Wheel-jam strike by transporters on Monday against what they called excessive penalties for traffic violations and taxes imposed by municipal authorities in the garrison city left the commuters high and dry. The strike spilled over in the capital city as public transport owners did not want to risk damage to their vehicles, even though they were opposed to the wheel-jam.
The Punjab government has raised the penalty from Rs500 to Rs1,000 which transporters decried as unacceptable. They also demanded the abolition of fees collected by Rawal Town administration and Rawalpindi Cantonment Board.
Rawalpindi Chief Traffic Officer Ishtiaq Shah, when contacted, said the penalties had been fixed by the Punjab government. “We will do our job and fine those transporters who would violate traffic rules,” he said.
Transporters’ complaint regarding heavy fines had been conveyed to the provincial authorities, stated Rawalpindi District Coordination Officer Saqib Zafar, while talking to The Express Tribune.
However late in the evening, representatives of the United Transporters Federation (UTF) at a press conference at Pirwadhai bus terminal, postponed the strike till September 25 to give more time to the authorities to address their problems.
The UTF president Malik Akhtar, Pirwadhai Bus Terminal assocuiation’s president Raja Asad and Suzuki Owners’ Union president Raja Muhammad Bashir said transporters would go on strike again after consulting different associations in other cities of Punjab if the provincial government did not address their issues.
“It was especially difficult for women to travel in the absence of transport as taxi drivers demanded higher fares,” said Sidra Batool, who was waiting in Saddar to get a cab or van to go home.
Regional Transport Authority Secretary Asad Kazmi said the issue of an increase in transport fares was addressed last Friday when the minimum rate was increased from Rs14 to Rs16 from stop to stop and the maximum rate from Rs38 to Rs41.
Talking to The Express Tribune, representatives of public transporters in Islamabad said the strike called by transporters in Rawalpindi was unjustified and they were not consulted.
“There is a big mafia behind this strike and we do not want to become part of it. From Tuesday all the public transport in Islamabad will be back on the road,” said Malik Aftab, president of All Pakistan Public Transport Workers’ Union and Taxi Association.
“The reason behind the shortage of public transport on Monday in the capital was because of fear our vehicles would be damaged by protesters,” he added. However, some Toyota Hiace were running on the roads.
“We are satisfied with the petroleum prices and rate card. In case of an objection, the issue should be discussed with the government rather than taking to the streets and making others’ lives miserable,” he said.
Due to shortage of public transport, many commuters could not reach their workplace or were late. Adnan Khan, a salesman at a shop in F-10 who draws a salary of Rs8000 said, “How can I afford to spend Rs600 on taxi fare in one day when my salary is not enough to provide three meals a day to my family?”
Published in The Express Tribune, September 11th, 2012.
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