Karachi’s lifelines

Updated June 21, 2015


The writer is a business strategist and entrepreneur.
The writer is a business strategist and entrepreneur.

WHEN the Punjab government was building its metro bus, what was Sindh doing? Between 2010 and 2012, the Sindh government, with Japanese assistance drew up a transport master plan for Karachi which envisaged six bus rapid transit (BRT) corridors, two light rail mass transit corridors and revival of the Karachi Circular Railway (KCR).

To get an update on progress I spent an afternoon with Tuaha Farooqui, secretary to the government of Sindh, transport & mass transit department in his office. I felt I should share some of the details with my readers.

I was informed that the feasibility and detailed corridor designs for five BRT corridors have been completed. What was encouraging was that the Sindh government was planning to implement the system in a manner that would involve minimum public funds from the provincial kitty.

The Yellow line concession had just been awarded to a Chinese firm that was shortly going to start construction under the build-operate-transfer (BOT) mode. This is unlike Lahore and Islamabad where BRT projects were built with public funds.

Meanwhile, the Red line had been designed with assistance from the Asian Development Bank (ADB) that had also prepared the integration plan for all lines. The Sindh government would put up only 15pc of the funds for the Red line, the secretary explained, while 85pc would be arranged from the Eximbank of the supplier country. This is quite plausible since from my understanding ADB would have prepared the project documents to a highly bankable standard.

For the Green line, the federal government had agreed to finance the development of infrastructure. The release of funds was in an advanced stage of approval and once disbursed, work would begin. My own conjecture is that during construction the Sindh government would have time to tender out the project to a private concessionaire who would finance the buses and operate the corridor.

Can the Sindh government act on the transport plan?

For the Blue line, Bahria Town had offered an unsolicited proposal to undertake the complete project in BOT mode. The Sindh government now needs to process this proposal under its public-private partnership framework so that construction can start.

The Orange line is the only one that is funded entirely from public funds and for which the allocation has been made in the present Sindh budget and the PC-1 is being prepared by the National Engineering Services Pakistan.

It is interesting that the Karachi BRT corridors, as planned, are substantially cheaper on a per kilometre basis compared to Lahore and Islamabad (the secretary showed me documents whereby the engineering, procurement & construction cost of Karachi’s Yellow line was Rs653 million per kilometre while for Lahore it was over Rs1.1 billion). Even that, for the most part, is being funded by the investor under BOT mode.

It appears Sindh is planning to get all five lines for less money than it cost to finance the Islamabad metro bus corridor. This way the Sindh development budget can be used to meet other urgent needs.

Reviving the KCR, while important, is a relatively long gestation project, considering an investor has not yet been found, even if the plan is ready for execution. But it appeared to me that the five bus corridors are doable before elections in 2018. And though it is a real opportunity, the big question is; can the Sindh government in its present doldrums make this happen?

One good thing is that the government component of funds has already been allocated. So what needs to happen now for the Sindh government to be cutting ribbons before end of 2017?

First off, the Sindh Mass Transit Authority needs to be immediately constituted. The delay in passing the required legislation is not understandable. The Asian Develop­ment Bank has also agreed to assist in building and strengthening the authority once it comes into existence. Secondly, it appears to me that a strong and credible political person should take ownership and become the moving force behind (and the face of) the initiative. Usually that would be the mayor. But within Sindh’s ruling party is there a possible candidate?

Working under that person, the new authority can expedite the processes so work starts early on all corridors. They will need to ensure no show stoppers are allowed to stall work — such as resistance from vested interests, ambiguity and disputes over contractual terms, and things such as relocation of power lines, poles or transformers.

Construction work on these multiple projects will also cause a traffic upheaval on Karachi’s major arteries for months — M.A Jinnah Road, Sharea Faisal, Rashid Minhas Road, Korangi Road, Shahrah-i-Quaideen and University Road. Everything needs to be foreseen and dealt with before work begins.

It is an arduous task but may be a last opportunity for Sindh’s ruling party to redeem itself in the eyes of Karachi’s citizens.

The writer is a business strategist and entrepreneur.


Published in Dawn, June 21st, 2015

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