Karachi: When aim is to win elections rather fix the problem

By: |Abdul Moiz Malik|

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Karachi, as big a metropolis it is, equally big is its issues. From infrastructure to provision of clean water, so much is amiss here that it is always ranked among the low ranking countries in terms of ease of living. One of the grave issues in Karachi is traffic. It is a mess. Traffic in Karachi is agonizing and dreadful.

It’s chaos ensued on the roads with utter lawlessness. It is disorderly, public buses are scant and increase in private vehicles causes congestion. Aggravating the issues are encroachments, lack of planning and parking on roads.

The public transport system is in shambles and is unable to cater to the demand of his burgeoning city; as a result, people resort to the use of private vehicles. Number of cars and motorcycles are increasing exponentially.

Now, with the arrival of cab-hailing services, there is further increment in the number of cars. This is due to the fact that there is no established mode of transportation in the city for ordinary people. They are compelled to commute on buses that are less spacious and are not fitness certified.

Poor people put their lives in peril and anguish hanging on for their dear lives clinging on to rusty and shaky handlebars and badly maintained footsteps. According to a report in November 2017, the number of public transport buses having declined between 2011 and 2014 — from 22,313 to 12,399. Out of the buses that still exist, they write, only 9,527 are operative. Others remain off the road because of the CNG shortage, lack of funding and absence of security.

A relief to this abject situation came in form of the news that Chief Minister Sindh Syed Murad Ali Shah has approved Rs195 million for the intra-city bus project, under which 32 buses will ply on Sharah e Faisal in the first phase and on five different routes in the second phase.

While this is nothing when seen in comparison with the humongous traffic problems of Karachi, it can thankfully be termed as beginning of a long an arduous task of solving the traffic woes of Karachi, probably the government has woken from its slumber of incompetency and decided to do something to fix Karachi’s transport with mere months before the elections.

While, this is a good move, it is a stark depiction of short term and myopic planning of government. It is a problem visible all over the country. Governments in Pakistan seldom put long term benefits in sight. Most of the times, these projects are aimed to extract short term benefits, commissions and kickbacks and winning the next tenure. It leaves serious repercussions for future generations.

There is a need for new buses on Karachi’s roads, but, anyone who has even a modicum of idea about Karachi, he knows that these new buses will further exacerbate the claustrophobic condition on Karachi’s roads. So a project that was aimed to relieve people will increase problems for them.

Same issue was with the construction of flyovers, Karachi’s face changed and traffic flow improved, it increased problems for those who have to crossover roads. With the intersections converted into flyovers and under passes, commuters were left with no way to cross over the road as there are no traffic signals where the traffic could stop.

What could have been done was that, a project should have been devised to improve the existent traffic system with improved traffic signals. People should have been made to halt at red light and any transgression of traffic signals should have cost them hefty fines. Government instead of going for more prudent projects went for the magnum opus of bridges and flyovers as they please the eye and can be termed as achievements in election campaign.

Big cities like London and New York have no flyovers or underpasses, yet their traffic management is flawless. Unfortunately it’s a game of optics in this country rather than serving the people who elect you.

Similar aberration is depicted in the process of installing new energy power plants.

The entire world is conscious about perils and ominous repercussions of global warming, one of the biggest contributors to this menace is the emission of CO2 from power plants, industries and vehicles. The harmful pollutants that are emitted in the air by these coal fired plants contribute immensely to global warming and climate change.

They also carry serious threats for human health. To curb this, the global fraternity is determined to gradually alleviate their emission of CO2. They are shifting towards more renewable and eco friendly sources of energy production.

China is an example that is rapidly transforming its energy system on solar power, while minimizing their dependence on coal power plants and furnace oil based plants.

China’s National Energy Administration has set a goal for clean energy to meet 20% of China’s energy needs by 2030. Sweden is producing energy from trash while Germany now generates 27 percent of the country’s electricity through renewable sources. Amid this, our government is pleased to install and gloat about coal and furnace oil based power plants, which can solve load shedding problem for a short-term, but, are a hazard in the long term.

Since renewable resources involve detailed planning and extensive outlining, government refrains from it. It’s not a short term bonus but a long term solution. Coal based plants are cheap and a quick fix while renewable energy sources are heavy on cost but the benefits are more far reaching that is why we don’t opt for it, because we are placated with redundant advantages and the sole desire is to win the next elections and take ill-begotten money.

The Sindh government could have done more planning for their impending project. Instead of bringing new buses, they should have replaced the old buses already running which emit smoke and maintain no fitness standard.

To run these new buses, along with the old ones will worsen traffic jams and since these buses will run on fuel as well, we should get ready to inhale more CO2. The monopoly of transporters will continue, as these new buses will not cover every route in the city. So a fraction of the population will be benefited with these new spacious vehicles, while the rest of the city will be left to the mercy of old buses. A detailed study should be done as to how many commuters commute on a single route, then a strategy should be devised to replace the existing number of buses with the new ones.

This will not only save the people from the threat of sitting on rooftops, it will also not be a major burden on the traffic. Moreover, in congruence, a policy is required to reduce the ownership of personal cars and bikes and also a slash on illegally running Qingqi, which thrived on the failure of public transport. With a better fleet of buses, a lot of problems that are causing stress for passengers on roads of Karachi can be solved.

Without this being done, this new project is ostensibly another delusional and short term fix aimed more as means for a political gain for next elections. We should think about the future as the word is currently doing, otherwise, our future is in danger with these hasty stratagems.

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