The driver honks and swears at others as he manoeuvres the 39-foot long vehicle on Daudpota Road. The traffic is blocked each time one of these intercity buses snakes its way onto the road, near Empress Market.
Over two dozen buses are parked on either side of Daudpota Road. Every time they arrive or depart from their terminal, they create a traffic jam at main streets of MA Jinnah and Preedy Roads, which are already stuffed with the colourful, noisy and rickety public buses. It is the same chaos at Cantt Station, Banaras, Sohrab Goth and other places where illegal terminals have been set up.
Now, in a desperate attempt, the Karachi Metropolitan Corporation (KMC) is trying to move more than 2,500 buses to the peripheries of the city.
KMC plans to build the new terminal at the Northern Bypass which is more than 50 kilometres from the city centre. The terminal will span 100 acres and its construction is expected to be completed in around seven months.
Over a dozen operators who used to run bus services for Quetta and other parts of Balochistan from University Road were asked to relocate to the Yusuf Goth terminal near Sohrab Goth. It was inaugurated in 2006.
The operators shut down the bus terminals, except for their booking offices and passenger ferrying services. But instead of moving to Yusuf Goth, they moved their terminals to Saddar.
The inter-city bus operators vow that they will never let the terminals to be moved. This is strange because it works to their advantage.
When a bus leaves Gulshan-e-Iqbal, the driver pays extortion money at every police check post on his way. Some even make monthly deposits. But police won’t be able to harass them once they are safely out of the city. However, transporter Zafarullah Khan, disagreed. “Who can guarantee that the police will not bother us there?” he asked. “Who will assure us that we will not be made to pay protection money there?”
One reason why the government is insisting on moving the departure points of inter-city buses out of the city is because of security checks, according to Atiq Baig, the chief of transport department at KMC. “It is very important to remove them. They cause the roads to become congested,” he said. “But the bigger problem is that the security agencies want to keep a check on the people coming into the city.” The terminal will be operated by KMC, he added.
Saleem Shah, who works for one of the transport companies, said that the shuttle service has been a problem. “It has killed business but added to the cost. The hassle of loading the luggage here and then reloading it again at the terminal is too much.”
Shah said that proximity does matter when it comes to travelling. “Our customers come from Sohrab Goth and Gulshan-e-Iqbal,” he said. “Now they have to go to the city centre to get on the bus.”
The fare for Hyderabad from Karachi is Rs250, explains Haji Muhammad Iqbal, who operates a bus service for rural Sindh and Punjab from Saddar. “Tell me honestly, how can a person who can afford to pay that much hire a taxi and spend Rs500 more to travel to a terminal on the city’s suburbs?”
A salesman, Azam, working at the Saddar terminal, declared, “No one is moving us from here. We pay money to influential people. Nothing comes for free.”
Published in The Express Tribune, May 6th, 2012.