Routes of the matter

December 1, 2019

The number of public transport vehicles plying on city roads, and their routes, have been reduced inconsiderably, much to the woes of the commuters

Currently, the LTC buses are functional only on two routes. — Photo by Rahat Dar

According to the World Bank’s Urban Bus Toolkit, there are several variables that affect the number of buses required per 1,000 persons. These include availability of rails and other modes of public transport, public preference, utilisation or dependence on public buses, and the capacity of the buses.

The requirement of buses as a means of public transport may vary from place to place, but keeping in view the above mentioned factors, a city roughly requires 0.5 to 1.2 buses per its 1,000 persons. As such, Lahore, which is home to about 11 million people, would require 11,000 full-size buses.

Unfortunately, the number is much higher than the 1,574 buses stated in the eight-phase plan chalked out by the Punjab Mass Transit Authority (PMTA), and clearly shows that urban public transport is inadequate in Lahore.

Presently, the PMTA and Lahore Transport Company (LTC) are operating public transport buses in Lahore. Established in 2009, the LTC was made responsible for urban transport system which was earlier managed by the Transport Department. The LTC was handed over an impressive fleet of 863 buses, 2,200 wagons, and 34,000 auto rickshaws. However, with the passage of time, instead of increasing the number of vehicles and their routes, these have been reduced, much to the commuters’ woes.

Currently, the said buses are functional only on two routes. An LTC official shared details with TNS, on condition of anonymity, “These [two routes] are B-22 — Jinnah Terminal to Jallo Mor — and B-10 — Railway Station to Valencia.

“A total of 67 buses are operating on these two routes,” he said, adding that other modes of public transport such as wagons and mini buses were operating on “20-25 routes.”

Closure of a number of routes has left hundreds of thousands of daily commuters to suffer. Most recently, LTC further closed three routes — B-08 (General Bus Stand to Airport), B-12A (General Bus Stand to RA Bazar), and B-19 (Niazi Chowk to Green Town).

Hafiz Mumtaz, a public transport supervisor at RA Bazar, reflected on the situation in the following words: “It [the closure of routes] has affected many, especially students, boys and girls alike.”

He noted that many people used to drop their daughters at the bus stop for the 12A bus, as many private and government schools and colleges are located along the route. “Now, they have to either arrange a private van or rickshaw, which puts an extra burden on their pockets. Sometimes they can only afford a motorcycle rickshaw which comes with its own issues. Imagine the amount of discomfort and harassment the young girls have to face every day, while riding a Qinqi.”

Irfan, a commuter, commented, “The government has failed to facilitate those who can only afford public transport. I go to my office in Garhi Shahu all the way from Walton Road. Previously, I would change two buses to reach the destination, but now I have no choice but to travel by motorcycle rickshaws which operate at their own will. They stop abruptly, and frequently, to pick and drop passengers, and often force us to get down in the middle of the journey, even though we pay them their full fare.

Many factors led to the closure of the bus routes — the launch of Metro Bus Service, the dilapidated condition of the buses, and reduced economic viability of the said routes.

It isn’t just intra-city road travels that have been affected. Even the people who are coming from other cities face difficulties in reaching their destinations because of a shortage of buses and their designated routes. Sajida Bibi is one such lady. She says that she comes to Lahore every six months for the medical checkup of her son at Inmol Hospital. “I work as a house maid, and can barely save a little money from my meagre income, for this mandatory trip. When we landed here this time over, we were told that the B-19 bus that would take us from Niazi Bus Terminal to Inmol had stopped operating.

“We aren’t too familiar with the city, and so we were stuck for quite some time.”

In its defence, the operations director at LTC says, “Many factors led to the closure of the bus routes — the launch of Metro Bus Service, the dilapidated condition of the buses, and reduced economic viability of the said routes.”

He claimed that the recent decision to close down three more routes was taken “by the company that owns the buses. LTC was only managing them. Their main reason was that the buses had exhausted their run. We were routinely getting reports of buses having technical issues, and passengers being affected.”

TNS contacted an anonymous source in LTC that rejected the company’s public stance. “No doubt the buses weren’t in very good condition, but this wasn’t the reason why the routes were closed,” he said, “LTC had taken the decision long ago. Many transport companies had started operations on various bus routes in Lahore, but they could not meet the expenses and were scrapped. Our company is the only one still operational.

“We were requested to continue service. That request was entertained for a considerable period of time. We know that the passengers are made to suffer, but there is no way that the company can continue operating the buses. It is even contemplating closing the remaining two routes as well.”

A senior official at the PMTA denied the role of Metro Bus Service in the closure of the LTC bus routes, “We had relocated competing routes. The Metro and Orange Line are an organised way to move people. I would say that through these we will provide better quality services.”

The Lahore Transport Company has invited bids for the restoration of old routes besides initiating a few new routes. “A summary has been sent to the Punjab Transport Authority in this regard,” says the operations manager at the LTC. “They are the final decision making body. Hence, the ball is in their court.”

No official at Punjab Transport Authority was available for comments despite repeated attempts.

Lahore transport: Routes of the matter