqib Toor, a traffic police constable posted at the site told Kolachi.
"The flyover is just facilitating the people of Defence, as they just have to go from one side of the bridge to another; it is the remaining hundreds of vehicles that have to go adjacent the bridge, who cannot be sorted out. This, in turn, creates a severe gridlock," he said.
Work on the Rs600 million Gizri Flyover project started in February 2007 by the Defence Housing Authority (DHA). Soon after, in early 2008, a petition was filed in the Sindh High Court by residents of Khayaban-e-Hafiz (an extension towards Gizri Road). The residents' stance was that the development of the flyover will make it difficult for them to reach their homes, because those living on the opposite side of the flyover will have difficulty crossing over in a car. It would also reduction property values, and most importantly, the constantly clogged roads will make things difficult in case of emergency.
The 1.66-kilometre-long Gizri Flyover, between Submarine Chowk in Clifton and Khayaban-e-Shamsheer in DHA, was constructed on the premise that it would control the traffic flow coming from various link roads. "Now what happens is that if a bus has to drop a passenger on the right side of the flyover, the driver will take a escape route from under the bridge. As a result, there is a traffic jam every 30 minutes," Toor said, pointing towards a bevy of cars, motorcycles and buses going from the side of the bridge.
Shopkeepers in the area adjoining the flyover say that since heavy vehicles are not allowed on the bridge, most of them take a side route from the commercial area, which halts traffic and makes people think twice before coming to the area. "Most of our customers run out to check on their cars after a minute or two. Alternatively, they are forced to double-park their cars; you can very well imagine what a ruckus it creates," says Shakir Usman, a shopkeeper in the area.
Other problems include the constant digging of the side roads to install drainage pipes for the area. Toor said from the time the project was started, the roads going towards Clifton were dug up intermittently, without anyone inquiring the end date of these small projects. "There's no check and balance of any sort; everyone is free to do as they please, without thinking how many problems we have to go through in controlling traffic," he said.
Pointing at an abandoned debris-clearing vehicle, Toor said that it had been standing there for about five hours and the traffic coming from the flyover was being forced to make way for it. "Because of this, no one will form a queue," he complained.
He added that it would have been better if an underpass had been made instead of a flyover. "It would have made it much easier for the people to go from one place to another; it would have been easier for us to control traffic as well," he maintained. "Building a flyover is not going to serve the purpose unless people follow traffic rules on their own. Traffic comes to a standstill because of encroachment, double-parking and speeding in the wrong lane. It is not just the responsibility of law-enforcers but of the public as well to follow rules and regulations. All they need is commonsense nothing more."
Gizri Flyover promised much in terms of smooth flow
of traffic, but gridlocks at the
A policeman’s travails at Punjab Chowrangi
Resuming his post as a Senior Officer (SO) at Gizri Chowki in December last year, Ameer Minhas thought that the traffic situation at the overly crowded intersection might have improved after the completion of a flyover that was constructed to control the incessant traffic halts. His impression was "corrected" merely minutes after resuming duty.
Minhas believes that the idea of constructing a flyover was mistaken from the beginning. He says that the residents of the area were averse to the idea of a flyover, as there is already a lot of traffic and noise pollution. "Though it was thought that the flyover will disperse the traffic, what it has done as a result is that, now there is a sever gridlock under the flyover as people from the opposite areas want to go to the other side and do not want to take a long route."
He says that the volume of traffic from the four intersections has become unbearable now, as it has become a shortcut route for almost everyone. A lot of traffic has diverted towards this intersection, because it goes directly towards the Saudi Embassy. The situation may be simple for those heading towards Saudi Embassy, but Minhas says that it becomes troublesome when heavy vehicles from Korangi and adjoining areas need to go towards Boat Basin. "This creates a traffic jam which gets difficult to disperse," he said.
Minhas blames most of the traffic problems towards the uncooperative attitude of the commuters and general public. "Either it is a rickshaw Wallah or a Sahab in a BMW, all of them want to be the first one to get out of the traffic, without giving other cars way to go forward. This is not going to solve the problem at all."
Being an intermediate by qualification, Minhas says that anyone planning a flyover needs permission from the residents as well as a consultation meeting with the traffic controllers in the area. "In this case, it was not considered at all, the construction work on the flyover went on even after a court order had been filed restricting it completely." He says that later they were not surprised by the verdict at all.
When he was told that many commuters found it annoying when the traffic police manually control the traffic, he retorted: "Then what should be done? There's no other choice, if someone has a very bright idea to control a bevy of educated yet unaware crowd, I am all for it."
Elaborating on his point, Minhas says that, the timing of the signal is short, which creates a zigzag of jammed vehicles, as no one waits for the whole traffic to pass. "By shutting off the signals, we make sure that traffic from all the lanes is dispersed as clearly as possible."
He says that presently, five constables are deputed at one signal, who work in two shifts, from 7am till 4 in the afternoon, and then from 4 till wee hours of the morning. "We need extra constables around as there is an increasing demand of trained constables in the area who can make informed decisions on the spot."
Giving a solution to the recurring traffic problem that ensues after every few hours at the Gizri intersection, Minhas says that it would be best if the construction of the lanes at the side of the flyover is finished soon and properly. "Another thing that I want to point out is that if people co operate a bit by following the rules, it would be much better for them and for us as well. Because then it will be easier to control the traffic irrespective of the number of vehicles or lanes." — SB
Salis bin Perwaiz writes about the factors hampering the traffic police
The traffic police are sneered at by many, but perhaps few realise that the force is bound by a number of institutional factors - foremost among them being a shortage of personnel, and the factor of "influence."
