Once propped up along every highway and street corner in the city, makeshift puncture shops are soon becoming a thing of the past.
In recent years, owing to increased crackdown on illegal electricity connections and encroachment sites, a large number of Karachi’s roadside puncture workers have had to close shop and search for other modes of employment. Those who remain however, complain of flailing business and inability to meet overheads amid strict policing and higher operation costs.
“Electricity connections are difficult to acquire now. So most mechanics on the sidewalk prefer closing shop and going home before dark, instead of working late hours. Those who do operate at night, are usually ones employed at fuel stations where electricity [supply] is uninterrupted,” told Muhammad Imran, a local puncture worker.
Like several other businesses, Karachi’s roadside puncture workers too have had a difficult time operating under coronavirus restrictions the past year. Although the sector had been struggling for quite some time now, the toil and trouble brought by the pandemic was the deathblow to a majority of outlets.
According to Imran, workers who had come from other cities and had been operating on Karachi’s sidewalks for years, were forced to head back to their hometowns during worst of Covid-19. “At some point this [repairing tyres] used to be a lucrative profession and a skill transferred from one generation to another. But there’s little money in this business anymore and too many loose ends. So now, children of old-hand puncture workers choose to opt out of their family business and go for more dependable professions like driving rickshaws and repairing auto vehicles,” shared Imran.
Winters, per Imran, usually see less business in terms of puncture repair. It is the summer months when heat and increased friction causes tyres to swell and leak, leading drivers to seek repairs. But since peak summer months overlapped with the most stringent of Covid-19 restrictions, there were already less cars on the streets and lesser punctures to mend. “So there hasn’t been much business this whole year while operating costs have shot up, which has been though to deal with for most puncture workers,” he lamented.
The reduction in the number of puncture workers has been a nightmare for the city’s motor vehicle owners, especially those commuting at wee hours of the night. “Going through Karachi’s highways is like running over a mine for motorcyclists. Tyres often go flat and not everyone can afford to install a new tube every other day,” shared Habibullah, a delivery boy who often works late hours. “In such circumstances many of us depend on these roadside puncture workers to patch our tyres for a fraction of the cost. When they’re not around, it can take us hours to push our vehicles to the nearest tyre shop or fuel station,” he added.
However, unlike fuel station repair shops which use modern machinery, most roadside puncture workers do everything-from extracting tyre tubes to mending holes-by hand. “This makes the job quite labour intensive, but prices charged here are usually relatively cheaper. Although prices may vary from city to city, but as an eyeball figure, the puncture for motorcycles is usually fixed at a cost of Rs60 to Rs70. For car tyres it costs around Rs100 to Rs150 while repairs for heavy vehicles cost over Rs150 to Rs200,” Muhammad Zafar, a puncture repair expert told The Express Tribune.
Published in The Express Tribune, February 24th, 2021.
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