Not being realised by the policy makers or the stake-holders, passengers using public transport waste a part of their life in the sluggish-paced, unruly buses. It costs hugely to the overall growth, reports Umar Mukhtar
Zareef Ahmad, a resident of Sebdan in Budgam, works for Power Development Department (PDD) in Srinagar. Living barely 30 minutes drive from his office, he routinely leaves at 8:30 am, because it takes him almost 90 minutes to reach his office because of bad public transport.
In the evening, he has to hurry up to the bus stand. Delay means a long wait and seeking lift from strangers. “When I calculate, I spend slightly more than three hours in coming and going,” Zareef said. “Part of this time, I could spend with my family but that goes nowhere.”There are two peculiar issues central to the public transport mess: the sluggish pace of movement of the public transport and absence of public transport as soon as dusk approaches.
This immensely contributes to the negative growth of an economy that is otherwise in crisis. This also means more expenditure on personal transport, perhaps the most stable portfolio with banks.
Public transport systems have revolutionised in the world. Even in mainland India, the buses have given up to be constructed on truck platforms. There are highways and multiple tracks on the same roads. But Kashmir is still fighting stagnation. Policymakers say the massive growth in personal transport is a crisis as there is no scope for laying roads for paucity of land. But nobody understands the surge in personal transport is actually the reaction to the failure of public transport.
Systems which have evolved in the public transport set-up have focus on money-making and not service delivery. That is perhaps why; people using public transport feel punished. “I think, in Srinagar, part of life is consumed by the transport which is unlike the rest of the world,” daily commuter Abdul Rashid said. “During the day, when you are not working, you are either in a crowded bus or waiting for one.”
Public transport chases passengers more than their destinations. They stop anywhere and anytime without having any considerations for the rules. In Srinagar there are only 39 designated bus stops but hardly any vehicle stops there. Most of these stops stand reduced to waste dumping sites. Peer Yousuf, a member of Transporters Association Kashmir describes the situation unfortunate. He says policymaking is to be blamed. “The government shifted the Batamaloo Bus Stand to city outskirts without offering an alternative to the commuters,” Peer said. People coming from the periphery using bus, end up spending more money in comparison to Sumo and lose lot of time because they have to use multiple vehicles. He says government must intervene to help people save time. “By an average, individual’s waste an hour daily.”
Though the Sumo Taxis have literally revolutionised travel because they do not have to wait for more than nine passengers but it has added costs and it is unable to manage traffic jams within the city. “It takes me hardly 40 minutes to reach Srinagar bypass,” Bashir Ahmad, who drives daily from Shopian. “But to reach Lal Chowk, it requires almost 30 minutes for such a small distance.”
On daily basis, almost 26,000 people use the low-cost train services between Baramulla and Banihal during summers. While they save lot of money and time in reaching the Nowgam railway station, they spend almost an hour reaching their destinations within the city.
Estimation by RTO officials suggest around four lakh people in Kashmir use public transport daily, excluding Sumo taxis. There are 705 buses, 1394 minibuses (in Srinagar city only) and around 20000 cabs connecting districts and various localities within the city. A senior official said the condition of the existing fleet is bad, with less seating capacity and worn out bodies and engines.
Over-crowding is a serious crisis. “It is becoming increasingly difficult to travel by public transport. I always fear being harassed in these overcrowded buses,” said a girl student Alisha. “I spent an hour in a bus to reach my college which is barely 20 minutes drive.” Though the Chief Minister initiated the Ladies Special buses of the SRTC, the services are limited to a few routes.
SSP (City) Traffic Tahir Saleem attributes the jamming to the haphazard roads and the potholes on city roads. “Drivers try to avoid these potholes created by SMC almost on every road, thereby ending up in different problems like jams,” Tahir said.
RTO Kashmir, Farooq Ahmad, admits the inevitability of replacing the aging fleet. Understanding the impact of sluggish transport on overall growth, Ahmad said he is trying copying the Mangalore city system.
One of the key factors in the collapse of the public transport is the fall of state-owned Transport Corporation. It has only 833 vehicles including 523 buses. The operational fleet is less than 278, across the state. The disappearance of the corruption-plagued corporation from the roads has given the private players a monopoly.