Contrary to high expectations the year 2006 failed to bring any visible relief for millions of Karachi commuters, and in fact, they felt a bit betrayed as the pledge of city administration to bring the first tranche of the promised 8,000 new CNG buses on city roads by December 2006 proved a hype instead of hope.
The issue of solving chronic public transport issue in Karachi through introducing wide-bodied CNG buses is not new issue as efforts in this regard could be traced at least half a decade back.
In fact, the last city government administration could rightly be termed the pioneer of introducing wide-bodies CNG-run buses as well as the Urban Transport System (UTS) system in Karachi in 2001.
The transport and communication department of CDGK under Naimatullah Khan some half a decade back had invited bids for operating CNG buses with special operating subsidies, CNG at half the price of diesel, sales and import duty exemptions and concessions for installing CNG refuelling stations. It also planned converting half of existing city buses on CNG.
Naimatullah Khan had envisaged bringing some 10,000 environment-friendly CNG buses in Karachi in two phases. During the first phase, work was started on bringing in 500 CNG buses.
Naimatullah Khan successfully persuaded the federal government to waive off import duty and sales tax on the import of these buses as a special case. His administration also offered various incentives under UTS for transporters included subsidy on loan mark-up at the rate of 6 percent on non air-conditioned large-sized buses and at 9 percent on large-sized air-conditioned buses.
It is said more than 300 such buses were brought on Karachi roads. These UTS and Karachi Public Transport Scheme (KPTS) buses include 32 AC long buses of Sweden Bus Company, 28 AC buses of Green Bus Company, 30 non-AC buses of World Wide Enterprises, 30 non-AC buses of Allied Bus Service, 28 non-AC buses of the Green Bus Company and 197 non-AC buses of Metro Bus Service.
When the CDGK witnessed change of administration, the plan of former City Nazim Naimatullah Khan regarding the CNG buses were also affected. In fact, in a statement in March 2006, he decried that due to lack of attention of the new administration, some 40 percent of UTS route buses had been shifted from Karachi to other locations, and the package of 500 UTS buses was put on the back burner.
In fact, the new city government did not ditch the issue of CNG buses, as like Naimatullah Khan, the new City Nazim Syed Mustafa Kamal also saw solution to the public transport issue in bringing wide-bodied CNG buses. His plan also included gradual phasing out of worn-out buses and ultimately getting them replaced with 8,000 new CNG buses in the next four years.
According to his plan, the first tranche of these 8,000 new CNG buses would reach Karachi by December 2006.
Besides bringing the first tranche of CNG buses by year end, it was also said that the federal government would offer Rs 4 billion assistance to help the local transporters to get these buses imported at subsidised rates.
The CDGK, in its budget for the current fiscal year, earmarked Rs 500 million for a detailed study for an environment-friendly public transport system for Karachi under private-public partnership. They hoped that in the next four years the metropolis would finally get rid of atmospheric pollution caused by smoke emitting old vehicles, which would be replaced with 8,000 CNG buses.
City Nazim Syed Mustafa Kamal recently visited South Korea and it was said that Hyundai was mulling over setting up a bus manufacturing plant in Karachi. Notwithstanding, hectic efforts of the CDGK to solve this issue, it was a bitter fact that the Karachiites saw promise of bringing the first tranche of new CNG buses in the year 2006 going up in smoke.
It is undeniable fact that it is not population but the standard of civic facilities that gives status of urban metropolises to cities. Karachi may rightly be claimed as the seventh largest city of the world, but if assessed on parameters of modern public transport system - both road and rail-based - it seemed a mediocre and messy Third World town.
Due to lack of a proper public transport system, millions of Karachi commuters are forced to travel daily in crowded, shabby and smoke-emitting vehicles in a manner which could not be termed anything but civilised and dignified. The dreams to become a hub of trade and commerce of the region with such a shabby commuting system are just daydreams. The authorities have to take this matter seriously if they really wanted to solve problems of Karachi commuters and make this city a modern urban metropolis in a real sense.