THE Sindh government’s Karachi Mass Transit Plan 2030 contains six bus rapid transit (BRT) corridors. At a well-attended public meeting arranged by the Sindh Environment Protection Agency, the Mass Transit Master Plan and the Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) for the Green Line corridor (from Surjani to Guru Mandir) was presented by the consultants to the project.
Given the shameful state of the transport situation in Karachi, no one can question the need for an effective mass transit system for the city. However, there are a number of concerns, some of which were also raised at the public hearing.
For each planned corridor there are separate consultants, contractors and operators and computerised ticketing systems. How will the coordination among all these separate entities take place and by whom? The consultants were not able to satisfy the public on this count although they agreed that it was a very important issue and that without addressing it there would be severe problems.
The Karachi Mass Transit Plan has raised a number of public concerns.
The BRT corridor will generate offsite drainage, sewage, water supply and traffic engineering components that the city government will have to design, manage and maintain. The institutional relationship between the city government and the project, given the former’s severe limitations, needs to be clearly spelt out.
Judging from the experience of other countries, parts of the BRT corridor which are elevated can easily be at-grade, saving on environment and economic costs.
The stretch between Nagan Chowrangi and Surjani, which is elevated, can also be at-grade if instead of accessing the stations from overhead bridges, they are accessed through underground passages. In any case, accessing stations through underground passages is preferable since it saves women with children, and old and sick people from the stress of using six metres high overhead bridges.
For this reason it is imperative that wherever possible stations should be accessed at-grade or through underground passages. The suggestion that escalators or lifts should be provided for accessing the elevated elements of the design should not be taken seriously because of their construction and energy costs and because in this city they are often out of order.
Looking at the master plan, one sees that the corridors run parallel to each other, terminating at Guru Mandir, near Jama cloth market or at Merewether Tower, all of which lie at the tail-end of the same artery.
There is no transversal linkage between these corridors and no plan was presented for their future integration. As pointed out at the hearing, Guru Mandir, the Quaid’s Mazar and M.A. Jinnah Road will be converted into one huge transport terminal. The EIA has also glossed over heritage issues. It is important that the promoters of the Mass Transit Plan seek the approval of the Sindh Heritage Committee which is empowered to deal with heritage-related issues of the province. Such an approval has not been sought.
The building of the BRT corridors will have a major effect on the land-use along these corridors. For one, there will be crowds of people, rickshaws and taxis at the BRT stations causing traffic congestion. This is witnessed in other Third World cities as well. Provision for this eventuality has not been provided.
With the costs of land increasing as a result of the BRT, unregulated high-density construction will take place unless a proper land-use plan for the corridor and its adjoining areas is prepared. Without the implementation of such a plan, the result will be an environmental disaster such as the one taking place along the Lyari Expressway.
The BRT corridors also offer ideal locations for low-income housing which can go a long way in overcoming the social and economic costs of commuting for low-income communities. There is a need to manage the negative repercussions and make use of the opportunities that the BRT projects offer for the improvement of the city.
Major changes are in the process of taking place in the design and management of transport systems for Third World cities. These changes are the result of lessons learnt from the more recent conservatively designed BRT projects for Third World megacities such as Lahore and Rawalpindi.
The proposal for the Red Line of the master plan makes use of some of these lessons. It is at-grade. It integrates 23 bus routes into it increasing ridership manyfold. It also upgrades the corridor through which it passes by providing car parking, hard and soft landscaping, improvements to road and pavements and signage, all part of the BRT project.
Hope we can do this for the other corridors as well; this will not only improve transport but also the larger physical and social environment of the city we love so much.
The writer is an architect.
Published in Dawn, September 17th, 2015