Lack of infrastructure and manipulation of the fare system have led to conflicts between commuters and bus drivers
ltercations between passengers and public transport drivers are a routine matter in Islamabad. Tensions run high at key junctions such as Faizabad, Pir Wadhai, Peshawar Morr, Tarnol, PIMS Hospital, Koral and Rawat.
The News on Sunday surveyed passengers to find the cause of this friction. As it turns out, public transport drivers park their vehicles at these junctions for longer than necessary.
“I have to commute from Model Town to my workplace in the Blue Area every single day. The journey is awful and I have to leave at least an hour and a half early to reach work on time,” says Sajid. He runs a studio called Sukhan Saz.
“Poets and literary people are invited to my studio. As they usually do not own cars, it takes a while to lift their mood after they have experienced the horrors of public transport. While the fare is affordable, the operating conditions are not. Upon reaching stops like Faizabad or Chungi No 36, they park their vehicles for a very long time to fill the van and make more money due to flaws in the fare mechanism,” he says.
Ahmed, a student at the National University of Modern Languages, says he and his friends have to deal with public bus drivers in a rough manner to get the bus moving. “The situation is even worse for women and old people, who cannot get tough with public transport drivers,” he says. Also, incidents of harassment of women are becoming increasingly frequent on public transport.
Online ride sharing applications have tried to plug this gap. However, in the absence of appropriate laws to bring this business under the umbrella of public transport, many operators work within a confined grey area.
“It is outrageous when drivers on ride sharing networks simply refuse to pick you up or tell you to cancel the ride. The system to pinpoint your location is hard for many of them to understand,” says Sumaiya Batool, a resident of Ghauri Town.
According to Shehram Haider, some of the drivers for ride sharing services are unprofessional. “They will not pick you up, or drop you off at a destination that they think is too far, even though the fare is calculated based on distance. There is no live customer support and you can only submit a report through the app which is often useless. You are at a loss either way, as your time is wasted and it is a stressful process,” he laments.
“Poets and literary people are invited to my studio. As they usually do not own cars, it takes a while to lift their mood after they have experienced the horrors of public transport”
“Then there are peak hour charges. They charge you three or four times the normal fare at the start and end time of universities and offices. Their unavailability or scant availability at night has rendered them useless,” Haider concludes. .
According to a presentation by the Capital Development Authority (CDA), one million people commute in the federal capital on a daily basis. The city administration has finally come up with an ambitious plan to fix this problem.
From Faiz Ahmed Faiz stop to New Airport, Orange Line buses have begun operating. At present, 30 buses are plying on this 30-kilometre stretch. This route mostly runs along the Sri Nagar Highway, which is signal-free. As there are two big universities and other public offices along this road, it has a large number of motorcyclists who are bothered by the buses as they have to go in the fast lane to take U-Turns. They are demanding pedestrian and motorcycle bridges on the road.
Amer Ahmed Ali, the Islamabad chief commissioner, tells The News on Sunday that he hopes this problem will be solved sooner than later, as a successful trial of the Blue Line Bus Service has been carried out from Gulberg to PIMS Hospital. “A major station at Rawat is on the agenda. Almost 700,000 commuters use this road daily. We are expediting work on the extension of Islamabad Expressway, but widening of roads is not a sustainable solution to traffic problems. Gradually, the number of vehicles will increase and even this wider road will not be enough. We have a plan for the next 20 years. Mass transit system is the only solution,” he says, adding that illegal structures will be removed from this road.
The Red Line Bus Service will run from Bhara Kahu to PIMS Hospital. According to a study titled Optimum Use of Available Resources: A Prototype Model of Road Safety in Islamabad, the city has 1,400 vans and buses. The study says that about 200 big vehicles can solve the city’s public transport problem. It presses on the need for public-private partnership to run this system. Fares and other funds shall be collected through a centralised system and citizens will be able to get affordable public conveyance at all main roads. The government should own and operate this system so that one million commuters are not left at the mercy of ride sharing networks and untrained drivers. It will also reduce pollution.
The writer teaches development support communication at International Islamic University Islamabad.Twitter:HassanShehzadZ Email: Hassan.shehzadiiui.edu.pk