It is heartening to note that the public transport issue of a city of teeming millions has finally attracted the attention of Sindh government. According to a newspaper report, Karachi, which is rightly described as “mini-Pakistan” because of a variety of reasons, will have a bus service—City Transport Service—with a fleet of as many as 600 Daewoo buses within the next two months. According to Sindh’s transport minister Syed Nasir Husain Shah, all paperwork has been completed as the government has been working on this transport project for the last six months. But what was more interesting or important element in his talk was that many transporters had come forward and shown interest in operating new buses under the scheme under which each transporter would be required to arrange only 15 percent finance; the share of Sindh government will also be of 15 percent while the remaining 70 percent financing will be arranged under a Modarba scheme at an interest rate of 3.5 percent which will not cross the 5 percent figure but this additional 1.5 percent interest will be shared by the Sindh government. Another key element of his disclosure was that the entire fleet of buses would be insured against any law and order situation in the city which has an unfortunate history of targeted killings, bomb blasts and ethnic and sectarian violence.

This development, therefore, brings under sharper focus two key features that reinforce one’s argument that not only is Karachi different from the rest of the country because of its strategic location, geography, size, cultural, religious and ethnic diversity, it is also distinct insofar as its role in the country’s economy is concerned. Hence the need for greater attention to its industrial peace as no national economic objective can be achieved in the absence of a meaningful contribution by thousands of small and big industrial units that dot this city’s landscape.

Secondly, public transport constitutes a vital organ in the body of any mega city. Unfortunately, however, Karachi remains devoid of any mass transport system to ferry millions of commuters in an orderly and efficient manner. Its near absence in the former and first capital of the country has led to an abnormal increase in the number of motorbikes, cars and CNG-run rickshaws over a period of time that are hardly any substitute to shared-transport service which is available for use by the general public as distinct from modes such as taxicab, carpooling, etc. Our successive governments’ failure on this score has led to creating chaotic scenes that are characterized by traffic gridlocks in every narrow or wide street of this city. Traffic jams are often very acute, making the movement of even pedestrians impossible. Our policymakers, therefore, are required to pay full attention to the fact that there are at least three broad dimensions of public transit or transport without which no successful planning or execution can take place. These are competition and regulation; investment, financing, fares and subsidies; and the operation and use of infrastructure, design, inspection and control. The Sindh government appears to have articulated a workable strategy as far as investment/financial aspects of the bus fleet project are concerned. Last but not least, the federal government-Punjab government subsidized metro bus service covering key business/work points of Islamabad and Rawalpindi appears to be working well. It perhaps owes its success to the fact that both Centre and province are simultaneously ruled by the same party—Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz). Karachi’s under-construction metro will also warrant a similar Centre-province approach to its successful operation with a view to providing similar fare relief to commuters regardless of who rules the Centre and who represents Sindh before and after the 2018 general elections.