ISLAMABAD, Jan 1: After waiting for public transport for more than half an hour at Khanapul, Mohammad Sajid asked some other people to hire a taxi and pool the fare. And three of them agreed.

“But we had to pay Rs50 each (Rs200) to the cabby against the normal fare of Rs150 for the distance,” he said while talking to Dawn. As a result of the CNG shutdown for the sixth consecutive day on Tuesday, there was shortage of petrol too, resulting in a sharp decline in the number of public transport vehicles on the roads in the twin cities.

Paying higher fare is only one part of the problem. The gravity of the situation is that, panicky commuters seem willing to get hold of any transport available. Most of such cases are witnessed in the federal capital, especially during the government offices closing hours.

A large number of employees having their own transport on their way back to Rawalpindi are picking up fellow employees, but they too charge them heavily.

“Usually, taxis charge around Rs300 from Islamabad to Rawalpindi Saddar. But now even these private vehicles are asking for around Rs80 to Rs100 per person and pick four persons,” said Rizwan, a federal government employee, who lives in Rawalpindi.

The practice of taking ordinary commuters along on reasonable charges is a good practice. This favours both the commuters and the vehicle owners with the latter recovering part of their daily expenditures by using the vehicle as a taxi.

However, the authorities fear that such a practice might encourage criminal activities too. A police official on the condition of anonymity said the situation was not worrying for commuters within Islamabad city.

“But maintaining order in all vehicles moving out of the city is not possible,” he observed. He said people mostly never feel insecurity while travelling in a vehicle registered as a taxi. “But there could be the possibility that some criminal-minded person driving a private car lifts passengers and rob them at a remote location,” the police official said.

On the other hand, the CNG-petrol crisis is putting a severe financial impact on small transporters. People who have taken taxis and rickshaws on rent are being forced out of the job because they cannot afford to run them under the current situation.

“We have almost broken down financially and now I have started selling fruits on a pushcart instead of driving the rickshaw,” said Gul Mohammad, a resident of Rawalpindi.

“Previously, people used to call me ‘ustad’ but now almost everybody is asking me to move my pushcart away from streets and other areas,” he said. However, he seemed contented as he could at least feed his family through the meagre earning compared to the days when he remained idle due to the unavailability of fuel for his rickshaw.The transporters of all categories are not only worried about the petrol shortage but also about the sharp increase in the cost of doing business.

“This is the most unusual situation that I have seen. First, they increased the price of petrol to over Rs100 per litre and then made CNG unavailable. Now even petrol has vanished,” said Shaukat Raza Khan, the chairman of Rawalpindi-Islamabad yellow cab association.

He said there were around 35,000 to 40,000 taxis in the twin cities but hardly a few hundreds of them were on the roads due to shortage of fuel. The same is the case with rickshaws and other loading vehicles.

“Only vehicles in good conditions have efficient fuel consumption and are on the roads,” said Haji Mohammad Nawaz, a leader of the transporters in the federal capital. “But to avoid any loss, the drivers and owners take the vehicles off roads after evening.”

Like the taxi union, the wagon owners are scheduled to hold a meeting of their union in the coming days to asses the situation.

“The problem is that we cannot even increase the fares overnight,” said Sultan Awan, the chairman of the Rawalpindi-Islamabad local transport association. “Something has to be done.”

There are chances that the CNG association would announce its protest strategy against the prevailing situation on Thursday. It is also likely that the transporters would also announce their support to the protest.

ATTOCK:  People from all walks of life here appealed to Chief Justice of Pakistan Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry to take suo motu notice of the forceful closure of the CNG stations by the Sui Northern Gas Pipelines (SNGPL).

They said the closure of the CNG supply was a clear negation of the Supreme Court verdict. The absence of CNG on the fourth consecutive day created more difficulties and hardships for the motorists and commuters.

The use of petrol by motorists not only put an extra burden on the budgets of the people but also led to the increase in public transport fares.

Due to the unavailability of fuel, more than 40 per cent of public transport remained off the roads.

When contacted, Abdul Qayyum, the district engineer of the SNGPL, admitted that on the directives of higher authorities CNG supply had been suspended to all stations till an indefinite period to meet the shortfall which increased in the winter. The step has been taken to meet the need of the domestic consumers, he added.

Updated Jan 01, 2013 09:51pm

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