Lahore - Shortage of metro buses is causing huge discomfort to the commuters, who are forced to queue up in long lines and travel in tightly packed vehicles to the detriment of their health, The Nation explains.
Officials in the Metro Bus Service told this newspaper that the average commuter traffic per day is 18,0000 while the number of buses plying on the 27 KM Gajjumata to Shadara route is 64. At every stop, an average of 6000 commuters commute each day.
“The existing fleet of buses is not enough for the travellers, which often rises to 2,00000 per day,” the official said.
He said that while there are three platforms at each station which are meant for three buses to be used simultaneously, only one of them is in use. Given the number of commuters, these vacant platforms would have to be used which would require at least 40 more buses, he added.
Officials told that while a single bus has a capacity for 160 passengers including 39 seats and standing space for 120 persons, an average bus is overloaded by 50 extra passengers. Overcrowding also impacts negatively on the engine of the vehicles, chokes up the ticket offices resulting in long lines of travellers.
He told that in May 2013, as the increasing ridership put extra strain on the vehicles, engines of some of them gave out which consequently had to be repaired. Keeping this factor in view, 19 new buses were added in August.
Before, the arrival of metro, commuters on the Feroze pur road were relying on Toyota mini-Mazdas and vans whose only criticism was that their drivers were often careless in observing traffic rules risking lives of the people.
There was also not enough space for women who had to make do with sitting in men’s compartments. With Lahore’s population crossing the 10 million threshold, a project of metro’s proportion is an attempt to provide solution to the city’s quest for a pragmatic source of travel despite critics droning at the Rs 30 billion price tag, not to mention its iron bars which have been compared to Berlin Wall.
Metro, covers one of the city’s many major routes. Research done by Japanese International Co-operation (JICA) points attention to the fact that the number of intra-city trips by the total commuter population of the city stood at 12 million on an average. Lahore Transport Company puts the total number of commuters in the city at 700000 who use 89 different routes in the city. The total number of buses including those run by Lahore Transport Authority and private operators is around 650.
Babar Ali, a metro bus commuter who commutes from Qainchi to Azadi chowk complains that the journey drains his energy. “You have to wait in long lines and bear with the people pushing you here and there. The real trial starts once you are inside the bus where 20 people are packed in a space that can barely hold 10 persons. You have to hang on to other commuters in order to prevent yourself from falling which is physically as well as mentally very stressful,” he complains.
Salma Sajjad, a student who has to commute from Ittefaq Hospital stop to Secretariat is worried over the fact that she has to prevent her uniform from getting dishevelled by the commuters around her. The buses are so crowded that there is not enough space to stand, she complains, calling for more buses. Once, her cell phone and jewellery items were stolen as she was trying to find a space to settle down, an incident she attributes to overloading.
Muhammad Nasir, a 65 year old citizen grumbled that although the fare was not hard on his pocket, he finds it physically challenging having to endure the stifling atmosphere of the jam-packed vehicles. “It would have been much better, if the number of comfortable buses like Daewoo had been ramped up. For an old man, elbowing his way through a crowd every time he has to shuffle in and get off the bus, it is exhausting.”
The study also found that at some of the stations, the self-service Ticket Vending Machine (TVM) were out of order, while at some station there were not enough vendors available. This has shifted extra burden on the ticket office where tokens are sold manually. Commuters have to wait for many minutes before they can get the token. The situation at Ghazi Chowk, Qainchi, Bhaati chowk, Azadi chowk beggars description where passengers can be seen queuing up the entire length of the pedestrian bridge.
One of the officials at the station said that even if the TVM were operating, the long lines would still be there because of the incredibly huge ridership. At the Chungi Amar Sadhu station, where only one vendor was selling tokens, (when three were supposed to be present on duty), the official said that staff was burdened with large number of commuters.
When contacted General Manager Operations Punjab Metro Bus Authority Uzair Shah explained the matter away by saying there was no need for new buses because a project of this nature is meant for short-distance travel within heavily populated urban areas.
“This is how, these buses fare internationally where people have to stand. That’s the culture when it comes to short-distance urban travel,” he said.
Earlier reports in this newspaper alleged that the metro bus service was drawing losses of up to 5 million per day. The fare per passenger is Rs20 while the government is paying the subsidy of Rs 40. According to a report, the total amount lost since the inauguration of the project runs to Rs 1.5 billion.
On the question whether such press reports depicting the project as running huge monetary loss were true or not, the GM admitted it, explaining that although the reports were true it must be kept in mind that that the idea was to provide affordable travel facility to the public.
“When it comes to Metro, it’s about providing cheap source of travel to the public for which the government has to pay the subsidy,” he said.