For as little as 10 rupees you can pick up a woman from Moach Goth off the RCD Highway. But as long as you take her, you will also have to take the four women she is with. They will each pay you 10 rupees. All they ask in return is for you to drop them near Tariq Road in the centre of the city. ?The women hitchhike each day to neighbourhoods such as Bahadurabad, PECHS and beyond where they work as maids. They make a choice to hitchhike – but not for a lack of buses on these routes. The Star Line and X8 run reasonably regularly. The women don’t like taking the buses because there is never enough space, it costs more, and most importantly, it takes too long for them to get into town.
“Wo das jagah se rukti hui jati he,” says Nazia, a 40-year-old woman who is going to Tariq Road with three other women. The bus stops multiple times. If she leaves home in Moach Goth at 7am and takes the bus, it will take her at least two hours to get to work. The return during rush hour is worse. “Char ghantay aise gae to kaam kya karega?” she asks. If she spends four hours commuting each day what work will get done? The women often get stuck in traffic jams and worry about young children they have left at home unattended.
The Urban Resource Centre found that some women were hitchhiking in empty shipping containers headed down from the RCD Highway to the Karachi port
The Urban Resource Centre found that some women were hitchhiking in empty shipping containers headed down from the RCD Highway to the Karachi port. ?Their predicament is understandable. Time is money. The women are paid as little as Rs1,000 to wash dishes, Rs1,000 to wash clothes and Rs1,500 to sweep and wash floors at a house. They need to work at two houses at least to be able to make about Rs7,000 a month which is still less than the minimum wage. If they take the bus each day to work that eats away roughly Rs1,000 (if you go by the Rs20 fare one way). It is small wonder they prefer to hitchhike, mostly for free or for as little as five rupees.
The women travel in groups for safety and are covered from head to toe in burqas if they are young or chadors if they are older. “If we see the driver isn’t good we don’t get in,” explains Nazia’s younger sister Shazia. Nazia chimes in though with maternal wisdom: “Sab aurtain ek jaisi nahi hoti. Mard mard hota he.” Not all women are alike, she says, indicating she is from the ‘you asked for it’ school of thought. Men are going to be men after all. But there is something about Nazia’s wide-hipped heft and carriage that makes it clear that she is not shy when it comes to giving a frisky boy a tongue-lashing.
Mass transit plans have been made since 1952 but none have materialised. The network map everyone is using is based on a plan the Japanese International Cooperation Agency made in 2010
Karachi Transport Timeline
1952 Karachi’s first master plan with mass transit systems is designed by the Swedish firm Merz Rendel Vatten but is never used.
1958 Ayub Khan decides to push refugees and working classes out of the city. Greek planner Doxiades develops Landhi-Korangi and New Karachi. Plan flops as factories too slow to emerge. Slums and sprawl follow.
1964 Karachi Circular Railway opens from Drigh Road to Wazir Mansion. Grows to 83 km track.
1972 The World Bank works with the Karachi Development Authority and proposes seven elevated transit ways through the heart of Karachi. Arif Hasan and other activists shoot it down.
1974 Curitiba (Brazil) introduces a high quality bus service system, which is now recognized as the first successful case of BRT in the world. ?
1977 Army takes over.
1980s KCR operates 24 trains per day and the main line operates 80 trains per day, providing transportation to more than 6 million passengers per year.
1988 The Karachi Mass Transit Cell starts work but struggles to bring donors and government on the same page.
1995 Government makes official Karachi Mass Transit Corridors on which city government promotes light rail.
1999 KCR operation stops due to lack of finances and rolling stock.
2000 Bogota (Columbia) opens an innovative BRT system (TransMillenio), which has a great impact on transit planners and decision makers in the world.
2001 Taipei introduces BRT.
2004 Seoul and Jakarta introduce BRT.
2005 Beijing introduces BRT.
2008 Government starts making a Sindh Mass Transit Authority (still pending before assembly).
2008 The Karachi Urban Transport Corporation is formed as a regulatory authority to revive of the KCR. Nothing happens.
2008 New Delhi introduces BRT, as does Istanbul.
2009 The chingchi appears on Karachi’s roads just as buses start switching to CNG.
2010 Lima and Bangkok introduce BRT.
2010 Japanese International Cooperation Agency (JICA) starts work on a Karachi Transportation Improvement Project.
2012 Lahore gets its BRT, called the Metrobus.
2012 Islamabad-Rawalpindi and Multan start working on their BRT.
2013 Japan agrees to give KUTC Rs2.5bn in a loan to redo the KCR. Faisalabad starts on its BRT.
2015 Peshawar starts gearing up for BRT.
Public transport has not kept up with the needs of the populace or the rapid sprawl of the city as it increasingly absorbs more residents towards the outskirts
The hitchhiking women of Moach Goth are a symptom of Karachi’s transport disease. Public transport has not kept up with the needs of the populace or the rapid sprawl of the city as it increasingly absorbs more residents towards the outskirts. The slums are densifying because people living on the periphery are working class but their work is located in the centre of the city. No one wants to live that far away because there is no proper transport to work. The city’s only respectable version of mass transit, the Karachi Circular Railway, died a slow death of neglect. Today it only shows up as a black line on planning maps. The tram belonged to a time when Karachi’s population wasn’t making the headlines.
