KARACHI: TACKLING TRAFFIC JAMS AND CONGESTION
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Traffic congestion in Karachi is common more around in commercial areas


By MUHAMMAD BASHIR CHAUDHRY
Oct 25 - 31, 2004
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Vehicles, the mechanical means of transport for goods and people, are important the world over for facilitating economic, commercial and social activities. However, we experience traffic jams or congestion if there is uncontrolled flow of more vehicles vis-a-vis limited capacity roads and allied physical infrastructure. Traffic jams result into waste of money, cause pollution, inconvenience to the people and slow down pace of business activities. Traffic congestion in Karachi is common more around in commercial areas, schools and colleges, courts, government offices and entertainment areas, due to different reasons. Congestion is exacerbated by double parking of vehicles, mostly cars, taxis and motorcycles, along road-sides. Footpaths, mostly encroached by the shop-owners or hawkers, oblige the pedestrians to walk on roads, at great risk to life.

Attitude of drivers, efforts of traffic police to facilitate traffic flow and the physical condition of roads play a big part in controlling traffic jams. The vehicles plying on Karachi roads include trucks, oil or water tankers, buses, cars, taxis, rickshaws, vans, minibuses, motorcycles, bicycles and so on. In addition, there are animal driven carts such as camel carts, donkey carts and horse buggies. The number of motor vehicles in the city is in hundreds of thousands and is fast increasing. The DIG Traffic Police has been quoted recently saying that some 65,000 vehicles were added in the city every year that led to traffic jams. Slow moving animal-driven carts and oil tankers are to be first restricted from most of the congested areas.

The Sindh Minister for Labour, Transport, Industries and Commerce on 25th September 2004 reportedly urged the Transport Department to work on a comprehensive programme for introducing new transport culture. He emphasized on fitness of the vehicles, trainings of drivers and pedestrians, improvements in roads and routes and efficiency of traffic police. He directed the Transport Department to gear up the ongoing transport schemes and to prepare new schemes for reducing congestion.

"Traffic Jams Issue in Karachi" was the topic under discussion at the Jang Forum recently at Karachi. The City Nazim, the DIG Traffic Police, the President of Karachi Transport Ittehad and the Chairman of Urban Resource Centre were the main speakers. The In-Charge Jang Forum coordinated the discussion. Main factors identified for addressing traffic problems are: (i) Need for alternative routes to all important destinations; (ii) Effective coordination between different departments of City Government, the Traffic Police, and the Transporters; (iii) Education, training and sense of responsibility of drivers and transporters; (iv) Provision of a proper Drivers Training School, (v) Implementation of traffic rules in letter and spirit, (vi) Improvement in the emoluments package of traffic personnel, (vii) Implementation of Karachi Mass Transit Project, (viii) Planned commercialization of roads in future, (ix) Controlled movement of some 25,000 oil and other tankers, (x) Expeditious implementation of Lyari Express Way, (xi) Removing of encroachments especially on footpaths, and (xii) Shifting of oil refineries, metal markets, godowns, etc to outside the city. Action on these areas might be initiated now and completed within by 2006.

 

 

The government including the City Government has been taking measures, within their means, for improving traffic flow. A large number of roads and related infrastructure have been constructed/revamped and there are plans to build more flyovers, underpasses and important sections of key roads. Traffic management policy in any city aims at smooth flow of people and goods at reasonable cost, without traffic congestion and accident hazards. A good traffic system is the identity of a good nation and is considered an attraction for foreign investment and tourists.

The main stakeholders for smooth traffic flow are the general public, City Government, the Provincial and Federal governments, KPT and PQA, Pakistan Railways, Traffic Police, FPCCI and KCCI, the industrialists, top importers and exporters, oil refineries, KESC, PTCL and representatives/owners of different modes of transport. The key role, in my view, is that of the City Government, which might act diligently in various areas such as: (i) Developing policies for management of multi-mode traffic in consultation with the government, industry and business, port authorities, utilities, different transport groups and the general public; (ii) Coordinating with the provincial and federal government, port authorities, utilities, etc in the designing of roads infrastructure and financing thereof; and (iii) Constructing good quality roads and other infrastructure for smooth flow of traffic throughout the city.

