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BRT but no buses

Karachi was perhaps the first city of Pakistan to have conceived a mass transit system but there isn’t any chance of it becoming operational before March 2020

BRT but no buses
View of construction work of pedestrian bridge linking Green Bus Project, nearby Nazimabad area of Karachi

The official mass transit plan for Karachi was notified by the government of Pakistan in 1995, which was based on the Karachi Mass Transit Study conducted in 1990 in which elevated and at-grade bus corridors were proposed.

Then from 2010 to 2012, Karachi Transport Improvement Project (KTIP) was conducted by Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) in collaboration with Karachi Mass Transit Cell (KMTC) of the Sindh government. In the master plan study of the project, the JICA study team proposed Karachi Circular Railway to comprise two railway system and six Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) corridors, two of which were the Green Line and Red Line BRTs — feasibility studies of which were completed by June 2012.

Finally in February 2016, Karachi’s dream of having a mass transit system was about to come true, when then Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif laid down the foundation for the Green Line BRT, which was supposed to be completed by April 2017.

In Karachi, not necessarily, all that starts well ends well. Three years down the line, the structure of the 18.4km Green Line BRT, of which 11.7km is elevated and 7.7km on ground from Surjani Town till Guru Mandir is almost complete, but there are no buses to ply the route.

The initial estimated worth of the project was Rs16 billion, funded by the then federal government of Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz through a company, Karachi Infrastructure Development Company Limited (KIDCL), formed particularly to look after the affairs of this project. However, later, its scope was enhanced to other federally funded construction projects of Karachi.

Initially, the project was supposed to connect Surjani Town and Guru Mandir but in 2017, the project’s scope was extended till Numaish and later up to Merewether Tower.

The KIDCL officials repeatedly claimed that the Green Line’s structure would be completed before the general elections in May or June 2018 and that then Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi or then PML-N’s Governor Mohammad Zubair would inaugurate it. However, this could never happen and the structure was completed a few months after the general elections in late 2018.

The city’s top architects and planners were asked to give their input on the Green Line’s connectivity and supplementary transit services for serving the central business district (CBD) in Karachi that is between Lea Market to the north, Maulvi Tamizzuddin Road to the south and between the Quaid’s mazaar to the east and Merewether Tower to the west.

Currently first-of-its-kind in South Asia underground bus station with a mezzanine floor for the operation of the mass transit system is being constructed at Numaish by the federal government through the KIDCL. While the rest of the project’s structure, up till Guru Mandir, stands idle and deserted in the middle of the city’s roads.

As per the initial plan of the project, after the completion of the construction work, the Sindh government was supposed to procure buses and operate the BRT, which it miserably failed to do.

“What is that we didn’t face during the construction of this project,” says Ali Raza, an elderly resident of Nagan Chowrangi, where massive construction work took place for the project. “From massive traffic jams, to daily road accidents and continuous presence of dust in the air — and three years later, all we get is a useless, idle BRT structure.”

As per the initial plan of the project, after the completion of the construction work, the Sindh government was supposed to procure buses and operate the BRT, which it miserably failed to do.

The story of misery doesn’t end here. Sindh government funded Orange Line BRT which is mere 3.9km went under construction just three months after the Green Line BRT and is still being constructed at a very slow pace from Orangi Town’s Town Municipal Administration (TMA) ground to Nazimabad’s Board Office.

An official of the Sindh Mass Transit Authority (SMTA) related to Orange Line says that work on Orange Line BRT was delayed due to the presence of unmarked underground utility infrastructure such as water, sewerage, power, telephone and gas lines. The same issue, however, was faced by the KIDCL during the construction of the Green Line BRT, which is over five times larger in length than the Orange Line project, but the KIDCL still managed to get Green Line BRT completed before the Orange Line BRT.

As for the procurement of buses, the Sindh government inked a deal with Al-Buraq International (pvt) Limited of Turkey in 2016 and then with a Lahore-based company Crown Transport in 2017, all of which failed.

The federal government has now decided to procure the buses itself and operate the Green Line BRT for a few years, before handing it over to the provincial government.

KIDCL’s Chief Financial Officer (CFO) Zubair Channa says that due to delays in operations of the Green Line BRT, the federal government in November last year decided to explore its own option for operations. On March 18 this year, he says, “a meeting was held in which the KIDCL put forward a proposal for the Green Line BRT operations before the federal government, which was accepted by it. On April 19, the same proposal was also approved in a board meeting of KIDCL”.

He adds, the project’s PC1 has been submitted in the federal government’s planning division department, likewise, the World Bank, engaged in operations of the BRT, has been asked to prepare Request for Proposal (RFP). “All the interested parties were asked to turn in their proposals for the procurement process of project. This is done for the Public-Private Partnership (PPP) mode projects,” he explains, and continues that they would hire an operator through the procurement process, who would bring the buses and run it for a certain time decided by the federal government.

There’s a minimum 90-day process to get any party or operator onboard for the operations of the buses. The process also requires one month time for the evaluation of the proposal selected. “Once we will have the operator with us, the minimum time they will take for the manufacture of the bus will be six months,” he says. He thinks Green Line BRT’s operation will not be possible before February or March next year.

Sindh government is procuring pure diesel buses which have huge maintenance cost. The federal government, on the other hand, has decided to procure around 80 articulated diesel hybrid buses “which would be a little expensive but would have low maintenance cost,” says Channa. The cost of these buses would roughly be Rs4 billion.

The financial model of the operations is being prepared by the World Bank. As for the revenue collection, he says, that they would go for station and bus branding and other advertisements including the one at a mezzanine floor being constructed at Numaish. “I can’t give you the exact figure of the subsidy but it would be much less than what is being paid in Lahore, Rawalpindi and Multan,” he assures.

SMTA Managing Director Iqtidar Ahmed and provincial transport secretary Ghulam Abbas Dheto who have recently taken charge were not in a position to comment on the issue.

Multiple attempts were made to contact Sindh Transport Minister Awais Shah to get the Sindh government’s version but the minister did not respond.

Oonib Azam

Oonib Azam is a reporter at The News Karachi desk. extensively cover civic and transport issues, environment and sometimes minorities. He tweets at @OonibAzam.

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