Public transport issue of Karachi still in limbo

Karachi: Millions of Karachi commuters continue to suffer as the provincial government of Sindh has still to resolve the issue of public transport in the largest city of the country; while the federal government and its Pakistan railways are least interested in running the abandoned Karachi Circular Railway (KCR).

The KCR is the backbone of the city’s public transport system. This surface rail-based system is on ground and it just need repair before local trains run on its loop. The Pakistan Railways is fully capable to repair and run the KCR within a few months, but it needs green signal from the federal and provincial governments. The KCR could be handed to the retired employees and technicians of the Pakistan Railways to be run on public-private partnership mode. The industrialists of SITE area could also run the KCR if the system is privatized.

However, the transport department of Sindh government does not need any permission from the federal government to improve the road-based public transport in Karachi. This department can change the public transport culture of the city, for which experts suggest taking four simple steps.

The first step is to remove the roof-racks from all minibuses. As commuters travelling while perching on rooftops of crowded minibuses presents a very negative and harmful image of this urban city. It also shows weakness in governance and administration, as the apex court has already issued directives to remove the roof racks from the minibuses in Karachi. The Sindh transport department should request for assistance from the rangers and the minibuses and coaches of Karachi would go without roof-racks within three days.

The second step is to implement official colour code of the public transport vehicles of the city. Even two decades back all minibuses of the city were used to be painted in yellow-white and wide-bodied buses in red official bus colours. However, due to weakness of the government departments, especially traffic and transport departments, today public transport bus in Karachi are seen painted in every available colour. The city cannot be given an urban look without strictly implementing official colour code for public transport vehicles.

The third steps would be to end the different fare between so-called coaches and minibuses, by terming all of them as minibuses with similar bus fare slab. The record of Sindh transport department would show that a new class of minibuses called coaches were created two decades back with the condition that they would run on seat-by-seat method and they would not allow any commuters to travel in them if a vacant seat is not available. However, from the day one this basic condition was violated and commuters do not only travel while standing but also on sitting their roof-tops. In these circumstances there is no logic to allow these so-called minibuses to charge more from the commuters. Hence, there should be no difference in the fare of a mini-bus or a coach. This is also the requirement of justice, equity and fair deal.

The fourth step is to make a new fare slab based on the use of CNG, because buses, minibuses and coaches use cheap CNG but they charge bus fare on the basis of diesel use. This is not only immoral and unfair, but a plain fraud. Karachiites have been demanding for years to rationalize bus fares on the use of CNG, but they this old demand is yet to be met. It is high time that the Sindh government should realize that the commuters of Karachi are being exploited and fleeced on daily basis. This is mockery of law, justice, equity and good governance and it should be stopped. However, the transporters would be allowed to charge one or two rupees extra per ticket on the days when CNG is not available in the city, so that their profit margin is not affected.

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