Karachi city has unique geographical features. It has two deep sea ports handling major exports of the country; a busy international airport; financial hub of the country with head offices of most banks, DFIs and the largest stock exchange; large number of colleges and universities; and two oil refineries operating near the port while the third one located nearby in Balochistan. Oil depots at ports or near refineries are obliged to pass through the city, adding to congestion. Main railway line divides the city in two parts. In spite of a number of overhead bridges, traffic jams are seen daily at many level crossings. Being the capital of Sindh Province, various government departments are located in Karachi, the population of which is placed around 14 million. Building of roads infrastructure and traffic management of such a city is complex. Resource constraints with the City Government add another dimension to it. All the other stakeholders are urged to generously contribute to enable the City Government for constructing and maintaining the roads infrastructure.

Comprehensive traffic management policies, based on City Master Plan-2020 devised in consultation with other stakeholders, with important elements such as: (i) Timeframe for phasing out movement of oil tankers through building oil terminals outside the city areas connected by pipeline to the oil refineries or the ports for imported oil products; (ii) Timing for the movement of trucks carrying export-bound cargo or imported cargo; (iii) Zoning of city areas for different vehicles allowed entry during day, night or day and night; (iv) Identification and implementation of major road infrastructure projects including bridges and overpasses, etc after agreeing on their priority and financing with other stakeholders; (v) Earmarking of open plots of land in different areas and their development for day/night parking including repair shops and other allied facilities, and (vi) Introduction of private sector in the construction and operation of some of the road infrastructure projects under BOT arrangements or under Public-Private Partnership.

The KCR is an existing project, independent of the Karachi Mass Transit Project, and might be rehabilitated and made operational without waiting for the implementation of the KMTP. As and when KMTP is implemented and becomes operational, the combined impact of the KCR and the KPMP would be larger than the contribution of each project independently. This approach might also be followed in the implementation of other projects in the transport sector. Deadlines might be given and met for completion of all such projects.

The City Government and the Provincial Government including Traffic Police, in my view, have the pivotal role for smooth traffic flow by improving road infrastructure, training of drivers and pedestrians, compliance with the rules, checking traffic violations without fear or favour, arranging funds for new road infrastructure projects and their completion, ensuring value-for-money. Emoluments and service conditions of Traffic Police and other authorities associated with traffic management might be rationalized on priority basis.

The City Government might consider closely following progress of mega infrastructure projects such as Lyari Express Way and Northern By-Pass, due to their impact on smooth flow of traffic in Karachi. Moreover, the City Government and the Provincial/Federal Government might engage the best technical/financial/legal help while finalizing the arrangements for the financing, implementation and operation of the KCR, the KMTP and other such projects. This is essential to protect the interest of the government as well as the people of Karachi.

The City Government has introduced a few hundred franchised or other big buses and more are coming. However, the number is small as compared to the requirements. Moreover, not all routes are being covered by these big buses. The franchise system for buses might be so designed that the transporters presently plying minibuses are attracted to start plying large franchised buses. On the pattern of KCR, the Circular Buses might be introduced in the city. In addition, the Shuttle Buses might be considered for quick journeys between two important points. Comfort and convenience offered by the franchised buses would facilitate people give up travel by car, motorcycle, taxi or rickshaw and thus reduce congestion and pollution.

Multi-story car parks are not common in our cities. These parking spaces are however meant for the owners or the senior executives of the institutions housed in these buildings. The junior officers and the visitors are all obliged to park their vehicles on the roadside or on vacant plots of land available nearby. Charge parking, since discontinued in Karachi, provided some solace as the vehicles were parked in an organized manner. However, as additional parking space was not developed, it did not help much and the traffic flow remained slow and irregular.

The City Government might invite the private sector, through open bids, to develop and operate parking lots/vehicle terminals/multi-storey car parking at the given locations against the right to collect appropriate fee from owners of the vehicles which use the facilities. The banks may be willing to finance construction of such buildings against acceptable securities. If properly structured and managed, the rentals from these lots should be enough to service the loans and after a few years the project will become a source of regular income for the City Government. Main points to be kept in view include: (i) fees collected for use of parking space should not be excessive as the contractor assumes no responsibility for pilferage, theft or damage to the vehicle, and (ii) dealing with the private sector must be fair and transparent; proposals may be invited through press and rules governing the arrangements might be published in advance.

The holding of the international exhibition Ideas-2004 in Karachi disrupted the traffic. Instead of asking the government to hold such exhibitions elsewhere, the Karachiites particularly the business people might take the challenge to improve road infrastructure in the city for holding more such exhibitions successfully without causing undue hardships to the traveling public. To avoid traffic disruption, alternate routes might be developed along with more exhibition centres for such a cosmopolitan city as Karachi. The City Government might coordinate with the government as well as with other stakeholders for developing Karachi into a modern, clean, peaceful, hospitable city with fully developed road and other infrastructure, for the citizens as well as the visitors.