A Political Orphan: Karachi’s Public Transport Ranked Worst In The World By Bloomberg
Karachi ranks as having the most deplorable public transport system worldwide, according to a 2019 study by car-parts company Mister Auto that looked at 100 major cities worldwide.
Most of Karachi’s commuters rely on decades-old, overcrowded buses that use the roof as a second deck for passengers at times.
The city’s roads are filled with potholes, not all traffic signals are automated, and it is common to see drivers running red lights.
Still, the former capital is home to Pakistan’s main ports and the regional headquarters for companies such as Standard Chartered PLC and Unilever PLC, helping it generate half of Pakistan’s tax revenue.
However, those funds get distributed to other parts of the state. Karachi’s outgoing mayor Waseem Akhtar said last year he had only 12% administrative control of the city and a lack of funds.
The army controls Karachi’s wealthier areas, while the rest is divided among the provincial and federal governments that barely get along.
“Karachi, despite its significance, is a political orphan,” said Arsalan Ali Faheem, a consultant at DAI, a Maryland-based company that advises on development projects.
“The federal government is restricted in what it can do, and the city government controls less than a quarter of the city. It means that Karachi’s problems belong simultaneously to everyone and no one.”
The dysfunction came into the spotlight in August when record rainfall flooded many parts of the city for more than a week. Around 64 people died, while 10,000 had to be rescued.
The flooding left many people trapped and without electricity that was suspended. A few days later, mobile phone service and cash machines stopped working too.
In its aftermath, Prime Minister Imran Khan visited the city and announced a development package valued at Rs. 1.1 trillion ($6.8 billion) jointly with the provincial government, including the bus projects and the Karachi Circular Railway (KCR).
However, accessing those funds has been a different story. Even though the federal government announced Rs. 162 billion for mega projects in Karachi last year, the city officials reported that no funds were ever released by the federal government.
In response, the federal government reported that it had spent Rs. 24.65 billion up to June 2020, while an allocation of Rs. 17.9 billion has been made for the current fiscal year.
The latest attempts follow several others to bring Karachi’s transportation system into the modern era. Multiple bus projects have been announced over the years, but they never started or were unable to sustain for more than a few years.
Meanwhile, Lahore started a train service last week after getting a related bus project running seven years ago.
According to Adam Weinstein, a research fellow at the Washington D.C.-based Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft, Karachi was once well connected by a circular railway.
However, corruption and mismanagement in the transportation sector brought the city to a crumbling halt in the late 1990s.
Many of the city’s railway tracks have become illegal slums with migrants moving from smaller towns for better wages.
“Karachi has yet to discover a humane way to confront land encroachment that impedes development and relocates people without incurring immense political blowback,” said Weinstein.
The green line bus project in Karachi was announced six years ago. After several months of delays, it is now expected to be completed around June of next year.
According to Asad Umar, the federal planning minister, the bus project has been progressing since the federal government took it over from the Sindh government earlier this year.
The delays are hardly an anomaly. The circular railway revival has been discussed for at least 15 years, while a water supply project is 18 years in the making.
The city’s most expensive areas do not have access to piped water and rely on water supplied via tankers, known as the “tanker mafia.”
“If cities can provide quality infrastructure, it by default increases productivity,” Uzair Younus, a non-resident senior fellow at the Atlantic Council, informed Bloomberg.
“An administrative system that is unable to provide reasonable mass transit to the largest city in the state will always be viewed with skepticism.”
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