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Mafia Domination or Victims of Neo-Liberalization? Woes of Karachi's Urban Transport


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Presented by Asad Sayeed and Kabeer Dawani at the 10th Annual LUMS HSS Conference, March 2016

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Mafia Domination or Victims of Neo-Liberalization? Woes of Karachi's Urban Transport

  1. 1. Mafia Domination or Victim of Neo-Liberalism? Woes of Karachi’s Urban Transport Asad Sayeed and Kabeer Dawani Collective for Social Science Research, Karachi 1
  2. 2. Introduction • Transport in Karachi has failed to meet the demands of its residents, with the growth in population far outstripping the infrastructure in this sector. • In fact, in the last two decades, the population has doubled, while the total number of buses has remained roughly the same. • The prevailing explanation for this has been the presence of a ‘transport mafia’. 2
  3. 3. Origin of Karachi’s ‘transport mafia’ • The origin of this mafia can be traced back to the mid to late 1980s • The ‘Pathan’ transport mafia first came to the fore following the (in)famous Bushra Zaidi incident in April 1985, which sparked ethnic violence in Karachi 3
  4. 4. ‘Karachi’s Godfathers’ • In an essay titled ‘Karachi’s Godfathers’ in The Herald’s December 1986 issue, Arif Hasan outlines in detail how this mafia came about. • Although the Pathans dominated the sector, they did not have control because of the way the routes were operated – the route permit owner operated their own buses by hiring an operator . • This changed when the transporters started giving loans to the operators – making the operators potential owners and in debt to the transporter. 4
  5. 5. Karachi’s Godfathers (contd) • “With the switchover from hired operators to prospective owners operating this transport, the Karachi minibus mafia was born. The majority of leaders, financiers, operators and cleaners were Pathans.” • Then, when drug and arms money from the Afghan war entered the city in the 1980s, the ability of the transporter to give loans increased manifold. • In turn, this resulted in a substantial increase in the number of minibuses in the city – between 1978 and 1986 “about 5000 minibuses were added, the operators of which were mostly in debt to the transporters.” 5
  6. 6. 2015: What mafia? • By definition, a mafia is a group that by virtue of its control over an activity, appropriates rents and distributes it amongst its member and has extra- legal powers of contract enforcement (Bandiera 2003). • Our research shows that while it may have been the case in the 1980s, there is no ‘transport mafia’ in Karachi today. • Interviews with key informants in the transport sector indicate that ownership of buses is widely dispersed, with minimal collective action amongst them at any level. (There is some occupational collective action, but nothing beyond that.) 6
  7. 7. Explaining Karachi’s transport woes • In the absence of a mafia controlling Karachi’s transport sector, what explains the decline in this sector, which has clearly been unable to meet the demands of the city? • Tracking mass transit since independence, we see that the state has withdrawn from this sector in recent times, choosing instead to adopt neoliberal policies. 7
  8. 8. Mass transit in Karachi over the years Year Tramway (No. of cars) Karachi Circular Railway (No. of trips daily) Buses Minibuses ChingchisPublic Private 1948 37 - 20 35 - - 1957 157 - 344 259 - - 1964 157 Initiateda 317 583 - - 1974 Shut Down 104 891 1000 1800d - 1988 - 93 1050 1450 5500 - 1999 - Shut Down 200 4000 6500 - 2013 - 2b 160c 1000 9000 50000e Source: Compiled from Hasan and Raza (2015), Ismail (2002), Sohail (2000) and interviews conducted by the authors. 8
  9. 9. Reasons for the informalisation of transport • Primarily, the state withdrew from this sector over time because it was running it at a loss ▫ 1974: Tramway shut down ▫ 1996: Karachi Transport Corporation privatized ▫ 1999: Karachi Circular Railway shutdown ▫ Transport was almost entirely private at this stage. • In the aftermath of their withdrawal, there has been a decline in private transport because of ineffective regulation and a non-conducive incentive structure. 9
  10. 10. Consequences of Informalisation • Rate of Return on investment in buses has declined, hence under-investment in the sector. • Average vintage of vehicles is 30 years Plus for buses and 15+ years for minibuses • Workers are remunerated on a residual income basis, which incentivizes self-exploitation • Consumers are victims of time lags and over- crowding • Urban Development is compromised also 10
  11. 11. New forms of mass transit • In the absence of buses fulfilling the demand for public transport in Karachi, two vehicles have filled this gap: 1. Motorbikes (Hasan and Raza 2011) 2. Chingchis 11
  12. 12. Motorbikes • Their number has increased exponentially in the past decade ▫ 1990: 450,000 ▫ 2004: 500,000 ▫ 2010: 1,000,000 ▫ 2015: 1,800,000 A large number of motorbikes parked at the Civic Centre, Karachi Source: 12
  13. 13. Chingchis • These 3-wheelers are extremely popular, particularly amongst women. They are more accessible than buses, aren’t prone to theft and suited for travel over short distances. • In 2015, there were 65,000 Chingchis. Chingchis protesting over a potential ban. Source: Express Tribune. 13
  14. 14. Is private mass transit tenable for Karachi? • Gradually, there has been a recognition by the state that there needs to be publicly owned transport. • There have been multiple attempts to revive the Karachi Circular Railway. The biggest hurdle has been creating an acceptable resettlement plan for the people that will be displaced as a result. • Donors (JICA, ADB etc.) have also shown interest in assisting in establishing a mass transit network. Lack of coordination and initiative by the government has however not made the most of this assistance. 14
  15. 15. State Retreat in Transport is Symptomatic of Broader State Failure • While Neo Liberalism has afflicted all of Pakistan, fractures in the State in Sindh generally and in Karachi particularly has been more pronounced. • Many of the Governance problems in Karachi have been compounded by the role of the national, provincial and local state undermining their own capacity to bring about inclusive governance in a multi-ethnic milieu. 15
  16. 16. Conclusions and Way Forward • The state needs to get involved in Karachi’s transport sector, both in terms of mass transit as well as robust regulation. • The Karachi Mass Transit Master Plan 2030 is an important step in this regard. This envisions 6 BRT corridors to serve the city. • It is imperative that there is one central body that coordinates and regulates these 6 corridors and does so in an inclusive manner. • Finally, concerns of civil society and urban planners regarding land-use and related issues need to be taken into account for this plan to be effective 16