845 big buses, 1051 mini buses being phased out till 2014
With operational costs zooming and width of roads decreasing, the already beleaguered public transportation in Kashmir is set for a complete collapse within three years, transporters said.
According to the transporters based at Batmalloo General Bus Stand (GBS), the reverse countdown has begun. “Gone are the golden days of public transportation, the government has simply killed it,” said Mukhtar Ahmad, vice chairman Haji Peer Transport Company. “Every month old buses are going off the road and nobody dares to buy a new vehicle as operational costs have risen tremendously and profits have declined.”
According to the data available with Regional Transport Office, 845 big buses and 1051 minis buses have been phased out during the last few years. Although officials estimate 400 new buses coming on roads, but transporters say that the real figure is only 115.
“Of these 115 buses, only 10 are new and others are second hand brought from Jammu,” said Mohammed Sultan General Manager Western Bus Service. The life of a passenger bus in other states in 15 years and here it was enhanced by cabinet to 25 years, but with no comprehensive plan for transportation, situation is turning worrisome.
The transporters say that barring a single route in Srinagar no bus service is profitable. “Only Lal Chowk-Soura route is giving us some income and all others are in lost,” said Mukhtar. “And here only, the new buses are being added with the same rate they are being phased out.”
Even as people blame the public transporters of not adhering to any time table or route plan, transporters express their helplessness.
“The biggest problem with public transport is that we have no roads to ply,” said Mukhtar. While citing the example of Lal Chowk, the transporters said that shopkeepers and hawkers have encroached half of the road and, “illegal parking blocks the rest of the place, so where will we play? They are also forcing us to undertake numerous diversions which delays our services.”
The transporters said that for a one hour journey our bus has to travel for two and a half hours. “It will take just couple of hours to streamline entire road network, but neither police nor SMC or traffic department is ready to bell the cat,” he said. “If the situation remains as such, our public transport will simply collapse in three years time as we will have no space to run.”
Jammu and Kashmir is perhaps the only state with no dedicated Transport Planner and the traffic management is done by officials no training. “In our entire state we have a single qualified Transport Planner and he too is nowhere involved in traffic management,” said an official.
The explosion in the number of Tata Sumo’s has also played havoc with the normal functioning of public transport. “There are nine sumo stands in Batmalloo GBS alone and numerous others operate from roads blocking our path,” said Sultan. “The government plans for Bus Bays and Traffic lights have miserably failed due to no accountability.”
The transporters lamented over the fact that there is no law governing passenger taxis collectively referred as Sumos, whereas passenger buses are asked to pay taxes and follow rules.
The transporters blamed government policies for the decline of once fledgling industry. “The last thing they care about is the cheap mode of transport for poor people,” said Sultan. “They even sold this prized bus stand,” he added while referring to Batmallo GBS.
When asked, the officials at SDA termed the case under sub-judice. “No,” said Rubina Kounsar, Director Land Management SDA, when asked whether there has been any progress on the case. “The case is just going on in the court.”
The situation is worrisome as operational costs have sky rocketed for both mini buses and large passenger buses. “A minibus manages to earn around Rs 300 per day and big bus earns around Rs 1500. Now what would a driver and a conductor get,” said Mukhtar. “Plus we have to pay tax ranging Rs 40,000 to Rs 85,000, Passenger tax of Rs 15000, Token of Rs 4500 and a fitness certificate for Rs 500, but to make a bus fit, we have to spend Rs 50,000 sometimes.”
The regional Transport Officer Mehmood Shah confirmed that the bus fleet is not being replenished with the rate with which old buses are being phased out. “This year too around 250 buses are being phased out and we don’t see buses coming at that rate,” said Shah. “But the situation is not alarming as is being projected by transporters.”