The intercity and interprovincial transport resumed on Sunday with 50 per cent capacity after a notable decrease in the number of coronavirus cases. The bus stands in Rawalpindi remained crowded on Sunday where anti-Covid standard operating procedures (SOPs) were openly disregarded.
The National Highway Authority (NHA) and National Highway and Motorway Police (NHMP) issued an advisory for the passengers traveling back to the cities after the end of the Eid holidays, a spokesperson informed.
The intercity and intra-city transport remained suspended from May 8 to 16, however, the ban was relaxed on weekends so that people could reach their native towns to celebrate the festive occasion.
The government has lifted the restriction, owing to which a rush was witnessed on transport stands, resulting in the precautionary guidelines being largely flouted by the passengers returning from their homes as most of them did not wear face masks or observed social distancing.
The transporters said that the people like to travel with their families and it was quite difficult to follow the 50 per cent capacity rule. Subsequently, the passengers were fleeced by the transporters who charged astronomical fares.
The district teams and regional transport authority (RTA) teams remained completely absent from the terminals to ensure the implementation of SOPs. NHMP DIG Ashfaq Ahmed said that the movement back to cities created rush on the highways and advised the motorists to keep their vehicles in good condition.
Furthermore, the Rawalpindi City Traffic Police (CTP) will reopen all licence branches and facilitation centres from Tuesday which had been closed due to the increase in Covid-19 cases in the twin cities. The Punjab government had halted licence-related operations across the province after the spike in coronavirus cases.
A CTP spokesperson said licence offices and facilitation centres across Rawalpindi district would reopen from May 18 on Traffic DIG’s directions. City Traffic Officer (CTO) Rai Mazhar Iqbal said the measure had been taken in public interest, adding that citizens could now benefit from all services from their nearest facilitation centres.
The CTO said that the CTP staff would ensure the implementation of standard operating procedures (SOPs) at all centres. He said only people coming for driving licences would be allowed to enter the premises.
He urged the people to cooperate with the traffic police and follow all precautionary guidelines.
Meanwhile, owing to shortage of public transport vehicles, passengers who had gone to their native towns to celebrate Eid faced great difficulty in returning. The public was forced by the operators of the few public transport vehicles to pay astronomical fares. The Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa government lifted the ban on Sunday on intercity and inter-district public transport imposed to enforce a strict lockdown in the province. Thousands of commuters reached various bus and other public transport terminals to return to the big cities.
The district administrations allowed public transporters to carry only 50 per cent of passengers which was another reason for the increase in fares. However, some transporters decided to take advantage of the situation and charged arbitrary fares at will and the people had no choice except to pay the increased fares.
A commuter, Amjad Ali, said that he and his family were waiting for the bus at Abbottabad terminal for the last three hours. “Earlier, when we left home from Mandian, even then there was non-availability of transport,” he added.
He stated that despite double fare being charged, public transport was unavailable and the number of vehicles was less than half compared to regular days. He said profiteers had also jumped in to benefit from the situation and old buses and other unfit vehicles unfit to ply on long routes are being used, he lamented.
Another commuter told that from Abbottabad, transporters were charging between Rs100 to Rs150 for Manshera. The main bus terminals in Abbottabad, Mansehra, Haripur and other cities were full of stranded passengers waiting for transport, he maintained.
WITH ADDITIONAL INPUT FROM APP
Published in The Express Tribune, May 17th, 2021.