Metro bus and train straphangers have serious cause for worry, as the MTA suspends all public transport vehicles in the city in order to contain the pandemic
In October last, smack in the middle of the pandemic, the government launched what is not just Lahore’s but the country’s first mass transit train service — the Orange Line Metro Train (OLMT). Though, it generated enough heat (read curiosity) to sustain a fair amount of passengers over the next six months, recently its services were suspended by the Mass Transit Authority of Punjab, in an effort to contain the Coronavirus now in its third — and deadlier — wave.
The MTA also barred all other public transport services such as the Metro Bus from operating.
The ban is likely to stay for another week or so, which doesn’t augur well for the daily commuter or for those working with the OLMT and the Metro.
According to the Punjab government’s official website, a whopping 179,104 straphangers (on an average) use Metro and the feeder route buses on a daily basis. The buses offer a comfortable ride at fairly subsidised rates. Similarly, the OLMT has earned a loyal ridership who continue to be fascinated by this fast-speed, air-conditioned, luxury intra-city train travel at affordable fairs. In the event of the ban, the working-class commuters are forced to look for alternatives which, many say, don’t come cheap.
Private ride-hailing services such as Careem and the good old rickshaws have come back in action. Of course, the Lahoris are never short on their personal vehicles, chiefly the 800 cc cars and 70 cc motorbikes, which have become even more visible during the so-called ‘smart lockdowns’ in various parts of the city. Resultantly, there is no respite from traffic jams and noise — not to forget, the environmental pollution. A case in point is the Canal Road which offers routine views of traffic snarl-ups at peak hours. You are lucky if you come across a traffic warden to manage the mess.
The Metro bus and the OLMT ply on designated routes only, but they have the advantage of bypassing all the bad traffic and the frequently jammed parts of the city such as the Ferozpur Road, Raiwind Road and Baghbanpura. Besides, these transport services stick to the clock, unlike private cabs that must contend with all kinds of mess on the roads.
Moazzama, a single parent who works at a call centre in Baghbanpura, says that every day she would travel to her office “hassle-free” by the OLMT. “I’d reach the destination on time, and return home, in just under a hundred bucks. The options at my disposal now are all expensive. So, what do I do? Do I car-pool with other passengers and risk my safety?”
Zulqarnain, a daily wager, echoes the same thoughts, albeit in stronger words: “They [the authorities] can only exert their power on the underprivileged, while the moneyed people continue to dine in at restaurants.” He says that he now pedals all the way to his workplace, “some 21 kilometres away from my home, every day, on my rusty bicycle.”
Then there are the already poorly-compensate drivers of Metro and other public sector buses who have been rendered without work in one magical stroke of the ban.
Hassan Hamid, a bus driver who has been badly hit by the ban, says that he isn’t sure “how will I be able to feed my kids.”
He also speaks of the compensation that was promised by the Transport Department, but which isn’t forthcoming.
The Metro bus and the OLMT ply on designated routes only, but they have the advantage of bypassing all the bad traffic and the frequently jammed parts of the city such as the Ferozpur Road, Raiwind Road and Baghbanpura. Besides, these transport services stick to the clock, unlike private cabs that must contend with all kinds of mess on the roads. They often have to take detours, which consumes more time, and will charge the customers more than the estimated fares. One can only hope that the government takes notice of this issue and provides the stakeholders as well as those affected by the ban, with better solutions. Come Covid-19 or whatever.
The writer is a pursuing a degree in mass communication and media studies at the University of Central Punjab