Everyone living in Karachi is familiar with the problems one has to face while commuting, especially during rush hour, when traffic jams are a norm. Being stuck in a traffic jam is not only a waste of time but increases stress and exposes one to air pollution. A number of measures have been suggested to ease the traffic mess on the city’s roads, like signal-free corridors, flyovers and underpasses, etc.
Last year at a seminar held in Karachi, representatives of the Japanese International Cooperation Agency (JICA) suggested the need for a high-quality bus-based transit system for Karachi to meet its transportation requirements; the suggestion was based on their two-year study of Karachi’s transportation system. Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) is an effective transportation system for reducing traffic congestion. It is used in many cities around the world, such as Bangkok and Delhi.
Karachi must opt for BRT as suggested by the JICA. But since that would take a long time to complete, some interim measures are suggested to ease traffic congestion in Karachi; these are also aimed at automotive air pollution control.
In Karachi, the major factors which contribute to traffic congestion include roadside parking (even double parking), absence of proper road marking which prompts people to switch lanes aimlessly, plying of heavy duty vehicles during peak hours, buses and minibuses stopping in the middle of the road and at the intersections to pick and drop passengers, long pick and drop time of buses and minibuses blocking the flow of traffic, misuse of footpaths by shopkeepers that force pedestrians to walk on the road, jaywalking, use of right hand side lanes by vehicles maintaining relatively low speed, absence of car pooling, and non-synchronisation of traffic signals especially the ones that don’t efficiently respond to the volume of traffic flow. Added to this is the abnormal increase in the number of cars, due to the absence of a decent mass transport system.
Bangkok, which can be compared to Karachi, in terms of volume of traffic, has been fairly successful in solving traffic congestion problem. This is mainly due to adequate bus system and sky trains. Traffic laws are less violated, drivers are disciplined and people do not unnecessarily switch lanes. Besides, the officials of the Bangkok transport department frequently undergo training programmes in the transportation engineering division of the Asian Institute of Technology.
A visit to the Saddar area in the evening reveals the extent of automotive air pollution. The key aspect of vehicle emissions control is proper engine tuning and maintenance. Experience shows that qualified mechanics and workshops for this purpose are limited in number and expensive, while the cheaper ones carry out improper tuning, due to which people avoid getting their vehicles tuned, which, in turn, contributes significantly to air pollution. Establishment of government-controlled, low-cost workshops, run by qualified mechanics, backed by appropriate strategy, would get a highly encouraging response from vehicle owners.
A menace, which contributes to auto-related air pollution, is the availability of adulterated fuel; this needs to be checked. Another important factor, not known to many people, is the corrosion of underground fuel tanks at some petrol pumps. This leads to two-fold problems: presence of fine metal particles in the fuel and mixing of water with petrol.
The exhaust pipe of buses, minibuses, trucks and other heavy-duty vehicles should be at the rear end of the vehicle. At present most of the buses in Karachi have their exhaust pipes on the side of the bus, which pumps emissions directly into the adjacent vehicles. Further, the exhaust pipe should extend (from the rear) to the top of the bus. The vertical protruding pipe will discharge smoke upwards. Research has shown that it profoundly helps in efficient diffusion and dispersion of emissions into the atmosphere. The suggested system is all the more important in case of Karachi, as high-rise buildings on both sides of the roads create a vortex effect, due to which air pollutants remain in suspension for a relatively long time. The vertically extended protruding pipe system applies only on heavy commercial vehicles.
The main target of control measures is to reduce emissions per kilometre driven and, control of vehicle-kilometres travelled. Vehicles should be fitted with the “three-way catalytic converters”. Catalytic converters reduce the emissions of nitrogen oxide, carbon monoxide and hydrocarbon. They are however, damaged by leaded fuel. Exhaust Gas Recirculation is also a device for reducing nitrogen oxide emissions.
While it is commonly said in Karachi that the petrol sold is lead-free, some reports suggest otherwise. Lead is mixed with petrol to increase its octane rating; this practice should be stopped. The use of leaded fuel is one of the major reasons of presence of lead in the atmosphere. A study showed that, most of the schoolchildren of Saddar, Preedy Street and Empress Market areas have high blood lead levels.
As far as possible, streets should have one-way traffic system. This will reduce road vehicle density (number of vehicles per kilometre) and will increase the average vehicle speed. This, in turn, will significantly reduce traffic congestion. The lower the vehicle density and higher the average vehicle speed, the lower will be the emissions per kilometre length of the road.
All traffic signals should be properly synchronised; it will reduce traffic jams and prevent idle engine running, which, in turn, will reduce emissions. At present, in most cases, one has to stop at every traffic signal, as the traffic signals are not synchronised.