‘INCENTIVES’ are hardly the way to solve Karachi’s transport problem: burgeoning, endemic, forgotten, bungled — many negative adjectives are applicable here. One brazen example need be noted: earlier this month, the authorities set out to solve the traffic problem and ended by aggravating the transport crisis. On Aug 4, the police announced a new traffic plan, providing for an up to two-year jail term for a variety of offences, including allowing passengers to ride on the rooftops of buses. More than a fortnight has passed, but traffic violations continue as before. And since the Sindh High Court’s ban on Qingqis has added to the commuters’ misery, the transport problem has gone from bad to worse. Now comes the news that the Karachi traffic police have asked the Sindh government for “incentives” to help ease the people’s travel miseries. The incentives demanded included soft loans for transporters and the status of an industry for transport. There is every expectation that the Sindh government will take years to study those proposals, but even if it does agree, that will hardly make a dent in the problem.
Only a modern mass transit system can solve Karachi’s transport problem — no amount of incentives or efforts to shy away from this reality will help. A mass transit system was first mooted by the PPP government in 1971, but since then no federal or provincial government could marshal the political will to turn it into reality. Over the decades, many schemes have been considered, vetted and approved, but the projects have remained on paper. Years ago, the Japanese fine-tuned the circular railway project, pledging money and technology; all they wanted was for the encroachments to be removed. The Sindh government failed to do this. Such are the dimensions of Karachi’s transport problem that only single-minded devotion to the idea and a firm commitment to long-term benefits can present a durable solution to the problem. The dream of a mass transit system for Karachi must one day come true.
Published in Dawn, August 19th, 2015