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Special Report

September 29, 2015
 

The problems of public transport in Sindh

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Written by: Nasir Mahmood
 

The provincial transport authorities of Sindh are mulling over allowing the operation of the three-wheeler motorcycle rickshaws subject to the fulfillment of certain conditions. The Supreme Court was informed on 23 September that these conditions include adding safety features to the vehicles and making sure they carry only four passengers.

The transport secretary unveiled this in his report submitted to the SC during the hearing of a petition filed by the association of rickshaw drivers, challenging the ban imposed by the Sindh High Court. The secretary stated that the 100cc motorcycle rickshaws were banned in compliance with the high court’s directives. However, these rickshaws can be allowed to ply on the link roads only and not on the main arteries in the cities, he clarified.



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Only those Qingqi rickshaws that have a seating capacity of only four persons, excluding driver, will be issued route permits, he said, adding that the same rules apply to CNG rickshaws. A division bench, headed by Justice Amir Hani Muslim, asked the petitioner’s lawyer to file the rebuttal, if any, to the transport secretary’s report. The hearing was adjourned till the next session.

Earlier, the Supreme Court of Pakistan on Wednesday 02 September sought a comprehensive project report from the Sindh government regarding alternate transport to replace Qingqi rickshaws. The SC bench comprising Justice Gulzar Ahmed and Justice Maqbool Bakar questioned the additional attorney general (AAG) Sindh that when there was no alternate transport for Qingqi rickshaws why the government reached the SHC and requested to ban it.

“Qingqi rickshaws were restricted to ply in limited areas but they started running on main roads as well as superhighway. These rickshaws were violating Motor Vehicle Rules 1969,” the AAG submitted before the court.

The court remarked that if there was something wrong it should have been made correct. It remarked that minibuses plying on the city roads were in dilapidated condition as well. The Sindh government is spending money on unnecessary projects but public transport issue is still beyond its attention; affordable public transport has been finished in the metropolis, the bench remarked.

The court directed the secretary transport to hold a meeting with association of Qingqis and other relevant departments to make a comprehensive plan for alternate public transport for the citizens. The court directed the secretary transport to submit the report on Thursday.

The SC bench was hearing a civil petition for leave to appeal to set aside the SHC order of imposing a ban on three-wheelers motor cycle rickshaws better known as Qingqi rickshaws. Advocate Ghulam Qadir Jatoi and Advocate Syed Abdul Waheed had filed the petition on behalf of Altaf Raza, president of the Association for the Welfare of Owners and Staff of Qingqi, Sindh. Citing Sindh government through the transport secretary, excise and taxation secretary, district regional transport authority secretary and the deputy inspector general of traffic police as respondents, the association pleaded the court to declare the impugned order of the high court. They requested the apex court to allow the plying of Qingqi rickshaws on the roads so that their economic murder can come to an end.

The SC bench questioned representative of the transport department that what progress has been made regarding alternate transport of Qingqi rickshaws.

“Mass Transit project is ready to go but its land has been encroached by some people and action is being taken against them,” the representative of transport department submitted. The court remarked: “The Japanese government is funding this project but they surely cannot send their army to remove the encroachments made on the project’s land. It is your responsibility.”

Secretary Transport Taha Farooqi and the DIG of traffic police also appeared before the court. The SC bench questioned Farooqi about the court’s yesterday’s direction for holding a meeting with Qingqi association and other relevant departments to make a comprehensive plan for alternate transport for the citizens. Farooqi requested the court to give respite for this purpose. The court directed him to file a written statement in this regard. The court observed that citizens had started relying on Qingqi rickshaws due to shortage of public transport. Commuters were being forced to travel on the buses’ roof tops, which was more dangerous, the SC bench remarked. The apex court directed secretary transport to hold a meeting with Qingqi association and other relevant departments to make a comprehensive plan for alternate transport for the citizens. The hearing of the case was adjourned for two weeks.

The petitioner’s counsel, Abdul Waheed, submitted in the petition that the transport department, through a notification on October 5, 2010, had ordered the completion of motorcycle rickshaws’ registration process and allowed them to ply the roads after that. He stated that the transport and traffic authorities were not giving route permits and registration certificates to motorcycle rickshaws.

Instead, the Sindh High Court (SHC) on 5th August imposed a ban on running of Qingqi Rickshaws operating without route permits and other necessary documentations on main roads of Karachi and other parts of Sindh. The SHC had also directed traffic police and transport authorities to take action against Qingqi rickshaws. The SHC bench comprising Justice Aqeel Ahmed Abbasi and Justice Mohammad Junaid Ghaffar in its verdict observed that plying of these rickshaws is violation of Motor Vehicle Rules 1969. The SHC had dismissed the Qingqi owners’ petition against the action being taken against them by the provincial authorities including the traffic police.

Drivers of Qingqi rickshaws took out rallies and held demonstrations in Karachi, Jacobabad, Naushahro Feroze districts and other parts of province in protest against the ban imposed by the Sindh High Court on plying the tri-wheelers. In Jacobabad, the Qingqi Rickshaw Union staged protests on a third consecutive day and took out a rally, which started from ShaheedAllahBuxPark and concluded at the press club where the protesters held a sit-in. They demanded that the authorities concerned immediately lift the ban on Qingqi rickshaws to save their families from starvation.

