Transport in bad shape

Plans to improve the system are still to taken up by the authorities

By Aman Ullah Bashar
Jan 18 - 24, 1999

The transport system of Karachi, if it could be described as a system, coupled with its malaises, is a total negation of the importance, this metropolitan city with a population of over 12 million, deserves to be accorded.

The ever-growing vehicle population, increasing at a rate of 10 per cent per annum, is completely topsy-turvy in the face of corrupt traffic police, dilapidated roads with poor infrastructure and transport mafia which altogether have literally turned the metropolis into a traffic mess.

The commuters of the city which is spread over an area of 3,366 sq. kms, including an urban area of 1,800 sq. kms and a total road network length of 7,400 kms, have no option but to travel in pathetic conditions.

The transport mafia, in connivance with the relevant authorities, has successfully managed to design long routes of buses, mini buses and coaches of its own choice. The entire city transport has been allotted 110 classified routes for buses, 197 routes for mini buses and 96 for coaches. The allocation of long routes is highly beneficial for the transport operators as one seat of the bus is used at least by three passengers travelling for different destinations during a single trip of the bus.

For example, if a route originates from North Karachi and terminates at Dockyard via Liaquatabad, Saddar and Mereweather Tower, a large number of passengers get down in Liaquatabad and fresh passengers get in from Liaquatabad to Saddar or Tower and from Saddar to Dockyard. Hence the long routes are lucrative for the transporters but create problems for the system. Most of the vehicles, under this system are routed, through Saddar or M.A.Jinnah Road for onward journey, causing horrible traffic jams in the downtown specially during peaks hours consuming a lot of time and energy of the commuters, particularly those who are going to work. The long routes also restrict the frequent availability of vehicles because three to four hours are required to complete a return journey for a public transport vehicle.

The commuters, in view of the time constraints, are compelled to travel in overcrowded buses, mini buses and coaches expose themselves to serious hazards by travelling on foot boards, roof tops and even on rear guards of the vehicles.

The traffic police, on the other hand, is more interested in catching the traffic law offenders instead of regulating the traffic or guiding the motorists.

According to official figures, the total number of registered vehicles in Karachi are estimated at 985,818 in September 1998 including cars, motor cycles, auto rikshaws, taxis, buses and mini buses, trucks, tankers and tractors. Beside locally registered vehicles, a large number of vehicles registered outside the city and plying in Karachi are an additional burden on the city roads which have already reached to a saturation point.

The 10 per cent growth rate of vehicle population sounds a serious note of warning for the traffic managers to save it from a total chaos by the turn of the century.

The break-up of the public transport indicates that around 2,000 private buses, 5,000 mini buses, 1,574 Special coaches under Prime Minister's scheme, 267 mini carriages, 10,009 taxis (yellow cabs), auto rikshaws 20,109, contract carrier 1,598 are plying on Karachi roads while the circular and sub-urban rail tracks have occupied some 67 km of city area crossing most of the main thorough fares.

Z.A.Bhutto, it may be recalled, keeping in view the unchecked population growth of Karachi, increasing at the rate of 6 per cent, had decided to set up a "RAPID TRANSIT CELL" which was assigned to provide an 8-kilometre underground 'Metro' from Liaquatabad to Mereweather Tower. In this connection, a team of Japanese experts visited Pakistan in 1976 and completed feasibility studies. The scheme, however was shelved when Bhutto's government was dislodged.

Now Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has also announced a special transport package for Karachi which includes: (a) Reactivating of Circular Railways after doubling its track. (b) Building a 6-lane Motorway between Karachi and Hyderabad. (c) Construction of a 68-km Northern Bypass encircling the city periphery from Jinnah Bridge, Keamari, through Hawksbay connecting the Super Highway.

According to Zaheerul Islam, Director, Traffic Engineering Bureau, an extension of the proposed Northern Bypass is also under consideration to connect it with Karachi Airport.

The Northern Bypass is expected to ease the flow of heavy traffic including container trawlers and oil tankers from Karachi Port and Keamari's oil terminal respectively enabling them to proceed for upcountry without passing through the city.


The long pending mass transit scheme, which is lying in the papers since 1976, is once again being revived by the present government. According to official sources, the government has decided to establish a Mass Transit Authority and an Ordinance in this respect is likely to be announced shortly.

