While commuting daily on public transport from her house in Chak Shehzad to her office near Golra Sharif, Shehnaz was occasionally asked by bus conductors to get off in the middle of the route. She would then have to change a number of vans before reaching her final destination, wasting time and energy in the process. This became something of a norm for Shehnaz.
“To save time, I started leaving early because I had no way of knowing whether I would be dropped off in the middle and then have to travel the remaining distance on other vans. Even then the vans would sometimes dash right past me, leaving me stranded,” says Shehnaz. “The bus drives and conductors put their convenience first and their responsibilities after,” she adds.
Life went on like this for Shehnaz for some time, till she decided to do something about it and lodged a complaint at the senior superintendent of police (SSP) office. “I began to notice a change in attitudes of the bus conductor and the driver. Not only would they make space for me in the van, but would also drop me to my final destination”, she happily recounts.
While the luxury enjoyed by Shehnaz was a one-off occurrence, members of the NGO PATTAN and volunteers from the District Governance Group have been lobbying with the Traffic SSP, the transport secretary and transport unions for over two years now, convincing them to plaster telephone numbers of the concerned officials on public transport vans.
At 10:00am on Friday, a group of ten people — civil society members and volunteers — went to the Karachi Company in G-9 Markaz and posted stickers of telephone numbers of the Traffic SSP, transport secretary and emergency transport on 500 vans during a three-hour exercise. The numbers for complaints pertaining to sexual harassment were posted inside the vans, while the stickers posted outside list complaint numbers for those who want to report drivers who do not drop passengers off at the proper stops.
“We feel that people who use public transport suffer at the hands of bus drivers and conductors. There needs to be a system in place to address their concerns. The practice of exploiting commuters has to be discouraged,” said William Pervaiz from Pattan.
Every day, thousands of residents use public vans as a mode of transport in the twin cities of Rawalpindi and Islamabad. With an increase in the migrant population, the number of people using public transport increases with each passing year.
Speaking to The Express Tribune, Islamabad Transport Union President Haji Malik Nawab said that it was unfair not to look at the story from both sides. He said that the initiative does not allow transporters to defend themselves if they are not at fault. “If they are responsible, they should be charged. If not, there is no mechanism in place to allow them to defend their position.”
Kabir Ahmed Kiyani from the Transport Union said that vans change their routes to cater to as many passengers as possible because there is shortage of gas. The initiative will cause undue suffering to van drivers and conductors, he added.
Whenever a passenger lodges a complaint against the bus driver of the conductor, “our vans are taken into custody and a minimum fine of Rs500 to Rs700 is charged,” alleged Kiyani.
He argued that there needs to be a revision in the rules and that the transporters should be allowed to defend themselves before any action is taken against them.
The activists will conduct a survey on Monday to see how many vans remove the stickers.
Published in The Express Tribune, June 1st, 2014.