By Muhammad Bashir Chaudhry
Dec 28 - Jan 05, 2003

There is a report contributed by Arman Sabir, regarding a Plan that is almost ready to ease traffic congestion in Saddar- one of the largest commercial areas of Karachi. Reasons for congestions, pollution and traffic confusion in Saddar are said to include (a) misuse of the parking space by the commercial plazas, (b) large number of buses, minibuses and coaches, running without a route permit in the area, (c) large scale encroachments, (d) illegal bus stops at places other than designated stops, (e) irregular parking, and (f) vehicle repair shops on roads. Concentrating on reducing the load of commuters, removal of encroachments and providing parking facilities, a committee of the KMTP has prepared a comprehensive plan to combat the congestion in a three-square-km area of Saddar which has a road network of 37 km with 48 intersections. The Committee comprised of the senior officers from Karachi Mass Transit Programme (KMTP), Traffic Police and Army Supporting Team.

A survey has been referred to in the news reports, about vehicular and other traffic in the area. According to the survey, conducted before drawing up the Plan, more or less 350,000 vehicles enter into Saddar area during 15 hours a day, consisting approximately of cars 42 %, buses / minibuses 12%, motorcycles 26%, rickshaws 16% and trucks 2 % and other vehicles 2%. An average of 25,000 cars are parked for a short term during this time period. As for the public transport, the survey shows that 17 routes of buses, 19 of minibuses, two of coaches and two of KPTS pass through Saddar. It shows that five routes of buses, four of minibuses and six of KPTS terminate at different stops in Saddar. The survey has found that only 2,283 public transport vehicles have been granted route permits and they either pass through or culminate at Saddar. As many as 70,000 pedestrian cross the road near Empress Market and another 24,000 near Capri Cinema every hour. The whole scheme traffic scheme in Saddar area deserves rationalization in a systematic manner.

The news report lists a number of suggestions by the Committee, with a view to make Saddar area congestion free. The proposals include (a) removal of encroachments, (b) allocation of an areas as "hawkers' zones", (c) registration of the hawkers to avoid further encroachments, (d) formation of a vigilance squad to control encroachments, (e) stopping illegal entry of minibuses/buses and / or making stoppages at places other than the designated stops, (f) rationalization of route permits in Saddar area, (g) designated of certain roads as "pedestrian malls", (h) building of the missing link of Preedy Street Extension(i) streamlining of the charged parking system and construction of multi-storeyed parking lots, and (j) establishment of local bus terminuses. More such measures would be discovered through open discussion with the stakeholders. What matters most is amicable start and execution of remedial actions.

The Plan has reportedly been presented to the City Nazim recently and is likely to be considered further before it is finalized for implementation. A number of measures and steps have also been proposed for easing the traffic congestion and for facilitating the pedestrians. For further improving the Saddar Traffic Plan and for laying foundation of the Karachi Traffic Plan, the following suggestions are offered for consideration by the authorities. It may be realized that the traffic congestion and other problems in Saddar are not uncommon in other commercial areas of Karachi or other large cities. Also, the remedial steps being considered for improving the prevalent conditions in Saddar area are relevant, with some modifications, for applicability in other areas.

The Saddar Traffic Plan, a project of the Saddar Town, might be finalized and executed in coordination with similar plans of adjoining Towns as well as the Master Plan for Karachi Metropolitan area. Saddar Plan should dovetails with plans for other commercial areas in other Towns. For sake of financing and commercial viability, large parking lots, including multi-storey car parks, and the bus terminuses should be strategically located so that these facilities serve Saddar as well as other areas. Possibly, the Nazims of different Towns in the vicinity of Saddar also have Plans for easing traffic congestion in their respective commercial areas. In such a situation, a coordinated approach for developing parking lots / facilities is expected to yield better results, at a relatively lower cost.

The rights of the people living in Saddar area have preference over the rights of other stakeholders desirous of proper traffic management in the area. The residents live in the area day and night and they also go out of the houses any time of the day. If they are maintaining personal vehicles for transport, they expect free access to their abodes day and night. In addition there are business people that own their commercial or manufacturing or marketing establishments in Saddar area. Within the rules, they also have rights of full access to their place of business. Therefore, it would be fit and proper that the views and convenience of the residents as well as the owners of commercial establishments are taken into account while designating particular streets free of motorized vehicles or animal driven carts or in any other way changing the present status.

According to the Plan the mini-buses and other passenger buses will not be allowed to enter Saddar if the route permit does not specify that. Such violations and diversions into Saddar should have been strictly enforced in the past. The authorities may use colour-code or special windscreen stickers to identify different vehicles that can pass through specified routes within Saddar area. Buses of other colours will easily stand out and should not be allowed entry in to Saddar area.