The government has been well aware of this growing crisis and has tried unsuccessfully to apply a Band-Aid in various shapes and sizes. The most recent one was the Green bus line in 2005 but it was inexplicably pulled off the roads. The skeletons of the buses now stand parked at a depot in Surjani town, gutted out by thieves for their parts. ?
Thankfully, though, it was developments in Lahore that have roused the Sindh government from its slumber. Ever since the ‘jangla bus’ started working, Karachi has been trying to play catch-up. Indeed, Islamabad, Rawalpindi and now Peshawar are all introducing bus rapid transit (BRT), a globally accepted solution to mass transit premised on cordoning off lanes for buses so they can swiftly transport thousands of people without getting snarled up in traffic. Jealousy is a great motivator but that notwithstanding, the government of Sindh’s renewed interest in solving its transport crisis is being welcomed by urban planners in Karachi.
Mass transit plans have been made for Karachi since 1952 but none have materialised. The network map everyone is using today is based on a plan the Japanese International Cooperation Agency made in 2010.
Since last year the Sindh government has been in talks. First it signed a Chinese consortium for the Yellow line: The China National Electric Import and Export Corp, Beijing Urban Construction Design and Development Group, Beijing Urban Construction Road & Bridge Group Co. Ltd. The federal government has said it will pay for the Green line. Bahria Town gave an unsolicited proposal to do the Blue line, which serves its new, gated community off the Super Highway. The Asian Development Bank was asked to plan the Red line, for which it enlisted the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy.
But now that the Sindh government is taking BRT seriously, experts have questioned how it is going about it. If four different entities undertake the four different lines, there would be no integration. This puts at risk the entire venture in the court of public opinion. For what it is worth, though, the government started creating an overarching regulator, the Sindh Mass Transit Authority, in 2008. The bill was taken up in 2014 and Transport Secretary Tauha Farooqui has said he hoped it would pass at the next assembly sitting.
Ever since the Karachi Circular Railway spluttered to a halt in the pre-Musharraf years, it has become abundantly clear that the city is heading to a transport nightmare. When Mustafa Kamal became mayor one of the first things he did was concentrate on making life easier for people in cars. While the first flyover was built in 1993, it was Kamal who really pushed them as a solution. The majority were built on Karachi’s main arteries during the local government era from 2001 to 2009. Today we have 44 of them – and we are still stuck in traffic. Meanwhile, the rest of the world is tearing down its flyovers and investing in mass transit. Seoul perhaps outdid everyone by ripping out a highway in the middle of the city and creating a 10 km stream called Cheonggyecheon where people now promenade or picnic.
Mustafa Kamal’s Dubai-inspired dream and desperation to end traffic jams led to the vision of signal-free corridors
Mustafa Kamal’s Dubai-inspired dream and desperation to end traffic jams led to the vision of signal-free corridors. Flyovers would be built so no one ever had to stop at a red light ever again. It would take you 15 minutes to reach Nazimabad from Saddar. The only problem? Experts presented findings in 2010 that pedestrian deaths from trying to cross flyovers had risen by as much as 120% on Signal-free Corridor I.
But we had become a society that saw the car as a status symbol and public transport as an act of desperation. Shaukat Aziz ushered in low-cost consumer financing, which exacerbated Karachi’s traffic problem because cars became cheaper to acquire. Today they make up for roughly one-third of traffic but carry only 21% of people. Public transport, which makes up 5% of vehicles on the roads, carries 43% of people. More and more people say that buying a motorcycle has changed their lives. Karachi has 1.7 million today.
One Eidul Azha the government announced a three-day holiday. On the third day of Eid everyone came out and there were gridlocks reported for hours. On that frightening day it became clear that we were at the precipice. It is costing Karachi $687 million a year to be stuck in traffic. ?Simultaneously, the number of buses started to shrink. The fleet had grown old and made the mistake of switching to CNG who supplies eventually dwindled.
Today there are only 9,000 buses for a population of 22 million people that makes 24 million trips a day
Today there are only 9,000 buses for a population of 22 million people that makes 24 million trips a day. At the time buses switched to CNG, someone made the incredibly smart move, in 2009, to introduce the Qinqi or Chingchi, a nine-seat rickshaw. It has captured over 60% of passengers in public transport. This amped-up rickshaw is king of the road today because it is safe, charges a flat fare of Rs10 for under 10 km and goes where buses don’t. They are also safer; pickpockets and armed snatchings are common on buses. There is a reason men like to sit on the roof—the man with the TT pistol can’t operate there.
Ironically, as the chingchi is such a new phenomenon, it is not mentioned as a type of vehicle in the law. And so when a chingchi kills someone, the police have to register the FIR at the hands of a ‘namaloom vehicle’. There was no denying it, however, and the Sindh government was forced to start acknowledging them as public transport and issue routes and permits much to the chagrin of the bus owners. In 2010, the government allowed 100,000 chingchis to register.
But even the chingchis cannot solve the problem of the women of Moach Goth as the route is too long. This is only something a vast bus network can solve. The BRT plans are extensive but arterial services that are affordable must be part of the picture. It seems, however, that finally the sarkar is moving in the right direction.
Good Job I think this will work if Sindh Govt take action