Punjab govt leaves transporters in a stew

Decides to reopen transport despite resistance

Aamir Naveed May 16, 2020
PHOTO: FILE

LAHORE: The Punjab government has further relaxed the lockdown and decided to open public transport and malls from Monday. The transporters have been instructed to allow only one passenger to sit on a double seat and ensure a safe distance of three-feet between passengers inside the vehicle.

Moreover, it has been decided that the vehicle’s air conditioner will be turned off and windows will be kept open to prevent Covid-19 infliction. The political leadership has ordered to open public transport despite strong opposition from the officials of the transport department.

Punjab permits opening of malls, public transport from May 18

On the other hand, transporters expressed reservations about the outlined safety protocols and said it was impossible to implement the given instructions.

In meeting with public transporters, Provincial Law Minister Basharat Raja urged them to reopen public transport with precautions in place.

Provincial Minister for Industries Mian Aslam Iqbal, Secretary Transport Asad Rehman Gilani, Secretary Provincial Transport Authority Muhammad Iqbal, Deputy Inspector General (DIG) Traffic Punjab and other officials were also present during the meeting.

Speaking on the occasion, the law minister said that the government cares about transporters as well as other businesses which is why it has allowed condition-based operation of transport keeping in mind the safety of travelers amid pandemic.

He also reminded the transporters about the reduction in petrol prices which should consequently result in a reduction in fares. The meeting was told that a committee headed by Secretary Transport has been set up to revise the fares after consultation with transporters.

The SOPs issued for local transport also compulsories disinfection of buses after completing each round. It has been mandated for bus terminals to ensure availability of sanitisers for passengers and staff. Moreover, passengers will be allowed to board the bus from the front door and leave through the back door.

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As an added blanket of security, passengers suffering from fever or cough will not be allowed to travel.

The Express Tribune learnt that a government committee is expected to soon submit its final recommendations to the Chief Minister for reopening public transport across the province. The transporters have not shown eagerness regarding this decision of the government.

All Pakistan Public Transport Owners Association Chairman Ismatullah Niazi said he was wary of the government’s decision to reopen public transport.

“They did not consult all the stakeholders in this regard, instead we were only informed which is an injustice,” he complained.

“On one hand transporters are being asked to allow few people to ride at a time and on the other to reduce fares,” he said, adding, “It is not maintainable.” The association’s chairman further stated that transporters had not increased the fares when the petrol prices were up then why are they being asked to reduce the prices.

Ismatullah Niazi contested that the transporters cannot start service with so many restrictions in place. “It is better not to open public transport if they government has planned to just impose decisions,” the chairman asserted.

Meanwhile medical experts and citizens are afraid of the consequences of making public transport operational with coronavirus threatening lives.

Shopping malls closed amid coronavirus fears in Punjab

A health practitioner was concerned that the transporters lacked the resources to deal with the imminent risk.

“Coronavirus will spread even more rapidly with the opening of transport,” he warned stating that the government does not have a proper monitoring system to ensure strict compliance of safety protocols. In this regard, a ‘top official’ of the department of transport said on the condition of anonymity that they had recommended the political leaders to not open transport.

“Some Punjab ministers were adamant that transport should be reopened, which is why the political leadership decided let it open despite opposition from the officials of the transport department.”

Published in The Express Tribune, May 16th, 2020.

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