After thorough study, traffic survey, electronic model studies and evaluation by the transport experts of international repute, arranged by the World Bank, the study finally has recommended a Master Plan consisting of 87.4 kms. partly elevated exclusive Bus Ways convertible to Light Rail Track (LRT) at a later stage, or directly as LRT on Built Operate and Transfer (BOT) basis.

The Plan, divided into six priority corridors, was approved by the Governments of Sindh and Pakistan and the World Bank, to be followed by detailed Engineering, Design, Environmental Impact Assessment, and Involuntary Resettlement Plan, Economic Financial Analysis, together with initiation of BOT process. This Master Plan was also notified by the Government of Pakistan in the Gazette of Pakistan.

The PC-II of the project for Engineering and Design for 15.2 kms Priority 1 Corridor from Tower to Sohrab Goth was approved by the Federal Government through the World Bank funding, while the 13.4 kms Priority-2 Corridor from Karachi Cantt. to Orangi Town was undertaken by French Consultants through French Government grant.

A PC-II was also approved by the Government of Sindh for Revitalization of Karachi Circular Railways (KCR) and Main Lines, as an integral part of approved Karachi Mass Transit Master Plan.

After finalization of the Engineering/ Design of Convertible Transit way Plan of Corridor 1 from Tower to Sohrab Goth, an exclusive Light Rail alternative for this corridor was developed incorporating comments of the World Bank, NGOs and other agencies. This included certain changes in the location of stations and conversion of the double track Light Rail between Light House and Tower into a single track loop to mitigate congestion in the narrow portions of the M.A. Jinnah Road and locating maintenance and storage yards in the open space in south of Karachi City station. This plan was finally approved by the Federal Government on the basis of BOT basis, ratified through an MoU signed in December 1997.


Bids, invited for Corridor-1, offered special concession, e.g 40 per cent cost as repayable loan by the GOP, in line with those approved for power generation projects, fully complying with the World Bank's directives for such international competitive bidding. These bids were received in September 1995 as under:

  • Indus Mass Transit Co. (IMTC) consisting of Canadian firm SNC LAVALIN; STFA from Turkey and ADCON from Karachi Cost $586 million. This includes operation of the system by IMTC for 30 years.

  • Interinfra French Co. Cost $1,100 million

  • Malaysian Co. In collaboration with a Japanese firm for about $800 million, but without proper bid bond.

The government finally accepted the bid of IMTC after a process of technical review, through scrutiny and negotiation.

The financial closing of the project is being delayed since obviously to economic conditions prevailing in the country.

The execution and monitoring of the project has been transferred to Government of Sindh, under the Karachi Metropolitan Transport Authority (KMTA).

The offer as awarded to IMTC consists of the following modified features:

  • 13.7 kms Light Rail Transit Line from Mereweather Tower to Karimabad, 88 per cent elevated with remainder consisting of ramps and at-grade sections and thirteen stations upto Karimabad.

  • 3.7 km Special Bus Service to be operated by IMTC to shuttle LRT bound passengers from Karimabad station and Sohrab Goth in the same fare.

  • Operation of the system by IMTC for 30 years, at the end of which it would be transferred to the Government unless the lease is extended by mutual agreement.


Zaheerul Islam Malik, Director, Traffic Engineering Bureau (TEB) while spelling out the measures being taken to improve the traffic flow all around the city, said that TEB has chalked out a two-pronged approach i.e. Low Cost Traffic Management (LCTM) and Capital Cost Traffic Management (CCTM). The emphasis, however, is being given on LCTM owing to financial constraints. Under the low cost management, the TEB is carrying out the job of widening of the roads, construction of the link roads, improving the traffic system at the identified intersections to reduce congestion and bottlenecks from the intersections, to reduce delays, excessive fuel consumption and saving in vehicle operating costs, to reduce the number of accidents by providing smooth and controlled flow of traffic at intersections. Under this scheme, Sakhi Hassan Roundabout, Metro Cinema, Orangi, Ghani Chowk, SITE, Estate Avenue/ Hub River Road, Gharibabad, Liaquatabad Dakkhana, Old Exhibition, Chaudhry Khaliq-Uz-Zaman/ Shahrea Jami, Three Swords, Clifton, Shershah Chowk, Jail Road/ Shaheed-e-Millat Road, Bara Board, Godhra Camp/ Shah Waliullah Road, Rashid Minhas Road/ Gulshan Chowrangi have already been completed in the first phase of this plan. Under the second phase, the roundabouts of Water Pump in F.B. Area, Ayesha Manzil Roundabout, F.B. Area, KDA Chowrangi, North Nazimabad, Shahrea Quaideen/ Kalid Bin Valid Road, Shaheed E Millat/ Khalid Bin Valid Road, Nazimabad No.7, Stadium Road/ Sir Shah Suleman Road/ Habib Ibrahim Rehmatullah Road (Karsaz) ,H.I.R. Road(Karsaz)/ Tipu Sultan and Rashid Minhas Road/road to Gulistan-E-Johar will be completed in collaboration with other agencies during the current year.

