The Foton Bus Service remained suspended for a third day on Sunday, in protest at the vandalism of buses and beating and intimidation of drivers by college students.
Foton stopped running its buses on Friday after college students held up two buses and demanded to ride for free, thrashed the bus drivers and other crew members, vandalised the vehicles and even stole their money. This has happened several times since the service began in Lahore last month, including on its first day.
Students of public sector colleges have long used such tactics to reach an informal understanding with local transport companies that they will not pay for rides. However, the Chinese company was long wooed by the Punjab government to invest in public transport in the province and the company is putting pressure on local authorities to get the students to behave.
Lahore Transport Company (LTC) officials said they were optimistic that Foton would restart the service on Monday, after assurances from local authorities and the police that their buses would be protected, as well as discussions with student groups.
“Foton has assured us that they will run their buses on Monday,” said Tanveer Sadiq, LTC’s senior operations manager. “We have been meeting with student leaders and groups to resolve the problem.” He said that the police had pledged to protect Foton’s buses.
LTC Chairman Khawaja Hassaan told The Express Tribune that the company had written to all government colleges to propose that they incorporate bus fares in their fees, which would remove their incentive to hold up and vandalise buses. “We are meeting with students and teachers to decide the tariff,” he said. “The buses are meant to make travel more convenient for the students so they should not be breaking them.”
However, he added, the LTC would not be able to make bus cards for students of all public and private colleges, so a separate proposal to reduce bus fares was also under consideration. “We are considering reducing the fare between stops from Rs15 to Rs5, and on long journeys from Rs30 to Rs10,” he said.
Foton and LTC officials said that they suspected local transport companies had paid people to pose as students and disrupt their service, as the Chinese company’s entry in the public transport sector signalled unwelcome competition.
Hasasan said that local transport “mafias” may be involved in the attacks on Foton buses. “The rickshaw mafia and wagon mafia don’t want buses to prosper,” he said. “We are keeping an eye on all the mafias and will take action against them if they are involved.”
Arshad Khan Niazi, owner of a well-known transport company, denied that his company was involved in any such business. “We are not gangsters who hire thugs to trouble other businesses,” he said.
He said that local transport companies were accustomed to the “tough environment” created by the students but continued to operate. “We believe in forgive and forget since maintaining good relations with our customers is important, unlike foreign companies that are only here to mint money,” he said.
Published in The Express Tribune, December 12th, 2011.