The daily commute

April 10, 2019


The writer is an industrial relations professional.
The writer is an industrial relations professional.

COMMUTING consumes a major chunk of a working person’s time, as much as three to four hours per day for five to six days a week. Besides just walking to work, people might use bicycles, motorcycles, wagons, buses, cars, etc, mostly depending on their income group.

In developed countries, it’s not unusual to find wealthy, senior executives commute on bicycles to keep physically fit. I once asked a Japanese entrepreneur as to why he rode to the office on a bicycle while his son drove a Lexus. While he was obviously doing so for the purpose of getting exercise, he replied in a lighter vein: “I am the son of a poor man; he is the son of a rich man”. In Pakistan’s large cities, one cannot take such risk due to the fear of unruly ­traffic conditions.

The walking option is available at plant sites, which also have residential colonies for their employees. At such locations, both the plants and colonies are situated in close proximity, allowing employees to commute on foot. Some examples of such places are: Daharki and Mirpur Mathelo in Sindh; Sadiqabad, Rahim Yar Khan and Khewra in Punjab.

The distance between the fertiliser manufacturing plant at Daharki and its colonies (both for the management and non-management staff) is about one kilometre. I would often walk down to my residence in the evenings while working there in the late 1970s.

Modes of travelling to the workplace keep changing over time.

Modes of travelling to the workplace keep changing with the passage of time. The Model Town Cooperative Housing Society in Lahore would make every effort to provide the best amenities to its residents, some of whom have lived there since before Independence. With the city being at a distance from the locality, the society continued to run two buses from its fleet on a specified route, for the convenience of its residents, to shuttle them between their homes and offices in the city. This service continued to be provided until the mid-1970s. In those years, I would commute from Model Town on a bicycle to my office, which was located in a factory adjoining the Kot Lakhpat railway station.

During the 1980s, I was employed at a British company, which had a polyester manufacturing plant in Sheikhupura, located at a distance of more than 30km from Lahore. The managers would first come in their own transport to the plant’s head office in Gulberg, Lahore, and then board a coaster, which took them to the plant site in Sheikhupura. The two-way journey would take around three hours.

The majority of employers who have factories on Sheikhupura road provide company transport to their employees in order to commute. However, this is not so at SITE, Karachi, where the employees have to make their own arrangements to commute to their respective workplaces. It makes their lives more difficult, as the broken roads and heavy traffic of long vehicles carrying containers, going to or coming from upcountry, add to their misery. There is practically no respite. In fact, two to three days a week, there are heavy traffic jams on Mauripur road, where employees who are returning home get stuck for many hours at a stretch.

Employers operating continuous process industries mostly provide company-managed wagon services to their shift employees, as travelling to the workplace in public transport at night is not possible. However, the challenge arises when there are strikes in the city and movement of traffic is restricted. Then the factory management is left with no option but to retain the workers, have them work on overtime to cover two or even all three shifts — ie a full 24 hours. Such a long spell of continuous work is not only extremely exhausting for the workers but also exposes them to heightened risk of having an accident.

During its heyday, the management of Pakistan Steel Mills in Karachi would run a large fleet of buses, which would pick and drop employees from all over the metropolis. Although a sizable number out of the more than 20,000 employees working at the mill lived in Gulshan-i-Hadeed or Steel Town settlements close to the mill, the majority would come from Karachi. Since there was overstaffing, the bus travel was a joyride for those who did not have much to contribute at work.

At present, I have been working in a hospital on Stadium Road for the last 14 years, and the total distance of my daily commutation from my residence to the hospital is more than 30km. Then I have to walk down another half a kilometre from the car park to my office. Staff working in shifts, such as nurses and technicians, mostly commutes either in their own or contractor/public transport and have to report to duty in time.

The introduction of metro buses and revival of the circular railway will alleviate the difficulties currently being faced by large numbers of people.

The writer is an industrial relations professional.

Published in Dawn, April 10th, 2019