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KARACHI: The city is expanding with the needs of its citizens changing and developing. Things such as water, power, sewage, etc are all entwined yet we don’t even know where we are going. “We go from one place to another. So there is mobility. As people from Sindh’s interior come to settle in Karachi we see the katchi abadis coming up because for a salaried person it is very difficult to get home ownership.”

These points were raised by Amber Alibhai, general secretary of Shehri-Citizens for a Better Environment speaking during a consultative workshop held at a local hotel here on Thursday. A three-year project initiated with the support of Friedrich Naumann Stiftung titled ‘Climate Efficient Urban Mobility and Smart City Growth’ was launched at the event.

“There is horizontal growth. But what about transportation, especially transport for the poor, in this sprawling city? We see those Chinese motorcycles and more and more people on one motorcycle because there is not enough public transport. But you need easy commutes and good public transport to make life easy for the people,” she said.

‘What about transportation for the poor in this sprawling city?’

“A smart city such as ours needs new smart components. Transport, water, power, sewage all need to be integrated. They cannot function in isolation. Today they lay new roads without the knowledge of the water board and then when they want to lay new lines they dig up the newly laid roads. It all leads to misuse of our resources,” she said.

“Also in Karachi, because of lack of good public transport, we stop everywhere in a signal-free corridor. I may have a generator but I am power-starved. I may be getting water from a tanker but [I] experience a shortage of water. There is commercial activity taking place on service roads. How do the children get to school? How do the sick commute to hospitals? We are bringing in more private cars but where is the larger good of the people in all of this?” she said.

In his presentation ‘Placing Karachi’s Transport Scenario Within the Context of Sustainable Urban Mobility — Opportunities and Challenges’, Farhan Anwar, urban planner and the project manager for Shehri-CBE, said that their project was the result of their vision for Karachi, which would evolve as they go on developing it and organise dialogues and consultations with stakeholders. “Whatever ideas we come up with will help improve the urban setup,” he said.

He said that when they talk of transportation, they think of different modes of transportation. “But it is not just about buses, cars or motorcycles as there is a larger picture associated with urban mobility. There is also the infrastructure including roads, crossings, footpaths, etc,” he said, adding that at the core of it lay sustainability values such as environment, economy, equity.

The aims of sustainable urban mobility, he said, were ensuring accessibility of jobs and services along with improving safety and security, reducing pollution, greenhouse gas emissions and energy consumption, increasing the efficiency and cost-effectiveness of the transportation of persons and goods and enhancing the attractiveness and quality of the urban environment.

“This is a form of urban development that clusters a great mix of land uses around a high-quality transport service. The transit mode, either train, light rail or bus terminus is to be designed so that it is the focus for development and becomes the ‘heart’ of the community or where people shop, meet, relax and live,” he said.

The urban planner further explained that cities should be compact and not sprawling cities. “Sprawling cities are car cities but public transport makes compact cities. Therefore there is a need for infrastructure and development agenda to make the city more accessible,” he said.

BRT prospects

About Karachi’s Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) projects, he said they would have limited impact because they are not a part of a larger planning framework that structures a holistic transportation blueprint for the city taking into account the critically important land use, economic, social and environmental considerations. He also said BRT projects would not dovetail with parallel efforts to discourage private vehicle use and promote pedestrian-friendly growth in the city. They also will not link up with the parallel streams of public and private transportation modes in the city.

“For a sustainable urban mobility system there has to be a public mass transit system with presence and a coordinated and integrated framework of governance, equity or universal access, affordability and safety, promotion of public and non-motorised forms of transport such as carpooling, bike sharing and discouragement of private automobile use. There is also a need for consideration for energy and environment regarding fuel use, performance and regulation,” he said.

Coming to the Karachi Circular Railway (KCR), it was also pointed out that it was being built and handled by not one but various authorities, units, companies, corporations and departments, making it a case of too many cooks. “There is the Project Implementation Unit for Asian Development Bank funding the Red Line, the Karachi Infrastructure Development Company Limited is funding the Green Line and the Karachi Urban Transport Corporation, the Traffic Engineering Bureau, the Regional Transport Authority, KMC’s Transport and Communications Department and Karachi Package Transport Component all looking after its function,” he said.

Published in Dawn, August 17th, 2018