Going places

December 26, 2021

Karachi lacks a proper transportation network. Qingqi rickshaws pick up the slack

Going places

A lack of adequate public transportation facilities in Karachi has made rickety six-seat rickshaws popular in Saddar, Liaquatabad, Malir and other areas for short-distance commutes. Karachiites riding these rickshaws count these among their blessings due to the cheap fares, especially since there is no viable public transport option in the densely populated areas, particularly at night.

Karachi has a population of over 20 million. Thousands of people travel daily on roofs of minibuses and coaches to reach their destinations. Four-stroke motorcycles pulling six-seat rickshaws are available on the roads most of the time. They are the popular choice for most passengers especially where there is no public transportation.

“When I started driving a rickshaw, we charged only 60 paisas per passenger from Lines Area to Saddar,” Musharraf, 60, a six-seat rickshaw driver, tells The News on Sunday. Lines area, Jut Lines, Bizerta Lines, Jacob Lines are densely populated residential areas and have a large population of working and middle class people. “But there is no public transport access in these areas so people often travel on these old six-seat rickshaws,” he says.

“A majority of the four- and six-seat and Qingqi rickshaws now charging Rs 10 from one stop to another while the public transport charges Rs 30 for the same distance,” he says. He says the city is facing many problems due to a lack of reliable public transport which is why so many choose to travel on these rickshaws. “We are charging Rs 20 for the entire drive all the way to Saddar,” Musharraf says.

“I driving a rickshaw as a daily wage worker. I earn Rs 600 to Rs 800 by driving for at least 16 hours,” he says. He says it is hard to survive on low wages in the current economic climate. Four-stroke motorcycles pulling six-seat rickshaws are available on nearly every road in Karachi at all hours of the day. They making it easier to get around, particularly at night.

“I have to wait for almost an hour in the morning daily at Saudabad bus stop in Malir as I have to reach my office at Sarwar Shaheed Road in Saddar,” Manzar Hasan, 46, tells The News on Sunday. He is paying Rs 50 from Saudabad to Saddar for the bus on Route No UTS 12. It takes an hour to get to his workplace from Malir.

“The poor conditions of roads and shortage of public transport are a very serious issue. People have to wait long hours for public transport to reach from one place to another,” he says, adding that the government has done nothing towards the provision of better public transportation in the city.

“We were charging Rs 10 to Rs 30 per passenger according to the distance,” Abdul Salam, 70, a rickshaw driver in Liaquatabad says. “We have hundreds of six-seat rickshaws in the city. These rickshaws are available around the clock,” he says.

He says that these rickshaws are very affordable, charging Rs 70 to Rs 80 from Liaquatabad No 10 bus stop to Khuda ki Basti stop, which is about 35 kilometres away. “People prefer travelling by Qingqi rickshaws on this route because there is no public transport available,” he said.

In 2012, Rana Faizul Hasan, a civil rights campaigner, filed a petition in Sindh High Court (SHC) asking for a ban on motorcycle-pulled Qingqi rickshaws in Karachi operating on main roads without route permits, fitness certificates, registration, number plates and other documentation. The owners of these three wheelers also made a motion against this petition in 2013.

On August 5, 2015 a division bench comprising Justice Aqeel Ahmed Abbasi and Justice Mohammad Junaid Ghaffar imposed a ban on Qingqi rickshaws. The court also directed the Transport Department and city administration to take immediate action against the three-wheel vehicles operating in the city without documentation and route permits.

Recently, the frequency of accidents involving Qingqi rickshaws has increased noticeably. As these rickshaws continue to operate on a large scale, the Transport and Mass Transit Department issued directives against them in a letter dated January 6. The directive addressed the Traffic DIG and the SSPs to take action against six- and nine-seat Qingqi rickshaws operating in Karachi, as well as other cities in Sindh.

The letter said the government had noted that risky modifications had been made by some manufacturers and operators of the rickshaws to accommodate 2 additional passengers on either side of the driver. It said these modifications were to be strongly discouraged.