The TEB has planned to create a link road at the Gurumandir roundabout to streamline traffic flow through this most crowded roundabout. In order to develop the link road around Grumandir about 29 shops and 15 encroachments will have to be removed. This new link road will be constructed at K.B Naraindas Road behind the KMC market. According to Zaheer, this new link road would increase efficiency of traffic flow by at least 80 per cent. This scheme involves the construction of a one-way couplet around the KMC market which at different places may be 6 to 8 lanes wide and two traffic signals. A survey of Gurumandar roundabout revealed that 310,000 vehicles use this roundabout at present every 24 hours, resulting in frequent traffic jam causing traffic chaos more often. This link road plan involves the creation of a new 80-feet, six lane wide link road behind the KMC market and redesigning of the intersection to optimise traffic flow. It is, however, not easy to go through this project as the removal of 29 legally allotted shops of the KMC market may not be an easy task unless the KMC agrees with the scheme and makes alternate arrangements for the affected shopkeepers.


Under the capital intensive projects, flyovers have been planned at the identified intersections where frequent traffic jams have become a great nuisance. Although, some important flyovers have already been completed, yet a number of them are delayed due to liquidity problems. The government of Sindh, however, taking steps for early completion, the Governor of Sindh Lt. Gen.(Retd) Moinuddin Haider is taking special interest for expediting the work on the delayed projects. The governor has recently directed the contractors for these public projects to accelerate the pace of work and try to complete them at the earliest. It may be mentioned that the delayed flyover projects are causing great traffic nuisance for the commuters at different points of the city. The tentative date for completion of Liaquatabad flyover, which has been delayed by three years, is now scheduled to be completed in November 1999. Another delayed project is widening of Lasbela Bridge which had started in Jan 1996 but still lying incomplete. This project was delayed mainly due to encroachments alongside the bridge. Since the encroachments have now been removed it is likely to be completed in June this year. While the bridge on railway crossing at University Road, Gulshan-e-Iqbal has been completed, the flyover on Rashid Minhas Road is delayed for about 8 months due to bottlenecks in shifting of utility services. Work on this flyover, started in March 1996, is expected to be opened for traffic in May this year.


The Saddar, Empress Market and a large portion of M.A. Jinnah Road from Tibet Centre to the tail end of Tower are the areas where the worst of traffic jams have become a daily routine.

The authorities have surprisingly allowed inter-city bus terminals in Saddar along Sagheer Shaheed Road where upcountry buses arrive at the rate of 8 to 10 per hour, encroachments by thousands of roadside vendors have occupied the entire footpaths in Saddar and Empress Market. The footpath and road encroachers around the Empress Market and Saddar area disappear whenever someone draws attention of the high-ups, however, they again emerged after a gap of three or four days.

According to a roadside encroacher, the encroachment from Saddar cannot be removed permanently as they are a great source of income for area police. The Mansfield Street--M.A Jinnah Road intersection to Predy Street, the main trunk for traffic routing through Saddar is occupied by encroachers apparently in connivance with the traffic police.

Ugly scenes of chaotic traffic jams are seen each day at the time when schools are off in the afternoon exposing the youngsters to traffic hazards and serious accidents. At least six inter-city bus companies have established their offices. They park their vehicles on Mansfield Street. The vehicles parked alongside the road also contribute to traffic hazards.


The smoke emitting vehicles have converted Karachi into the most polluted city of Pakistan compelling the citizens to breathe in an atmosphere which is full of carbon dioxide. According to a survey, every litre of petroleum consumed by an automobile, 2.2 grams of carbon dioxide is released into the air consequently spreading different kinds of diseases. Asthma which has been assuming an alarming proportion among the patients is certainly attributed to the air polluters as a great amount of carbon dioxide mixed with a certain amount of carbon monoxide and hydrocarbon are known for chest infection and allied diseases.

