Muhammad Ali Jinnah Road has always had its fare share of traffic flow, but lately the main thoroughfare that links central Karachi to its main port is in a state of near continual congestion.
A bridge eats up two of the road’s three lanes, but is vacant — part of a half-finished project to create direct lanes for public transport that was supposed to be completed three years ago. It’s one of many gigantic structures dispersed throughout Karachi that were part of the latest strategies to bring a modern mode of transport to the city, one of the world’s most rapidly growing cities and the third-largest by population.
Karachi ranks as having the poorest public transport system worldwide, according to a study by car-parts company Mister Auto in 2019 that observed at 100 main cities. It aids about 42% of Karachi’s commuters, depend on decades-old, overloaded buses that use the roof as a second deck for travelers at times. Roads are bursting with potholes, scarcely any traffic signals are automated, and it’s common to see car and truck drivers alike running red lights. The regional headquarters for establishments such as Standard Chartered Plc and Unilever Plc, help generate half of the country’s tax revenue.
Those funds, however, are dispersed to other parts of the country. Karachi’s outgoing mayor Waseem Akhtar stated last year that he had only 12% administrative control of the city and a lack of resources. The army controls the more affluent areas of Karachi, while the rest is divided between the provincial and federal governments that don’t see eye to eye.
The disfunction became clear in August when many parts of the city were flooded for over a week due to record breaking rainfall. About 64 people perished while 10,000 had to be rescued. The flooding left many people imprisoned and deprived of electricity that was suspended. A few days into the ordeal, cellular networks and cash machines stopped working too.
In its aftermath, PM Imran Khan visited Karachi and announced a growth package valued at 1.1 trillion rupees ($6.8 billion) conjointly with the provincial government inclusive of the bus project and a circular railway system. loan bailout Pakistan agreed to a loan bailout of a sum amounting to more than $6 billion from the International Monetary Fund to evade bankruptcy.
Accessing those funds however, has been a task in itself. The provincial government’s transport sector has acknowledged that it can’t handle large projects on its own. Khan’s federal government declared 162 billion rupees for mega ventures in the city last year including transport, but city officials stated that no funds were ever released this year. The federal government responded that it has spent 24.65 billion rupees till June, while a provision of 17.9 billion rupees has been made for the present fiscal year.
Karachi was once well linked by a circular railway but exploitation and maladministration in the transportation division brought the city to a standstill in the late 1990s, according to Adam Weinstein, research fellow at the Washington D.C.-based Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft. Many of the railway trails have become illegitimate shantytowns with people moving from smaller settlements to make a decent living.
“Karachi has yet to find a humane way to address land encroachment that stymies development and relocate people without incurring immense political blowback,” said Weinstein.
“The green line bus project was announced six years ago. It’s now expected to be completed around June of next year,” said Asad Umar, “Pakistan’s federal planning minister and part of a Karachi committee is to supervise the city’s large projects. Following postponements, the bus project has been continuing since the federal government took it over earlier this year,” he said. Pakistan’s provincial Sindh government representative Murtaza Wahab refrained from responding on the matter.
The delays are hardly an irregularity. The circular railway restoration has been deliberated upon for at least 15 years, whilst a water supply plan is 18 years in the making. The city’s most posh area doesn’t have access to piped water and depends on water provided through tankers, also notoriously known as “tanker mafia.”
“If cities can provide quality infrastructure, it by default increases productivity,” Uzair Younus, a non-resident senior related to the Atlantic Council, said by phone. He’s the host of the “Pakistonomy” podcast and an ex-resident of Karachi. “An administrative setup that is unable to provide decent mass transit to the largest city in the country will always be viewed with skepticism.”