A ray of hope emerged for the public transport woes of Karachi's residents as the first consignment of 40 buses for the Green Line bus rapid transit system (BRTS) reached the city on Sunday.
Addressing a ceremony at the Karachi Port for the delivery of the fleet, Sindh Governor Imran Ismail said "another milestone" had been achieved with the arrival of the buses as part of the Karachi Transformation Plan (KTP) announced by Prime Minister Imran Khan.
He appreciated the efforts of the Sindh Infrastructure Development Company Limited (SIDCL) to ensure the completion of the Green Line project within its timeline, according to a statement issued by his office.
The dedicated corridor will serve some of Karachi’s most populated areas, covering Surjani Town to Gurumandir and Numaish Chowrangi in phase 1.
“The second consignment of 40 more buses [is] expected to reach in October 2021, and phase 1 of the project would be made operational by the end of November,” the governor said.
One of Karachi’s major public transport projects, the Green Line BRTS was estimated to be completed by the end of 2017, but kept getting new deadlines as Karachiites continued to suffer in the absence of a proper mass transit system. Since the launch of the scheme, the battered roads on either side of the route have turned into a great source of nuisance for commuters and for the shopkeepers doing their businesses.
For his part, federal Minister for Planning, Development and Special Initiatives Asad Umar said the Green Line BRTS was a modern technology-based transport system, comprising a 22-kilometre dedicated corridor aimed at providing easier mobility and catering to the travel needs of 135,000 passengers per day.
He told the event that a comprehensive Command and Control Centre had been established for transport projects including Green Line, Orange Line, and others. A bus depot has been built for 80 buses, while 22 bus stations have been constructed.
“For the first time, we are bringing a modern transport system in Karachi,” the federal minister said, regretting that the megacity that paid the most taxes had been deprived of modern transport in the past.
The minister said the commercial operations of the buses would start in the next two months after the installation of relevant software and training of drivers, while the tracks and stations had already been completed.
“This is the first project under the Karachi Transformation Plan, while five other mega-projects are underway,” Umar added.
He revealed that the Executive Committee of National Economic Council (Ecnec) would likely give its final approval to the Karachi Circular Railway (KCR) in its meeting on Monday and the prime minister was expected to perform the groundbreaking of the project himself. The KCR will initially provide transport facilities to 450,000 passengers daily, gradually catering to the needs of up to one million passengers.
Umar said three major road projects on Orangi, Gujjar and Mehmoodabad Nullahs spread over 54km were expected to be completed soon where concrete walls would also be erected.
“Karachiites will continue to hear good news in the next few weeks,” the minister said, adding that the federal government was giving special attention to Karachi because PTI and its allies had won 19 seats in the parliament from the city, which also greatly contributed to the Centre's revenue
“For the last several months, we tolerated criticism because the mega-project took time in its completion,” he said, stressing that “we are not doing any favour to Karachi but it deserves this.”
He said the federal government was also giving special attention to 14 other districts of Sindh, disclosing that the concerned P3 board would give approval for the bidding of the Rs200bn Hyderabad-Sukkur Motorway very soon.
To a question, Umar grudgingly admitted that the Green Line project was launched during the tenure of the PML-N government, but uttered some sarcastic remarks for the past rulers.
Giving details of the new buses, SIDCL CEO Nadeem Lodhi said the fleet was low entry 18 metre Articulated Diesel-Hybrid self-charging technology which benefits the environment. The buses are equipped with Modern Intelligent Transport System (ITS) with features such as automatic location system, real-time passenger information, surveillance cameras and auto doors.
The fleet offers comfortable modular seats, air-conditioning, digital screens and space for advertisement. It is designed to cater to people with special needs and will also benefit the environment by reducing the use of fossil fuels, limiting emissions and with reduced journey time.
Lodhi said following port clearance, the buses would be transported under the supervision of a Chinese technical team to the dedicated bus depot located in Surjani Town. The fleet will then commence training sorties on the corridor by mid-October after an "intense period" of technical reviews, inspection, and classroom driver training, he added. Following User Acceptance Testing (UAT), the Green Line's commercial operations will start by the end of November.
The ceremony was also attended by federal ministers Ali Zaidi, Aminul Haque, Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on Maritime Affairs Mahmood Moulvi and members of national and provincial assemblies of the ruling PTI.
In February 2016, then-prime minister Nawaz Sharif had inaugurated work on the Rs16.85 billion federal government-funded bus project by performing the groundbreaking. Later, the project was extended by another 10 kilometres as initially sought by the Sindh government and the estimated cost crossed the figure of Rs24bn.