Public transport: Bad governance on wheels

Karachi: Public transport sector in Sindh province, particularly in Karachi, has become a spectator example of lack of governance and indiscipline, affecting lives of millions of commuters.

With chilling winter winds blowing, commuting in Karachi by perching on a roof-rack of overcrowded minibus in Karachi is an experience that could only be called a nuisance; however, the Karachi commuters brave this hassle every day.

Though the performance of no government department is Sindh province could be termed ideal, but the performance of the transport department could be unquestionably placed on the lower rung. The government simply has neglected the transport sector, particularly urban public transport, a key to swift socioeconomic progress and prosperity in any society. Karachi is a mega urban city but its urban public transport is even worse than rural transport of many poor and backward African nations.

Nowhere in the world commuters are not seen travelling on rooftops of minibuses in any mega urban city, saving poor Karachi. If compared the public transport sector of today with the public transport of pre-partition Karachi, one can see only a steep decline. In the pre-partition days Karachi owned a respectable public transport system with an efficient tram system running in downtown area. Even three decades back the city had a good public transport system with Karachi Circular Railway (KCR), a surface-based rail system, and a big fleet of Karachi Transport Corporation (KTC) buses. However, this valuable rail and road-based public transport infrastructure was systemically damaged and valuable government assets including hundreds of wide-bodied buses sold at junk prices on the basis of commission and kickbacks.

Presently, the public transport needs of the city are being catered by thousands of makeshift motorcycle rickshaws called Chingchis, and very old, shabby and smoke-emitting buses and minibuses that often run overcrowded with passengers travelling on their rooftops. The Supreme Court of Pakistan a year back had instructed to remove the roof-racks from minibuses of Karachi but the provincial government has yet to implement the directive of the apex court.

The public transport sector of the city is governed by private transporters, who buy junk and road-unfit buses from different provinces of Pakistan and ply them on Karachi streets. The government transport and traffic departments do not stress on engine-fitness of these junkyard-class vehicles because their owners know the art how to keep the palms of corrupt government official greased. There is no official colour code for public transport buses and vehicles in Karachi. These buses issue no ticket to commuters after charging fare. These buses use cheap CNG but charge fare on the basis of diesel consumption, as the government had given them impunity to fleece the Karachi commuters.

The Karachi Metropolitan Corporation (KMC) had bought wide-bodied CNG ‘Green buses’, recruited staff to run them, erected ticket kiosks on different routes of the city, but after a few months these new buses were parked on the pretext of ‘need to repair’. No government authority has asked who was responsible for the wastage of taxpayers’ money. Practically, there is not concept of the audit of government local bodies’ funds in Karachi.

To revamp the public transport sector in Karachi, the government should redouble the efforts for revival of Karachi Circular Railway (KCR). The Green Buses of the KMC should again be brought on roads. The colour code of public transport buses and minibuses should be strictly implemented. The culture of issuing fare tickets to commuters should be revived. The killer roof-racks of the minibuses should be removed to save lives of commuters and also to honour the apex court. The road unfit junkyard class vehicles should be removed from the city streets and growing culture of Chingchi transport should be checked. The government should announce new bus routes for the city given to the transporters who are willing to ply new wide-bodies buses in Karachi. The small-bodied minibuses and coaches should be phased out from Karachi, and bus fare should be revised, basing it on the use of CNG usage.

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