Text received: Traffic jam along Shara e Faisal, courtesy your city government -Pakistan Press Foundation (PPF)

Paksitan Press Foundtion

Text received: Traffic jam along Shara e Faisal, courtesy your city government

By: Saad Hasan

KARACHI: Waking up to changing technological trends, the Karachi Metropolitan Corporation (KMC) is currently working on a new website that will allow the city administration to connect with millions of residents through their cell phones.

On Tuesday many people received a message from KMC, wishing them a happy independence day.

The website will be formally launched next month and will feature downloadable mobile phone applications for Blackberry, Android, iPhone and Symbian phones. However, it can already be viewed by any device equipped with an internet connection.

“This is the way forward for the local government,” said KMC Administrator Mohammad Hussain Syed. “Cities around the world are using cellular phones to keep their residents informed.”

Syed admitted that the idea to have a website for the city administration struck him while he visited foreign cities. “The idea is to provide various services to the public’s finger tips. In Sri Lanka, the government is helping people remember vaccination appointments for their children [through text messages].”

KMC followed suit and has added a vaccination calendar to its website that will inform subscribers about their next doctor’s appointment. The website contains contact details of various KMC departments as well as other organisations, and lists popular shopping malls and food eateries with their addresses. Information about police stations, banks and utility stores is also available.

Traffic updates

Of particular interest to the city’s residents would be the feature that would provide details about the entire bus route network, as well as traffic jams in the entire city. “There is no way for people to know which alternate routes they need to take in case of a gridlock [at a major thoroughfare].” KMC plans to send out hundreds of thousands of text messages to inform people around the city if a traffic jam clogs up a particular thoroughfare, and tell them some of the other roads which they could use. While weather updates are already available on the internet, KMC intends to inform residents about possible rains in order to help them take preventive measures, said Syed.

Map to rival Google Maps

Syed has himself taken up the task to map as many shops that are scattered over the city as possible. “Drive through Zamzama and I bet you will get lost in one of the lanes. Some shops do not even have proper signboards. It could be a nightmare finding a location in Karachi,” he said.

While large stores and supermarkets, popular hotspots and food franchises can be found through Google Maps, pinpointing the location of a local shoe store or a boutique remains difficult.

KMC plans to make good use of its internees as it starts gathering details about the shops across the city, including their contact numbers, which it would then upload it on the website in the shape of a map,.

“Women are especially susceptible to getting lost. This application could really help them,” opined the city administrator.

The tale of two websites

The all-encompassing website, however, is not being designed by KMC’s information technology department, but by Dockland Technologies.

A senior official pointed out that there was no need to award a contract to a private company to develop a new website when a portal, www.karachicity.gov.pk already exits. “Every link, every service-based application should originate from the existing website. There is no precedent for a city having two separate websites,” said the official.

KMC’s public complaint cell could have been easily used to send out text messages to the people. “This is public money we are talking about. We need to build proper roads, sewage and garbage pickup systems,” said the official.

Under former Karachi mayor Mustafa Kamal, the city government had launched a website. It appears that there is not much difference between information available at that website and the prospective risingkarachi.gov.pk.

“It looks like a tussle between KMC and those who run iownkarachi.com. In the end, citizens will ask how many criminals have been caught with the help from closed-circuit cameras that were installed using millions of rupees of taxpayer money,” opined the official.

The Express Tribune