DIG Traffic Khurram Gulzar is on record, numerous times, as having stated that the force is low in numbers. One of the reasons for this is the fact that many prefer to be inducted into the main branches of the police, rather than traffic, as the latter is not considered as lucrative or rewarding a profession.
A senior officer of the traffic police, who requested anonymity, revealed that the traffic police of Zone-III don't receive their fuel quota, which in turn, hampers patrolling or apprehending of offending vehicles. These are only manifestations of ignoring the traffic wing of the police, and need to be addressed by the government, he said.
The functioning of the traffic police is also hampered by the popular culture of using "influence" to get oneself set free without being penalised. A number of traffic drives have been launched by the traffic police, but the success of these drives is somewhat compromised when offenders use their "influence" - political or otherwise - to pressurise the officer concerned from issuing a ticket or imposing a fine.
Those apprehended by the traffic police also include drivers who have either obtained their license through illegal means, or those who haven't bothered to go through the requisite test to obtain a driver's license. Since a significant number of drivers get away from official procedures in earning a license, many citizens of Karachi have little or no knowledge about traffic laws or conventions, another senior traffic official, who requested anonymity, told Kolachi.
"One can witness a number of accidents and traffic gridlocks every day, but both of these can be significantly reduced if citizens are aware of traffic rules," he said. "For instance, there are conventions of travelling in lanes, changing lanes and even over-taking. Most citizens do not follow these, and choose to drive as they wish. This sometimes results in accidents, and at others, in traffic gridlocks."
Similarly, he said, motorcyclists often succumb to their head injuries, as many prefer not to wear helmets.
Transporters also contribute to the traffic mess of the city, as most drivers are neither well-versed nor educated about traffic laws, and many times, don't even have driving licenses. Whenever the traffic police launch a campaign against these drivers, transporters start creating hurdles for the police, block roads and launch "unfair" protests, the officer maintained.
Given such factors, the officer said, it is no surprise that road traffic accidents are a major cause of all fatal accidents. He said that from January, 2009 till present, pedestrian fatal accidents constituted about 40 per cent of all fatal accidents, which was a tad lower as compared to the past. Similarly, he said, pedestrian non-fatal accidents make up about 34 per cent of all non-fatal accidents.
The high percentage of pedestrian fatal and non-fatal accidents can be attributed to inadequate planning for pedestrians, the officer claimed. He said that such incidents often take place on major thoroughfares which lack pedestrian bridges, while in cases where pedestrian are present, people do not use them. Naturally, they become victims of high-speed vehicles, the officer argued.
"Mini-buses and coaches are responsible for about 15 per cent of all pedestrian fatal accidents. Trucks, water tankers and oil tankers are responsible for 17 per cent of pedestrian accidents, while buses are responsible for 7 per cent. These three categories alone constitute 40per cent of pedestrian fatal accidents," the officer explained.
There are also other needs of the city, which would better cater to pedestrians as well as ensure a more disciplined flow of traffic. "Footpaths are not properly designed to segregate pedestrian space and roads, while at many places, they simply do not exist. Zebra crossing should also be marked by the department(s) concerned, especially on busy roads and intersections, business centres, near schools and colleges etc," he maintained.
By Saad Hasan
Twenty-five-year-old Muhammad Azeem remembers the time when evenings were all about playing cricket. The boys would bat, bowl and field in the small compound of apartment complex in Gulshan-e-Iqbal. At nights they would play badminton. When it rained, it was football. But all that has changed in last few years.
The compound, which served as the playground for children living in the jungle of buildings along Rashid Minhas Road, is now a parking space. Cars of every shape, size and colour fill the whole place now. "It was always used as a parking area," said Azeem, while walking among the cars which were parked one behind the other. "But there was always enough space left for 15-16 children to play outdoor games."
Residents of these apartments, Noman Plaza, are mostly salaried employees in banks, insurance companies and pharmaceutical firms. Till 2000, there were only a few families which could afford a car. But now some have even two or more vehicles.
The economic growth and low interest rate regime which followed year 2000-01, started a furious lending race between the banks. In some cases, loans were extended without taking into consideration the credit worthiness of the borrower.
The excess of leasing companies started financing car purchases, making it easy for people to pay in instalments spread over couple of years. These were the signs of prosperity.
The result has been devastating.
Karachi, with more slums than proper residential facilities, has 2.1 million registered vehicles including cars, rickshaws, coaches and motorcycles.
When money was cheap at peak of economic growth in fiscal year 2006-07, more than 69,000 new cars were coming out on roads in a year. That slowed down to 32,563 in 2008-09. In January 2010, over 177 new cars, 82 commercial vehicles (trucks and pickups) and 550 bikes were registered on average daily basis with the Excise and Taxation Department.
Car financing has almost stopped in last year as banks recover from losses caused by huge non-performing loans. But industry people say it is a matter of time before weak monetary policy allows them to jump in the fray again. Consumer loans offer the best return to financial intermediaries in shape of high interest rates. It would be hard for the bankers to forget the taste of quick money!
The new road network in Karachi will see addition of more vehicles in coming years once the economic growth revives, which in turn, will put the entire infrastructure to test again. Until then, Karachiites would have to learn to bear traffic jams.