UNRULY TRAFFIC NEEDS TO BE TAMED

SHABBIR H. KAZMI
(feedback@pgeconomist.com)
June 7 - 13, 20
10

Ironically, media both print and electronic hardly cover road accidents unless the death toll is significant. However, one could see the insignificant news of a few people dying because of over speeding bus/truck and motorcyclists overrun. While the blame goes to the police for not catching the culprits hardly any attention is paid to encroachment on footpaths and roads. The worst sufferers are the riders of two wheelers because no specific lane is designated for them. Their miseries are compounded because of mini buses, coaches and buses popping suddenly in the middle of the road to pick/drop a passenger. Most of the drivers have not obtained driving licenses after passing the test, thanks to the rampant corruption. Many of the drivers of public transport are drug addicts and long hours of driving on crowded roads are enough to wreck the nerves of an ordinary person.

Traffic jams are usually caused because of unruly traffic. The drivers either lack civic sense or feel proud of indulging in traffic violation. The favorite pastime of traffic police is to collect Bhatta. Any one can commit the most horrendous offense and go uncaught if he/she has some good connections, the best being money. One could see vehicles being parked under 'no parking' sign or 'toe away' areas but the most notorious violators are vehicles bearing government number plates. If one does not believe this, he/she should visit Jinnah terminal in Karachi and the busiest and the most crowded shopping areas. Added to all the menaces are 'car washers' most common in all the commercial areas. One could just give him the car key and enjoy. Since most these boys do not know how to drive a car, one could detect a few dents after reaching the destination.

Most of Pakistanis can't believe that local roads are much wider as compared to the roads even in some of the developed countries. The reason is simple because parking in double lanes is a regular sight. Lanes have no meanings for the drivers and public transport is the most unruly. All this indiscipline is because of people being uncivilised and traffic police being most corrupt. The police men are not born corrupt but sooner or later become corrupt because people prefer to offer bribe rather than asking for a ticket for committing the violation. Since every one is willing to offer money, why should the recipients be stupid enough to refuse?

Another reason for the fatal road accidents is lack of fitness of vehicles, particularly public transport. The in-charge departments responsible for conducting fitness test have the highest corruption rate. This could be explained in simplest words that if bribery rate is hundred times the official fees. By looking at the vehicles running on roads one could call these junk. The only reason for allowing them to run on roads is the hefty bribe. The officials even do not bother to look at the vehicles for which they are issuing the fitness certificates.

One of the reasons for highly depleted vehicles running on the roads is lack of financing. Over the years, prices of vehicles have increased manifold. Most probably the first and the last public transport finance scheme was launched during the premiership of Mian Nawaz Shariff. Since then hardly any other government or financial institution has dared to venture into financing of public transport on such a massive scale. In the recent past, some financial institutions undertook leasing of buses but they also burned their fingers and the experience was not very different to the public transport financing of nineties.

Another reason for the poor public transport system is lack of insurance. Since the vehicles are decades old no insurance company is willing to provide insurance cover. One of the biggest financial scam is going on in the shape of third party insurance. Since no vehicle can be brought on road without insurance, hundreds of fake insurance companies are operating right under the nose of motor registration wings operating throughout the country. Not only that the insurance cover provided by the fake companies are of no consequences for the transporters, commuters and even for those injured/killed by the vehicles getting these covers. The government also loses billions of rupees in revenue.

Around the world governments play pivotal role in providing quality public transport and Pakistan cannot be an exception. If the government is serious in improving the quality of public transport it should join hands with the assemblers in providing duty free vehicles. Along with this, financial institutions should be involved in extending soft term credit and insurance companies for mitigating the risk. Public limited should be created for running the transport companies.

One of the positive changes is introduction of phone cabs in large cities. However, the tariff of these cabs is unaffordable for the general public. The service is successfully running in taking passengers to and from airports. However, in the smaller town the taxi drivers' mafia is still operative. These derivers are often alleged for robbing the passengers besides charging fabulously high fare.

Commuters certainly deserve quality public transport system, which is also affordable. Public private partnership can yield the desired results. However, noting can be done without showing the commitment.