In order to reduce the inflow / outflow of vehicles to the Saddar area, the authorities might consider introducing Shuttle Buses plying on specified routes to Saddar or other commercial areas. Shuttle Buses can start from areas such as PECHS, Defence, Cantonment or City Railway Station, Guru Mandar, Burns Road, etc. and 5-10 minutes journey to Saddar. If the Buses are comfortable and the timings are convenient many families living a short distance from Saddar would prefer taking the Shuttle Bus for visiting Saddar instead of using own car or motorcycle for the journey. The terminuses of the Buses should be conveniently located. The Shuttle Buses may also connect designated Parking Lots. People coming from far-off places may use own vehicles to reach there, park the vehicles and then take the Shuttle Bus to visit Saddar. In practice such Parking Lots would be serving people coming to Saddar as well as other commercial / businesses located approximately within 3-5 km radius.

More charged parking lots should also be developed within Saddar area. The City Government may consider allowing special concessions to the property owners to induce them converting open plots for use as paid parking lots. Multi-storey car parks are better but it may take 2-3 years for construction. At one time, the KMC was suggested to construct such facilities at sites of the existing water pumping stations. At that time these were considered ideal locations. Once the City government constructs such multi-storey facilities, these may be leased out to the private contractors under agreed arrangements. If the City government finds the up-front financing difficult, it may invite private sector to finance and build the parking facilities at plot of land owned by it, on BOT basis, for concession period that may range 10-15 years.

The City government has plans to remove the encroachments in Saddar areas with a view to ease traffic flow. In the past, encroachments came about due to negligence or possibly collusion in certain cases of the concerned authorities. Removal of encroachments will not be easy. There will be resistance and protests from the people so affected. In the interest of smooth flow of traffic, the encroachments may not be regularized. The action for removing encroachments should be fair and applicable. Use of footpaths and public places by the hawkers is also encroachment and must be tackled. Footpaths may be cleared of all commercial activity or other occupation. People should have the chance to walk on the footpaths leisurely with all members of family including children. This will add to the value of Saddar and help make it real centre of Karachi.

In many cases, the shop owners display their merchandise occupying the footpath in front of their shops. The shopkeepers may be asked to observe the rules and they would agree. However, at presently part of certain roads and most of the footpaths are also encroached by hawkers and traders. With the removal of encroachments from these areas, all these people will be displaced and would not be able to continue their trade there. Perhaps some of the encroachers are occupying the pace unlawfully and deserve no leniency. However, in the present day conditions of large unemployment and pervasive poverty, steps might be taken to save these people from hardships. These people may be registered and provided open space, preferably within Saddar area, to carry on their trade and earn the livelihood. In case the City government builds commercial plazas in Saddar area, the hawkers and traders may be accommodated by offering them small cabins, the price of which they should pay in installments.

It has been reported that the surveyors who carried out the survey before the Plan, counted a large number of patharas, pushcarts, table stalls, cabins, sugarcane-juice machines, garages and semi-permanent stalls within the Saddar area. Most of these encroachments are visible along different streets. The City government and other authorities are urged to be vigilant on this account, as the surveys may not be perfect. Many of such hawkers may have been left out. This has happened in case of properties surveyed in relation to the Lyari Expressway Project that is being handled by the City government. The removal of encroachment in Saddar area may entail difficulties as has been experienced in case Lyari Expressway.

Another problem is the parking of a large number of vehicles near 18 educational institutions particularly near certain well-known schools. This disturbs traffic flow for two to three hours during the afternoon time. In order to ease traffic congestion and to maintain smooth flow near these schools, there is need to provide parking space. Some space may be created through reducing the width of shoulders along the roads. But this may not be possible in all cases. The City government may look into the options available and discuss the same with the management of the schools, the Cantonment authorities or private parties that are in a position to help provide open space for parking purposes.

It is said that a total of 25 commercial plazas are located in Saddar and 18 of them are misusing the parking space, in one way or the other. The number might be higher as new plazas are continuously being added. Other commercial buildings may also be in violation of the parking rules. The City government may initiate action for pressing managements of the defaulter commercial plazas / buildings to restore the parking space to be used for parking purposes so as to overcome the parking problems.

It has been reported that there are 340 motor vehicle repair shops on roads and 32 similar shops off-roads. The repair shops on roads might be shifted to proper repair garages. The repair shops producing noise or other pollution particularly the ones without own garage and ample parking space for vehicles within the compounds may be asked to relocate. Instead of scattering these repair shops throughout the city, it would be a better idea if, within limits of each Town, technical trade centres are set up in the public / private sector for housing these repair shops. The repair shop owners in Saddar area may be allowed to buy the shops in these centres or rent them to be able to continue their existing trade. The workshops that do not agree to relocate might not be issued licences for continuing trade at the old location in the Saddar area.

The City government may also rationalize the types of industrial / commercial / trading activities being practiced in the Saddar area at present. Perhaps there are a few such activities that are unhygienic, hazardous or are pollutants and must be shifted out to other appropriate places. In addition, the schools and colleges may be encouraged to consider relocation to other less congested areas. As a first step the institutions may consider setting up New Campuses in other places that can provide more space for teaching as well as extra-curricular activities.

Finally, the City government and other authorities are urged to realize that the situation reached the present sorry state to some extent due to slackness of the authorities that were responsible for controlling encroachments or for controlling vehicles movement as provided in the route permits. In case the monitoring of the assigned duties is again slack, it may not be easy for the government to successfully execute the betterment schemes.