In Naushahro Feroze, Saleem Pathan, Muneer Sheikh and Baber Sheikh who led the protest said that they were compelled to buy the tri-wheelers to feed their families after they were disappointed by the government that failed to provide jobs. They sold their cattle to arrange the amount or took loans to be able to purchase the rickshaws but all of a sudden they were told by police not to bring the vehicles on roads. It came as a shock to them that the petition against their rickshaws was filed in the court by the United Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, they said. They urged the government to allow them to ply the rickshaws to earn livelihood and give them some time for registration etc. If they had been informed earlier that their vehicles required approval of the engineering council they would not have purchased the rickshaws in the first place, they said. They demanded the Sindh government file a petition in the court to have the order modified in order to give them some relief. Similar protests were staged in Moro, Kandiaro, Lakha Road, Mehrabpur and Khan Wahan.

Karachi, being the most populous city of Pakistan, lacks a planned transport system. Initiatives were taken in the past years that had been successful, but most collapsed under financial strain. These failures include the KIT (1950-57), Karachi Transport Syndicate (1957-58), Karachi Road Transport Corporation (1959-67), Sindh Road Transport Corporation (1967-77) and the Karachi Transport Corporation (1977-96). In 2008, the city mayor ordered 50 CNG buses for use instead of the old minibuses. In 2014, the Sindh government launched an additional 36 CNG buses, but the number is still insufficient. At the ceremony, the Sindh chief minister had announced the Bus Rapid Transport programme, but there has been no sign of its implementation.

The people of Karachi are often cramped and filled to the brim in buses and coaches, operated by reckless drivers who do not follow traffic rules, endangering many lives. The Qingqi rickshaw became popular in 2011 due to the decreasing number of buses and unavailability of alternative transportation. The disastrous transport system has impacted women the most. With more women opting to work and study than previously, there is a need to cater to their transport needs as well. Due to limited seating on buses, women face problems like having to stand while travelling during the rush hour and are sometimes harassed, insulted and maltreated.

The three-wheeler rickshaw, with its economical fares and private space, shielded the common man from a solitary walk on the tattered roads that are heaving with garbage and flies, congested buses and high fares. In Sindh alone, approximately 0.3 million Qingqi rickshaws were operational, out of which 65,000 Qingqi owners were from Karachi. However, now the source of their livelihood has been completely eliminated. In lieu of this recent happening, the common man is back to ground zero, back to the gory world of the spinal cord-breaking friendly buses and overpriced rickshaws.

The losses inflicted on Qingqi owners were overlooked and in order to ‘prevent traffic clogs’ and speed up the flow on the roads, the decision was put into effect. The pertinent question therefore is that were the losses of Qingqi owners taken into account? Was the mode of transport, as a convenient, affordable and safe carriage largely preferred by the public taken into account? Does the government prioritize a very prominent bus mafia over the livelihood of the Qingqi drivers or the preference of the public? Or does that not count anyway?

The government’s thought process – if there is one, is appalling, to say the least. Putting the needs of the elite, who are already hiding behind expensive four wheelers, over the millions of commuters who relied on these Qingqis to safely reach their destination. Was the cost-benefit analysis of this ban favorable for these commuters?

Is there an alternative mode of travel, other than the buses, to bridge the gap in the transport industry for all those who greatly depended on them?  To no one’s surprise, the common man feels appalled because of this unfair decision. They are now paying heftier fares, blaming the government for making them suffer due to the convenience of the elite. Is elite just a smokescreen word being used to cover up the demands of an ever-growing bus mafia? Unfortunately, rather than protesting against this hassle, the ordinary citizens have made peace with the unreasonable excuses offered by the government – back to their fate of travelling in cramped, uncomfortable buses and expensive rickshaws.

It may be mentioned here that necessity is the mother of all inventions. This well-known saying epitomizes the reason Qingqi rickshaws became a popular mode of travel for many Karachi commuters. When the government and the authorities concerned didn’t perform their jobs, the Qingqi came to the rescue, providing efficient and adequate transportation to the public. The Qingqi rickshaws came into operation because they were economical and convenient. However, the ban on this efficient mode of transportation has incapacitated many people. According to a report, there are 329 official bus routes in the city, but currently, only 111 are being operated, while the others have been abandoned because they are not considered lucrative by transporters. Karachi, with an estimated 22 million people, has roughly 9,527 operational minibuses, compared with the 22,313 it had in 2011, according to the report. The Karachi Metropolitan Corporation says that an additional 8,676 large buses are required to fill the shortfall.

The authorities concerned should consider the woes of the public and the implications of their decisions before giving orders on a matter. The current ban has also resulted in the loss of jobs of poor rickshaw drivers and owners. In order to establish a convenient transport facility, the government should provide a sufficient number of CNG buses in the city on longer routes and allow rickshaws on link roads.

-Published on pages#10-12, September-2015 edition of MOBILE WORLD Magazine





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