MANSEHRA: Hundreds of passengers wishing to travel within and outside the Hazara division were left stranded for a third consecutive day on Friday as a strike by the Mansehra Wagon Owners Association (MWOA) continued over a hike in fares.
Members of the association and the local administration have refused to budge from their respective ‘principle stands’, prolonging the standoff.
Wagon owners had increased fares by Rs10 on each route within Hazara division. Fares for longer routes, which terminated outside the division, saw an increase of Rs20 citing. Transporters had justified the hike owing to the recent increase in prices of compressed natural gas (CNG).
However, these prices came into effect without securing prior permission from the Regional Transport Authority or the district administration. Subsequently, local police launched a crackdown against wagon drivers and owners who were ‘overcharging’ passengers.
A number of wagon owners were fined by traffic police whilst some errant drivers were allegedly thrashed and later arrested.
Calling the crackdown “unwarranted” the MWOA had parked their vehicles and went on strike from Wednesday, refusing to call off the strike unless the district administration withdrew cases against the arrested drivers and officially increased the fares.
“We will continue the strike until our demands, which are genuine, are accepted,” claimed Jan-e-Alam Gudu, president of MWOA while talking to The Express Tribune.
He added that owing to the recent increase in fuel prices, their profit margins of wagon owners had fallen to a minimum. Explaining the costs wagon owners had to bear, he said that they had to pay taxes on their vehicles, terminal contractors and several other taxes whereas the ever increasing rates of daily use items and declining income resources.
He claimed that the increase did not add to the burden of commuters who were not forced to pay fares a thousand times more which were demanded by cab owners during the strike.
Meanwhile, a traffic police officer called the attitude of wagon owners and their drivers as unbecoming. Terming the fares fixed by RTA and district administration as fair, he said that any arbitrary increase in fares would not be allowed.
He added that the traffic police and local administration were already extending leniency to wagon drivers and owners by overlooking the state of their vehicles which were in deplorable state, restricted seating capacity, fitness certificates and other violations of traffic rules.
However, exploitation of commuters would not be tolerated and would have to revise their fare to the levels fixed by the administration.
When approached for comments over the stalemate and any step from the administration for resolving the issue, he was not available.
Published in The Express Tribune, February 11th, 2017.