Bring an underground subway system to Karachi already!

Published: September 20, 2012

I saw a motorcyclist with four children and his wife balancing themselves as they went up the Shah-Faisal colony flyover. These are the people who suffer a lot more than I do. DESIGN: ERUM SHAIKH

Travelling back home from work is always a tough and tiring job in any metropolitan city across the world, but in Karachi, this experience can be downright torturous.

Motor-cyclists and rickshaw drivers squeezing in from every tiny little space they can manage to find, rash bus drivers, security protocols – the never ending list just drives us underprivileged car drivers crazy.

A while ago, while I was in Ukraine for the Euro cup, travelling via the tube in Kiev city, my hosts, a middle class Ukrainian couple, inquired about the subway system in Karachi. I very casually told them that we did not have a subway in Karachi or any form of underground transport system. This revelation seemed completely unbelievable to them and after giving me a look of disbelief they asked if there was any other sort of mass transit system in one of the largest metropolitan cities of the world? I told them,

“We just have buses

As I answered their questions on how the lower income class manages their mobility, our station arrived and we moved onto another conversation.

After my two week stay in Ukraine I noticed that even their smaller cities such as Kharkiv, another host city for Euro cup, with a population of 1.5 million had a subway system and how easy it made the life of its citizens.

As always is the case, whenever one comes back home after a foreign trip you seem to have this feeling of disappointment, whether it’s the paan eating civil aviation staff, heavily armed protocols of some dignitary (read leach) or the harassing custom officials looking to bag an expensive bottle of whisky or some of your leftover foreign currency.

However, this time my thoughts automatically shifted to the transport system of the city.

It was a Friday night, so the first thing I noticed was the long queue at the CNG stations which mostly had CNG rickshaws in it.

Moving forward I saw a policeman humiliating a bus conductor and its driver, most probably to get a few bucks out of him, the bus was overloaded with passengers sitting on the roof and men filling the women’s section as well.

Further down I saw a motorcyclist with four children and his wife balancing themselves as they went up the Shah-Faisal colony flyover. These are all the people I criticise and wish they were not on the road when I am stuck in the traffic jam, however this time I felt that it’s them who suffer a lot more than I do.

Why though, doesn’t a metropolitan city like Karachi have a proper mass transit system?

We can blame it on the political parties, the transport mafia, the incompetent bureaucracy or the prime land grabbed in the city by the armed forces. Although all of them are responsible in some way or the other but I feel the primary responsibility rests with us, the citizens of Karachi. Not only have we become uncaring and unsympathetic towards our fellow citizens, we have also started to believe we are not capable of deserving better.

If any layman would do a cost-benefit analysis he would very easily understand that not only are we being economically exploited but also pay a very high social cost due to the absence of a mass transit system. However being a nation that champions the ‘free rider concept’, hence none of us will be able to calculate the costs.

Hence here are a few reasons for the citizens to demand for an efficient mass transport system:

  • First and foremost, the economic costs. Not only are mass transit systems cheaper but can also be directly facilitated by subsidies from the government.
  • It is convenient and you will not be left stranded if there’s a strike or a CNG holiday.
  • The mass transit system will be safer and can provide better quality of journey.
  • Yes there might be over-crowding during the rush hours but no traffic jams due to protests or VIP movement on the streets.
  • Many women, who cite inadequate transport as a major obstacle in order for them to work, can have a ‘women’s only section’ in the subway, like in Malaysia.
  • Not sure if any of us care about this (although we should give our environmental health some thoughts) but we will bring down the pollution bill manifolds.

I would also like to provide a few reasons to our self-centered political parties to pursue a mass transit system:

  •  Jamaat-e-Islami: Let’s leave out the ghairat (dignity) on the NATO supply for a while, and focus on our sisters’ ghairat who are harassed everyday in buses, taxis and rickshaws.
  • Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI): As you claim to be the champions of the youth, you should understand that the youth will be the chief beneficiary of this system.
  • Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP): Possibly the best chance to earn back the trust of Karachi’s people and earn foot holding in this city again.
  • Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N): Finally you will have something other than “Motor-way Kis ney bunayaa” (who made the motorway?) to boast about and an avenue for the people of Sindh to feel that they can relate to your party.

