Commuters suffer as public transport sector goes rudderless

Karachi: Commuters of Karachi are left to suffer as public transport sector of the mega city goes rudderless.

Lack of direction and no government oversight has made the public transport sector of Karachi chaotic and messy, resulting in immense problems for the millions of commuters. However, the indifferent bureaucracy has no clue about how to tackle this serious urban social issue.

Every sector including the public transport sector is governed by the demand and supply rule, but the bureaucracy here has failed to ensure there is sufficient number of buses and minibuses in the city to cater the needs of huge commuter load. This causes crowds of commuters waiting at bus stops and dangerously overcrowded minibuses with commuters even sitting on their rooftops. These killer roof racks stay despite the instructions of the Supreme Court of Pakistan last year to dismantle them.

The transport officials do not care if the public transport buses are plying on their authorized routes are not. There are dozens of the routes of buses, minibuses and coaches that have been practically closed, but on the paper these routes are fully operational. The government should have cancelled the route permits of transporters who are not interested to ply their vehicles on these routes and invite other transporter to obtain these routes, but this practice is yet to be started.

The private transporters have got a free hand to obtain more than one route permits despite the fact that do not have enough vehicles available to ply on these routes. Resultantly, they run buses on the most profitable routes and ignore other routes; though all public transport routes in Karachi are profitable as commuter demand is more than supply. The route issuing authorities should link the route permits with specific vehicles, so these minibuses may only be run on their authorized routes. The name of the route should be painted on front, rear and the sides of the vehicle so that it plied only on that particular route and not switched to any other route as per the wish of its owner.

The transport department has also failed to regulate the ‘coaches’ in Karachi. More than a decade back these special minibuses named coaches were created to facilitate commuters. These coaches were allowed to charge more fare than ordinary minibuses on a strict condition that they would only load passengers as per ‘vacant seat capacity’. If there is no vacant seat in coach they would simply not allow commuters to board. However, practically, these coaches are run like ordinary minibuses, overloaded with commuters, who not only stand in corridor and footboard but also travel on roof-rack. Sadly these coaches despite open violation of their route issuance requirements fleece commuters by charging more fare as compared to ordinary minibuses.

The Karachi commuters have been facing this fleecing for last one decade but the transport department does not care about this challenging of its own writ. The department should withdraw the special status of higher fare slab given to these so-called coaches and the fare slab of ordinary minibuses should also be implemented for these coaches. When there is no different between the services offered by minibuses and coaches there is no justification that these coach owners extort more fare from passengers. Another grave fleecing of commuters is that the public transport runs on cheap CNG but charge fare on the basis of use of costly diesel.

The government has also failed to implement the prescribed colour code of public transport vehicles in Karachi. This is why buses, minibuses and coaches in Karachi wear fancy combination of colours, shades and designs. This is against the law, which prescribes a particular colour code for every public transport vehicle. How Karachi could be given an urban public transport culture when its buses and minibuses are painted as per wild imaginations of their owners. The government must prove its writ is respected and all public transport vehicles of Karachi including buses, minibuses and coaches are properly painted as per prescribed colour scheme. If there is any confusion in this regard the government should issue a fresh notification and after a fair deadline the vehicles disobeying it should be impounded with their route permits cancelled and their owners blacklisted.

The transport department has again failed to stop running of old and unfit buses on Karachi roads. Even in the cities like Lahore and Peshawar there is a rule that public vehicles after a certain engine life are not allowed to ply on road, but Karachi is free for every model and make of vehicles. This is why transporters buy junk buses and minibuses from Lahore, Peshawar and other cities and ply them with impunity on Karachi roads, increasing the levels of its air and noise pollution. The government should ensure there is a certain limit of engine life for Karachi public transport and route permits of all junk-class vehicles are cancelled.

The system of issuing fare tickets to commuters is not being followed in Karachi due to sheer inefficiency of transport department. Issuance of fare ticket to commuter is the first requirement of urban public transport system, but despite this requirement is there on books of laws and rules, the bureaucracy do not bother to implement it.

The public transport system in Karachi could not improve till only wide-bodied buses are allowed to ply on its streets and all narrow-bodied minibuses and coaches are phased out from the city. This needs a strong political will and vision on the part of government. Karachi public transporter is immensely profitable sector and if the government announces giving bus routes only to wide-bodied buses many new investors would jump into arena for making quick money.

The main reason of failure of public transport sector in Karachi is that it is politically orphaned. The political leaders of Karachi have never tried to change the urban transport culture of their own city and provide better commuting facilities to their own voters. This has made this mega city a city of rickshaws and Chingchies. If the ministers and government officials lack a vision of a modern urban public transport culture, it is no fault on their part as often they belong to rural areas and feudal culture, still living in era of horse-driven carriages and donkey carts. It is the responsibility of the urban politicians to prove their urban culture and enlightened mentality to give their city a respectable public transport culture it duly deserves.

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