"How much for nine seats to DI Khan?" a man asked the supervisor of a bus service that operates between DI Khan and Karachi. "Rs2,500 per seat will be the final price," was the reply. "You transporters play with the needs of people. You think no one is watching you but you will have to answer to God one day," he left with these words.
The arrival of Eidul Azha beckons the season when people, who have come from different parts of the country to Karachi to earn a living, travel back to their hometowns to spend the holidays with their families. But these are also the days during which transporters make extra money.
As Eid draws nearer, the bus stands located at Sohrab Goth, Saddar, Cantt Station and Lee Market grow busier by the day as people, laden with luggage, await buses leaving for their destinations. At Sohrab Goth's main terminal for the intercity bus services, people are seen perturbed by the sudden hike in fares as well as the non-availability of seats. Supervisors of different bus services, who would otherwise run after people to convince them to use their services, now pay no attention to the passengers and only give seats to those who pay the inflated fares.
"We charge extra during Eid days because our buses come back empty to Karachi. We have to meet the fuel charges," explained Mohammad Ilyas, the supervisor of a bus service operating at Sohrab Goth. "At other times of the year, our fare from Karachi to DI Khan is Rs1,600 but we charge Rs2,500 during Eid," said Ismail, adding that some bus services were charging up to Rs3,000 for the same destination. He reported that more people travelled to their hometowns on Eidul Azha than on Eidul Fitr. The rush will be greatest on Monday when the last of the Eid buses will leave from Sohrab Goth.
The transport department has specified separate fares for the air-conditioned buses and those without this facility. For air conditioned buses, the specified fare is Rs1.60 per kilometre, while for non-air conditioned, it is Rs1.10. "Each bus is charging Rs500 to Rs1000 extra," lamented Mohammad Hamid, a young air-force personnel who was waiting for his bus to depart. "People don't think about money when they reach Sohrab Goth especially at Eid. The transporters cash in at such festivals," he said.
The Sindh Air-Conditioned Bus Association's president, Malik Riaz, refuted the claims of overcharging against the bus service providers, saying that he had not received any complaints yet. He added, however, that the fare list had been issued about a year ago and needed to be revised because diesel prices were increasing every month.
Riaz was of the opinion that, as the fares had not been increased simultaneously with the fuel prices, it was the transporters' right to overcharge. "They [the transporters] are charging an extra Rs300 to Rs400 which is not that big if compared to the hike in fuel prices," said Riaz, advocating the overcharging by the transporters.
Meanwhile, the provincial transport secretary, Taha Farooqui, told The Express Tribune that the transport department had sent letters to the Regional Transport Authority, Provincial Transport Authority and the local police to keep a check on transporters as they were known to increase fares during the Eid days. "In normal days, the transporters don't normally charge extra but they do so during Eid days. We fine them under the Motor Vehicles Ordinance and motor vehicle rules if they are found charging more than normal," said Farooqui, adding that the transport department will cancel the route permits of those buses whose owners were caught overcharging.
Published in The Express Tribune, October 13th, 2013.
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