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LAHORE: The standard of services at various service areas/restaurants on the Lahore-Islamabad Motorway (M-2) seems to be deteriorating, as the people travelling on the route face problems regarding hygiene and cleanliness, service and billing etc.

Ten state-of-the-art motorway service areas (MSAs) were developed/built by Korean construction company Daewoo about 21 years ago. The MSAs are the only facility for the road users/travellers on the M2, as there is no substitute. The company got the operation of these service areas run by its subsidiary -- Daewoo Pakistan Motorway Service Areas (DPMSL) -- under an agreement with the government on a BoT basis.

On completion of the contract period a couple of years ago, the government sought handing over of the MSAs operation to it. But the company, according to sources, went into a litigation with the government stating that it required more years to operate the MSAs to recover the construction cost and profit as the same couldn’t give financial benefit to the company since the required number of motorists didn’t use the M2. However, the government won the case and later it handed over the MSAs operation to a subsidiary of the Frontier Works Organisation about one-and-a-half years before.

Travellers say when the MSAs were being run by the foreign firm, the quality and standard of eatables and service were better.

“We were travelling from Islamabad to Lahore some weeks ago and stopped at Bhera Service area. You cannot imagine the situation we saw there. The tea quality was so poor and the vendor charged Rs40 (per cup) from us instead of the Rs30 as mentioned in the price list. Similarly the quality of snacks etc was also very poor,” Jahanzeb, a traveller, told Dawn.

He said everyone was complaining there but no one even bothered to resolve the issue.

“The vendor also continued to misbehave with all despite doing overcharging,” he added. He said in restaurant area, there was no proper cleanliness. The floor was dirty and littered with food leftover.

Jahanzeb demanded the National Highway Authority and those operating or looking after the affairs of the MSAs to improve the standard.

Talking to Dawn, Muhammad Ali, who had travelled recently from Lahore to Faisalabad via Pindi Bhattian on M2, said the MSAs standard was going down fast.

“We stopped at Sukheki service area . The quality of tea was not up to the mark. Similarly, the drinks we bought were also substandard. The washrooms were stinking,” he complained.

He said the main restaurant looked to be closed. He also sought improvement in MSAs standards in general.

Umar Iftikhar who recently dinned at Bhera service area said the continental food available there was of very poor quality but ironically very costly. He said the authorities should allow more outlets of continental food as the competition would improve quality and bring the prices down.

Talking to Dawn, Mr Nabeel Javed, Business Development Manager of the FWO, rejected the complaints.

“Actually the people cannot define standard of food. And if there is any complaint, they must tell the officials concerned then and there or write to the company,” he added.

He said actually, the FWO’s subsidiary Motorway Operations and Rehabilitation Engineering was looking into the entire affairs of the MSAs.

“If someone has any complaint, he/she can also visit the FWO head office in Rawalpindi/Islamabad,” he said.

Published in Dawn, April 23rd, 2016