LAHORE: Punjab Transporters have said they will move the court against the provincial government for being denied Rs2.5 billion subsidies they were promised and for damaging their business.
An All Transport Owners’ Association official said that the Punjab government had paid no heed to their concerns and that they were left with no option other than to wage a legal fight for their rights. He said that Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif had constituted a committee in April this year to address the transporters’ long-standing grievances.
He added that the committee deliberated on the revision of fares in view of current diesel prices and the release of Rs2.5 billion subsidies pending from 2006 up to 2010. The official said that the committee did not consult the transporters and called in a meeting on May 5 to pen down recommendations for the CM.
The meeting was attended by the transport secretary, Lahore Transport Company chairman, Punjab chief secretary’s representative and finance department officials, “but no one from the transporters’ side was invited”. He said that the government informed them after the meeting that it had fixed a floor of Rs13 on minimum fares and that it was not in a position to release the subsides. Another ATOA official said that Shahbaz Sharif during his previous tenure as the Punjab Chief Minister in 1999 launched a franchise transport system.
He said that Sharif agreed to fix the minimum fare at Rs4 (for 4km) when the diesel price stood at Rs10.4 per litre. The government also agreed to subsidise the fares in case of a hike in fuel prices. He added that the agreement also guaranteed that the government would ban other forms of public transport from plying on the routes designated for the franchise buses. The official said that after the change of government the agreement was not honoured.
The new administration diverted its attention from buses to mini-wagons, four-stroke CNG rickshaws and the rapid mass transit system. Furthermore, he said that the wagon owners from Rawalpindi, Lahore and Faisalabad had lodged a writ petition against the franchise transport scheme in the Supreme Court. The apex court had ruled against the franchise law, declaring it ultra-vires to the Constitution. He said that the SC judgment discouraged prospective investors, “The franchise holders did not add new buses to their fleet and no new operator dared enter the market after June 2005.” The number of buses that stood at 1,400 in 2005 declined to a mere 800 in 2010, he added.
He attributed the decline to government’s refusal to release Rs2.5 billion in subsidies, sponsoring other forms of transport and unnecessary regulations through traffic wardens, LTC, Transport Department and the DCO office. All Transport Owners’ Association (Lahore) secretary Arshad Khan Niazi said that going by the original franchise agreement, minimum fare at current diesel price (Rs78) should be fixed at Rs31.
Published in the Express Tribune, May 19th, 2010.
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