It is surprising to note that the multinational petroleum marketing companies, operating in Pakistan, have adopted a dual standard for marketing of their products. The oil marketing companies while operating in the Western countries maintain a minimum level of lead in the petroleum products to abide by the strict environment laws of those countries, however, they are least bothered about of fellow human beings in Pakistan and allowed their heavily lead loaded petroleum products. Although, some of the oil marketing companies claim for their lead-free petroleum products, yet the trees alongside the entire M.A. Jinnah road and other parts of the city with black leaves instead of their natural green are loudly refuting their false claims.

Responsibility for poisoning the air, which is the common property of the people, also lies on the vehicle fitness department which is allowing to operate the misfit vehicles by issuing fitness certificates to the vehicle operators by accepting gratifications.

According to a taxi driver, it is not possible to get through the fitness test in accordance with the procedure prescribed in the traffic rules. "You just pay Rs500 instead of official fee of Rs60 and get the fitness certificate whether your vehicle is emitting smoke, meter is tempered or the seats are broken," remarked the cab driver.


The upcountry-bound two-way traffic from Karachi Port which passes through the city roads cause traffic hazard for other vehicles by disordering the flow of traffic at major intersections.

The city suffers from severe congestions on the routes leading to the port as currently the access to the port compulsorily is through the city road network. Road access to the main port areas is via designated Port Gates i.e. East Wharf and West wharf which are used for transportation of goods destined for imports and exports.

The port traffic also occupies the city road in case they have to travel from East Wharf to West Wharf. The roads leading towards the port including Mauripur Road, Shahrah-i-Pakistan, Super Highway and the road which passes through the SITE industrial area, Sherine Jinnah Colony with catchment areas including Shahrah-i-Quaideen, University Road, Rashid Minhas Road and Super Highway. Another route which is affected by the port traffic includes Maulvi Tameezuddin Khan Road, Sharah-i-Faisal, National Highway.

The importance of the proposed Northern Bypass is increasing with each passing day in view of rapid increase in traffic congestions. This Bypass, when constructed, would effectively link the port with the Super Highway bypassing the congested city areas. It is approach to the RCD Highway and Karachi Airport would elevating this road to the status of regional importance, said Zaheer.

Southern Bypass.

The proposed route of the Southern Bypass is from Quaidabad to Keamari which will passing through Defence, Sunset Boulevard, Khayaban E Roomi, Khayaban E Jami and Mai Kolachi Bypass. This Bypass is necessary for linking the port and the Keamari Breakwater area with the National Highway via Korangi. The western section of this Bypass has been constructed but the alignment of the Eastern section has not been in pending due to objections from local residents and Defence Housing Authority(DHA)

The Southern Bypass project, conceived in the KDA's master plan in 1990, is waiting for implementation since then.


This project, planned on both sides of banks of the Lyari River would link the Port to the Super Highway if allowed to be completed by the encroachers.

Removal of a large number of illegal shanty houses would be a hard nut for the authorities to break.

Currently, the government has decided to involve the private sector in developing all these projects, it is yet to be seen how the private sector responds to these projects which are full of bottlenecks.


PAGE believes that following are the bottlenecks which are hampering the improvement and growth of transport system in Karachi.

I. Non-availability of financing facility for public transport. Soft-term loan facility should be allowed specially for long chasis public buses.

II. Absence of insurance facility for public transport is a major factor in the non-development of an efficient transport system. In case of an eventuality like road accident or vehicle is set ablaze by the law breakers, the entire loss has to be suffered by the transporter/owner. The public transport met 1,118 serious road accidents during 1997 bringing a net loss of Rs 561.8 million to the transporters. The compensation given by the government was just a mere eye wash.

III. Money extortion (Bhatta collection) by the traffic police at every stage. Leakage of huge amount in shape of Bhatta is also one of the reasons which did not allow the transport system to develop on sound and fair grounds.

The replacement of small chasis public transport by long chasis vehicles could be an effective remedy for enhancing the road occupancy which is shrinking with the rapid increase in number of vehicles and for removal of congestions due to smaller vehicles.