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Plans for Karachi’s Red Line BRT passed a new landmark recently, as the Sindh Government decided to move forward with the BRT Project and announced a timeline. The decision came after a visit from ITDP staff , as well as former Bogotá mayor and ITDP Board President, Enrique Peñalosa. Planned by ITDP with support from the Asian Development Bank (ADB), the Red Line BRT corridor will reduce congestion and emissions and improve travel times for thousands of city residents.
After a series of recent stakeholder meetings, the Secretary of Sindh Transport and Mass Transit Department, Tauha Ahmed Farooqui, announced that Sindh Province, of which Karachi is the capital and largest city, will continue to develop the Red Line BRT. The government has already submitted a bill in the assembly to establish the Sindh Mass Transit Authority, which will be involved with the project. If plans move swiftly, Secretary Farooqui said the Red Line could be operational by the end of next year or early 2017.
On a recent visit to Karachi, Enrique Peñalosa, who as Mayor of Bogotá opened the highly successful TransMilenio BRT, offered advice on achieving success for the system. After visiting sections of the planned corridor, Peñalosa discussed the importance of strong political leadership. He also underscored the importance of using street space for public transit. “The most important discussion in all cities in the world, which has direct link to what [Karachi] is doing today, is how to distribute the city’s most valuable resource: its road space,” he said. “You could find oil or diamonds underneath Karachi and it would still not be as valuable as road space.”
Karachi has long had significant congestion concerns that have dampened quality of life and prosperity for residents. Starting in August 2014, members of ITDP Indonesia and China have developed a proposal for corridor specifications that would improve transit in the region.
Current designs for the Red Line call for a 25 km corridor with 41 stations and 1,600 buses, and would carry 625,000 passengers daily. The design also promotes an at-grade BRT concept, as opposed to the elevated BRT being considered by the government. At-grade BRT will open up more space for people to walk and enjoy public space along the corridor. Funding for the project has yet to be decided, as the Sindh Government considers using its own funds as an alternative to the ADB’s.
The progress on the corridor also opens opportunities to implement additional urban improvements. ITDP is now looking along the corridor to develop plans to remove parking spaces, improve pedestrian conditions, and relocate street vendors.
Several other BRT corridors are also being developed for the city, each designed by independent entities. ITDP Indonesia Director Yoga Adiwinarto warned that failure to integrate the lines’ design, technology, and management, could affect the success of the corridors. “You have to be extremely careful. It is a matter of the identity of the city”. ITDP, with support from Peñalosa, is now in the process of meeting with government officials and reaching out to urban planning firms to harmonize plans for BRT corridors throughout the city.
Long a bustling, influential city in the region, Karachi, Pakistan’s rapid expansion in recent decades has long outgrown the city’s transit infrastructure. Now with an estimated 23 million residents in the metro area, the city’s overreliance on cars is catching up to it and causing painful congestion and air pollution. As mobility, quality of life, and even financial productivity have suffered, Karachi officials have begun working with the Asian Development Bank and ITDP to help Karachi turn the corner and change the way the city moves.
As the population of Karachi boomed from 450,000 in 1947 to today, the city’s transit and land use planning have failed to keep pace. With hubs of finance and commerce downtown and an ever-expanding city, long commutes became the norm. Even attempts to create new manufacturing centers outside the city for new settlers couldn’t keep up with the massive inflow of residents, first from India, then rural Pakistan. As a result, transit patterns remained heavily dependent on residents traveling toward the city center for work.
Today, Karachi public transit options are few and inadequate. An urban rail line closed in 1999, after years of poor station maintenance and service levels left the system unpopular. The city’s public buses, though numerous, are poorly monitored, unpredictable, and often dangerous. It is not uncommon to see riders climbing onto moving buses, or passengers sitting on top of the bus (see photo above).
In the absence of a good, convenient urban public transport system, Karachi has seen an increasing trend toward private rickshaws (small, three-wheeled motorized vehicles) known as qingqi. Previously informal and discouraged by the government (attempts to ban the qingqi did little to slow their growth), the Sindh Transport Department recently moved to formalize the network, assigning routes and giving licenses. Still, the rise in qingqi has aggravated concerns of congestion and air quality.
With a historic transportation crisis causing gridlock and pollution, Karachi is looking to make dramatic changes to its transit system to improve life for residents. Working with ITDP and the Asian Development Bank, the city is exploring how a cutting-edge bus rapid transit system could serve to improve mobility and offer an alternative to ever-increasing congestion.
Starting in August 2014, the Asian Development Bank (ADB) engaged ITDP to develop conceptual design and plan for a BRT system in Karachi. ITDP Staff members from Indonesia and China office worked in Karachi to analyze traffic data, congestion rates, roads with multiple bus routes, and routes with high frequency and occupancy rates. They combined this data with a consideration of land uses around the main roads and development potential to study which corridor would be best suited for BRT.
To bring the highest benefit to passengers, a ‘direct service’ model was suggested. By allowing buses to enter and leave the BRT corridor at any point (rather than requiring transfer stations at either end to use the dedicated lanes), the system can reduce transfers and extend the system’s reach beyond the corridor itself. In addition, it offers more opportunities for the city and private bus operators to work together to improve transit in the city. By including bus operators in plans for Karachi’s transit future, planners can minimize driver’s concerns about losing passengers and income.
Karachi still has several steps to go before fully committing to the project, but with strong international institutions supporting the project, it’s taking the right steps to start addressing its transit needs.