All I can do is propose to the authorities to consider the plight of their people and hope they will take appropriate action.


Omair Saeed

The author holds a degree in Industrial Economics from the University of Nottingham and currently works as an Economic researcher on economic development projects related to Climate change and Agriculture. He is also a travel enthusiast.

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • Rahim ALi

    let them (politician) take all the money first … kill every one with high price for food and every day utilities … take all the profit and keep doing favour for other countries … if they get a chance in the time period of there stay as a politician … then they will do something for the ppl of pakistan.
    they cant run the interstate trains .. how they goona run the subway bro … Recommend

  • farhan dxb

    not gona happen,they will burn it on Strikes Recommend

  • Vishnu Dutta

    Karachi is the largest city in the world without a metro or an public transport system.

    Public transport is expensive and a city alone cannot afford it (unless u are mumbai) , you need help from the central govt. and in pak’s case no state govt had good terms with national govt (except punjab).

    Multiple modes of public transport system are needed in modern era. Metro, mono rail, BRTS, Trams etc are a must for having a class city and for economyRecommend

  • Faraz

    I think PML N is in progress of creating a mass transit system in Lahore.Recommend

  • Nadeem Ahmed

    The problem with Karachi is the ownership. People who used to live here and have roots in the city are no more in the bureaucracy and civil administration. These people do not have family here and not planning to live here for rest of their lives. The only purpose of their presence in Karachi is to make money (both legally or illegally). People who belongs to Karachi are now bystanders. They are looking at the people who are running the show in politics, sports, social and cultural events, etc. Transport is one of the biggest problem of Karachi that is not going to resolve if participatory approach not adopted. Government, politicians and other decision-making authorities have to include people in the decision-making and planning. Any effort without participation of people will not be successful and give desired results. Lastly, if we have Ching-Chi, there is no worry for 1.5 million people. Recommend

  • shais

    What about strike days? Anything goes wrong and they will set light to the system! What about pan eating and all? Can you really stop that?Recommend

  • sars

    the mass transit system in the current circumstanes is like inviting terrorists to come and bomb it and cause multiple casualties with minimal effort.
    it would be a great and much needed step once we have managed to stop the thirst for violent strikes and protests, most of which are backed politicallyRecommend

  • saba

    While the city badly needs a mass transit system, the law and order situation in the city make such a system nearly impossible. The author failed to address issues of security and cost of operating a transit system. Recommend

  • Parvez

    In ZAB’s time Karachi almost got its underground mass transit system but for the clash between the centre and the province on sharing the revenue. No one bothered about the people of Karachi then, so now why should they ?Recommend

  • Vishnu Dutta

    Govt and planning is not an issue. india is no better but private sector has taken up the responsibility.
    gurgaon metro and mumbai metros are being built by private companies , not the govt.
    let the private sector take care of it. karachi can atleast get monorail which is much cheaper.Recommend

  • Claude

    When metro in Delhi was being built a decade or more ago, there were many comments that every station will become mile long corridors of piss and pan. Contrary to all expectations, metro is as cleaner than most in Europe, not only in Delhi but in bangalore also which I’ve experienced first hand.

    Road pollution has gone down and especially bottlenecks are less recurrent.Recommend

  • Rizwan Liaqat

    That isn’t a mass transit system, that’s an extremely expensive, ill advised stopgap measure that will be used to secure votes for the next election. They scrapped the actual plan for Lahore’s Rapid Mass Transit System.Recommend

  • Noman Ansari

    We can’t have an underground subway system because those will get flooded when it rains.Recommend

  • Vishnu Dutta

    @Noman Ansari:
    Rain and flood is not a new problem. Metros account for that. Delhi gets a lot more rain and also gets flooded by its huge river but metro still runs when city is stand still.
    never seen metro station getting flooded.

    Other benefit is the metro stations and the tunnels can be used as nuclear fallout shelter.

