LAHORE: Public and goods transporters’ strike against `massive’ increase in traffic fines and toll on highways and motorways left people across Punjab stranded at bus stops in harsh weather on Thursday, forcing them to travel either by trains or expensive rent-a-car services.
“I couldn’t go to Rawalpindi since the entire intercity transport had disappeared,” Arshad, a passenger, told Dawn while returning home from a private bus terminal near Babu Sabu.
The transporters while rejecting the increase in toll tax and fines criticised the government for doing nothing except making life of commoners miserable. “The government has left us with no option but to observe strike against increased fines on traffic rules violations on motorways and highways by up to 1,000 per cent and toll by 100 per cent. The same has happened at the Lahore Ring Road,” deplored Yasir Naseer, Public and Goods Transporters Alliance Rahber Committee member.
According to the alliance, though the strike was limited to Punjab alone, it would be expanded to other provinces since the transporters there too were ready to protest. “In a recent decision, we decided to start from Punjab by observing strike for an indefinite period from Jan 2. And later (if the government ignores our demands), we may expand this,” Naseer told Dawn.
He said the transporters’ demands included immediate withdrawal of increase in toll tax and penalties, closure of Ring Road points at Bund Road, acceptance of old manual HTV driving licenses, curtailing customs and excise authorities’ powers related to raiding goods transport offices and vehicles.
According to another member of the alliance’s Rahber committee, the government itself had made the situation problematic by getting transporters arrested in various districts in a bid to stop them from observing strike. “Many transporters were arrested. But our unity made our strike successful,” he told this reporter.
Meanwhile, Federal Minister for Communication and Postal Services reportedly announced to put implementation of the decision on hold till further orders. He announced this while responding to a point of order raised by MNA Raja Riaz in the National Assembly.
“The increased rate of fine on violations was scheduled to be implemented from Jan 1, but the decision has been put on hold. Now the final decision will be taken after consulting all the stakeholders,” he said, adding that the rate of fines on violations was increased to ensure safety of the people. “It is not at all for the purpose of enhancing revenue,”
On the other hand, the transporters announced to call of their strike after holding a dialogue with Punjab Governor Muhammad Sarwar and Transport Minister Jahanzeb Khichi.
During the meeting, it was also decided to release all arrested transporters, stop taking any further legal action against them and resolving all issues related to Punjab and federal governments faced by the transporters.
“Since most of our demands have been accepted by the government in view of our strike and sit-ins in Lahore and other cities, we have called off our strike. Now let see what the government charges us from Friday (today). If it backtracks, we will start observing strike again,” a transporter warned.
BAHAWALPUR: A large number of passengers, including women and children, remained stranded at local bus and wagon stands throughout the day.
Those who were destined for their home districts had no option but to stay at the stands and shudder under the open sky in chilling cold.
The transporters and their employees also took out a rally. Transporters’ association leader Muhammad Abbas told media that increase in prices of petroleum products, toll taxes and heavy fines had forced them to suspend their services.
The entire inter-city shipment of luggage and other material came also came to a halt.
SHEIKHUPURA: District transporters association president Waqas Afzal Khokhar said they could not survive under heavy taxes and traffic fines.
He said they were already sick of traffic police which remained on the look to extort money from them on different pretexts.
GUJRANWALA: Watching families with their minor children and luggage and moving from one stand to another in hope of finding some transport was indeed a pity sight.
Passengers said they were unaware that they they could face such a situation as media had not reported any strike till Wednesday evening.
TOBA TEK SINGH: On the call of the All Pakistan Transport Owners Federation, strike was observed in the district on Thursday against increase in fines by the government on highways and motorways.
Public buses remained off the roads disrupting routine business and commercial activities. There was little turnout in markets and private and government offices. Motorcycle rickshaw drivers had a field day as they overcharged the commuters.
Published in Dawn, January 3rd, 2020