Guest Post: Thinking Busses – Pakistan-plus

Posted on August 6, 2006
Filed Under >Franz Gastler, Economy & Development, Environment, Photo of the Day, Science and Technology
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By Franz Gastler

One of the first general reminder that I left the “little boxes made of ticky tacky” of suburban Minnesota and arrived somewhere outside of the U.S. or western Europe is the traffic. One is greeted immediately with a liberal mix of chaos and charm.

The dismissive ambivalence that sometimes tends to cloud us Westerners ability to learn lessons from the developing world might react by calling into question the wisdom of allowing any old painted up, gas-guzzling rust bucket to haul a load of passengers. But any criticism from us in the West would find itself on shaky footing (literally) in the case of transit. Some of the most interesting experiments in urban transport are now happening in the developing world. Including the debates on how to deal with Karachi’s burgeoning traffic (also see earlier ATP post).

On hears now that Karachi along with Bangalore, Bogota and Dhaka are beginning to take the Brazilian city of Curitiba’s lead in exploring ingenious options like Bus Rapid Transit (BRT). Like rail, this version of BRT that I came to appreciate when I lived in Bogota gives buses a dedicated lane to speed past traffic. The aim is to maximize the movement of people rather than cars!

What could be particularly relevant to the congested roadways of Pakistan’s major cities where the Pakistan EPA and Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) have pegged pollution levels at 30 to 44 times WHO Guidelines is that BRT cleaner fuel options can cut ?the emissions of particles to the air by up to 43 [percent].

So while some of us OECD countries are busy launching the past full-throttle into the future, the developing world, in some cases, is experimenting. And what is surprising to visitors is that there are lessons you in Pakistan or Brazil or Colombia can teach us in New York, Minneapolis or Boston about mass transit.

At least one lesson I have learnt is that delegating the decorating to owner-drivers tends to turn out more interesting designs than, say, the standardized adverts with SpongeBob SquarePants that adorn the buses in my neighborhood.

Franz Gastler, from Minnesota is a citizen of the world who has travelled, lived and worked in various countries across the globe. The photographs of bus art are from Colombia, Pakistan, Haiti and USA, respectively. All photographs are from

7 responses to “Guest Post: Thinking Busses – Pakistan-plus”

  1. Sridhar says:


    BRT refers not just to dedicated bus lanes, but an entire system built around rapidly moving large masses of people using buses. A metro on the road, if you will. Components of the system typically include dedicated/segregated bus lanes in major corridors, high-capacity buses with wide doors for rapid entry/exit of passengers, an offline ticketing/passenger access-control system (i.e. journeys are paid for at the bus station itself rather than on the bus), prioritized signaling systems etc. Every BRT system might not have each of these components, and within a BRT system, every route might not have every component. But BRTs usually have some combination of the above components.

    There is no BRT as described above in existence in South Asia yet. There are cities with dedicated bus lanes like the ones you mentioned in Karachi. Delhi has had them for years, though the lanes are not physically segregated, leading to some violation. Chennai also has dedicated bus lanes on certain arterial roads and Mumbai is currently buidling them on the two main express highways. The first true BRT (or rather a pilot project) in South Asia is currently being built in Delhi on the Ambedkar Nagar to Delhi Gate route, with more routes to follow if it is successful. Bangalore has long planned for a BRT, but has abandoned it for a metro as of now. Two other cities that are planning BRTs are Indore and Ahmedabad. In Bangladesh, Dhaka is also planning a BRT and there have been pronouncements to the effect in Colombo as well.

    The cost of a BRT is about Rs. 5 crore per km (INR), as opposed to about Rs. 100 crore per km for an elevated metro line and Rs. 200-300 crores for an underground metro line. So it is a highly cost effective solution, provided its implementation is done well. It is also more flexible, allowing the system to cover a greater proportion of the city.

    Curitiba and Bogota provide good examples for efficient BRT systems. Unfortunately, none of the South Asian cities have really developed good bus systems, which would economically benefit these cities and their residents immensely.

  2. Carl says:

    Interesting how the designs and colors are so similar across the globe

  3. Hammad Memon says:

    Is it possible for you to get me in your blog? Check it out my Wallpapers page!


  4. MSk says:

    That bus whose back is pictured (no. 3, on right) is amazing. Looks just liek a Pakistani bus, but with Che Guevera’s picture at back. Noticed in last line it is from haiti. amazing

  5. Owais Mughal says:

    Bus Rapit Transit (BRT), though not called the same, had/has been used in Karachi for many years now. The main ‘Shahra-e-Pakistan’ through Liaqatabad used to have dedicated bus lanes between AlAzam Square and Post Office chowk. These separate lanes were uprooted for some reason during a road expansion project and were never redone. There are BRTs still working on a short route near Empress Market in Saddar area.

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