    Also if you dont like ungerground system then you can always opt for over head metro. Delhi is almost half above ground and half under ground.Recommend

  • Ammar

    The pukhtoon who have the monopoly over the buses in the city will never allow this to happen – its because of them that any plan to revolutionize transport in the city fails.Recommend

  • John B

    Need capital, security, law and order, the right of way and energy. The rest is only a matter of time. Can you guarantee that? The tunnel Boring machine can dig about 1 mile or more a day as Karachi is on soft bed. Recommend

  • Omair

    Thank you all for your contributions. I see a healthy debate taking place which is what I really wanted. I shall be writing a research article on the topic soon pretty caught up with my other assignments currently.
    However I would like to discuss a few issues that you all have raised. Law and order seems to be the largest hurdle; true it is the gravest issue which faces our country today. However till when will we be held hostage by a violent minority, Karachi is a city of around 17 million people and it was put on freeze by a few thousand lunatics yesterday.
    A proper public transport system is no more just a need but a fundamental right. A few years back more then a 1000 cars were burnt in France on New years eve, in contrast to that what happened in the city seems very minimal, there are many other examples (London riots, Los-Angeles riots, Greek riots etc)
    It is the governments responsibility to secure the transport system, make arrests, shoot rubber bullets, use water cannons whatever they have to but they need to provide Karachi with a proper mass transit system.
    Also why don’t the rich or the powerful suffer from this terrorism, did the fancy defence authority gymkhanas and other clubs of the rich close down due to terrorism ?
    Five Star hotels were attacked but did they close down ?
    If the Chief minister house, governor house, army houses, parliament lodges, golf courses etc can operate so can a mass transit system. Even if a quarter of the security deployed on our unashamed dignitaries is provided for a mass transit system serving millions of people it can safely operate.
    Remember it is we who pay the salary of the government and not the other way round. They are there to serve and secure us and not us who should be paying for their luxuries and safety. People of Karachi needs to stand up for their rights and remember “Life shrinks and expands in proportion to one’s courage.” Anaïs NinRecommend

  • Ovais

    I dont know why you never mentioned mqm … i am not their hater or supporter , really respect mustufa kamal , but metro was necessary for karachi then these bridges , but then it was all politics and time …Recommend

  • Fizza

    I regularly use bus system and I know how difficult it has become now to travel through this only public transport system. I strongly support building of an underground subway system in Karachi, but let’s see. Our politician doesn’t care much of the public opinion. Recommend

  • Vishnu Dutta

    Now when i think about it, may be it is really a bad idea. This city doesnt deserve a subway system just yet. If karachi had a metro , it would have been burned down yesterday.
    Invest in peace first.Recommend

  • Maria

    @Nadeem Ahmed: I agree with you. If Sindis were given control of the city, they would be more proactive in working to improve things as they are sons and daughters of the soil. Most people who have migrated to Karachi from upcountry including Punjabis and Pashtuns as well as the majority Urdu speaking Muhajirs from India do not have any real interest in seeing Karachi develop.Recommend

  • Nishant

    if i am not wrong
    Karachi already had mass transit system
    it was called
    Karachi Circular Railway
    but it was shut down, i still tried searching for it but could not find much material except the wikipedia article Recommend

  • islooboy

    what about the transport mafia it will not allow itRecommend



  • XYZ

    @Nadeem Ahmed , right on spot .The root cause of the plight is simple , Karachi is infested with people who donont have any stake at this city , they have occupied all the key posts of the Bureaucracy and police by mean of unjustified quota system ( Does the “Engineer” , Agha Waqar rings any bell ? ) .What they are really intersted is to grab some quick bucks by all means and get rich overnight .Just visit any Civil Bureaucracy in Sindh Secretariat or any Police Station you will notice what i meant.

    Unless we point out thee real cause , nothing will change .

    Thats why these people are so against the Local Government system as they would loose thier “wand ” to command the masses and the power will be channelized to the grass root level .Recommend

  • http://usa roger

    lahore has a metro ….karachi too runs metro.i dont understand the fuss ??/Recommend

  • Abid P Khan

    “…If Sindis were given control of the city, they would be more proactive in working to improve things as they are sons and daughters of the soil. …”

    Showing interest? The president and the CM of Sindh are sons of the soil aren’t they?Recommend

  • Rationalist Central

    Keep fooling your ego, cause outside pakiland, metro is short for metro rail, but here, it is just freshly painted buses.Recommend