IT is hardly a secret that Karachi’s public transport system has collapsed. Commuters face an uphill challenge every day getting to work, school and markets as most public buses have either disappeared, or the ones that remain are in decrepit shape, with passengers fighting to grab a seat, or ending up travelling on the vehicle’s roof for want of space. This, in a nutshell, is the state of public transport in Pakistan’s economic hub in the 21st century. Some private players have moved in to fill the gaps, such as ride-hailing apps (which are expensive) while app-based van services have also rolled out their fleets in the metropolis. But considering the fact that hundreds of thousands of commuters are on the move in Karachi daily, these interventions are inadequate. Yet we regularly hear in the media that various multilateral lenders are willing to finance public transport projects worth tens of millions of dollars; the people of Karachi read these announcements with some scepticism, and wonder when these buses will actually hit the roads. As reported in this paper, the Beijing-based Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank has approved a $71m loan for the Red Line Bus Rapid Transit Project. The deadline for the project has been mentioned as December 2023.
The latest intervention is welcome. However the question remains: will one bus line (that is able to carry a little over 300,000 passengers daily) be able to significantly improve the city’s public transport situation? Perhaps the bigger question is: will the project see the light of day, or be consigned to limbo due to unending delays? After all, the federally funded under-construction Green Line project — that was started in 2016 — still awaits completion, leaving a traffic mess in the centre of the city due to the closure of part of M.A. Jinnah Road. Both the federal and Sindh governments are experts in signing impressive-sounding transport deals for Karachi; yet the delivery and execution of these projects leave much to be desired.
Published in Dawn, November 19th, 2019