“There were hundreds of public transport minibuses in Karachi ten years ago,” says Ameer Ahmed, 42, a resident of the FC area. He says Karachi’s famous minibus, W11, was a popular means of transport from New Karachi to Kemari at all times of the day. “Now there are only a few dozen W11 minibuses left in Karachi and people are facing a massive transport shortage,” he says.

Qingqi rickshaws have helped ease the public transportation crisis in the city despite being unsafe at times. “In many parts of the city, a small number of minibuses and mini-coaches are operational for part of the night,” he adds.

The private Green Bus service was launched under Gen Pervez Musharraf’s regime on February 1, 2003. Then governor, Dr Ishrat-ul-Ibad Khan and city nazim, Naimatullah Khan had inaugurated the service at the mausoleum of Quaid-i-Azam. The city government’s Mass Transit Department had introduced 14 new buses - 4 running on CNG and 10 on diesel oil.

The four CNG buses operated from Meriweather Tower to Gulistan-i-Johar. 10 diesel engine buses on Route No 2B rode from Meriweather Tower to North Karachi via II Chundrigar Road, Shaheen Complex, Musical Fountain Road, Abdullah Haroon Road, Regal Chowk, MA Jinnah Road, Guru Mandir, Lasbela and Nazimabad. The fares ranged from Rs 10 to Rs 20.

Due to a lack of maintenance and poor governance, these buses disappeared from the roads without a suitable replacement. This further exacerbated the public transportation problem.

In April 2018, the government introduced a People’s Bus Service from Quaidabad to Meriweather Tower. This service was a partnership with Daewoo, a private bus company that launched 10 buses. The fare ranged from Rs 20 to Rs 40.

The Daewoo buses too have started disappearing from the roads, leading to further transportation issues. Karachi thus continues to lack sustainable means of transportation despite a rising demand to accommodate its millions of people.

“I have been driving the W11 minibus since 1980 from Ahsanabad to Keamari,” Muhammad Aqeel-ur-Rehman Khan, 50, a bus driver tells The News on Sunday. “When I started driving the minibus, Karachi had a huge public transport network. The number of W11 minibuses alone was over 500. There are about 250 of these left now. We charged a Rs 60 fare from Ahsanabad to Keamari, which is a distance of approximately 40 kilometres,” he says.

He says rising fuel prices and a decrease in people’s earnings made the buses unviable. “A large number of the buses now operate as cargo vehicles. This is one of the major factors in the public transport shortage in Karachi,” says Khan.

Irshad Bukhari, president of the Karachi Transport Ittehad (KTI) says: “There were almost 25,000 buses including 5,000 wide body buses, 10,000 minibuses and 10 thousand mini-coaches on the roads in Karachi in 2008-09. Now we have only 6,000 buses. These include 1,500 Bedford buses, 2,500 mini-coaches and 2,000 mini-buses to serve a network of 50 routes in the city.”

Bukhari recalls that Gen Musharraf launched a Rozgar Scheme in 2006 that introduced four stroke rickshaws. “These have now become Qingqi rickshaw modifications,” he says.

“The Transport Department taken no initiative to regulate the Qingqi rickshaws. This has destroyed the public transportation system in the country’s economic hub,” he says.

According to a statement issued by the Ittehad, the prices of buses and minibuses have increased and the transporters lack the means to purchase new buses.

“Means of public transport are decreasing by the day in Karachi. CNG and LPG Qingqi rickshaws are now booming in the city. Due to a lack of governance, the cheaper public transport is disappearing and a large number of public transport buses and minibuses have turned into good transport vehicles,” Irshad Bukhari says.

Karachi is an expanding metropolis without a reliable transportation system to serve the increasing demand. The public minibuses have been operational for decades but there aren’t enough of them to cater to its millions of people. Qingqi rickshaws emerged on the roads in 2007 to fill a glaring gap. Initially, these three wheelers operated in small, populated areas. Now they are available all over Karachi, creating a full-fledged network linking every part of the city. While Qingqi rickshaws are trying valiantly to fill the gap, Karachi needs a more comprehensive public transportation network in a sustainable way.

The writer is a freelance journalist based in Karachi. He can be reached on Twitter @Zafar_Khan5

Going places