LAHORE: The Punjab Transport Department has no role in either checking or regulating public transport fares on intercity routes.
The department withdrew its control on transport fares in 2005 and gave a free hand to bus owners to determine them.
'In 2005, the Punjab cabinet decided that to improve transport facilities, bus operators be given a free hand,' a department official told Dawn.
'The decision bacl(fired as the passengers have been left at the mercy of heartless bus owners who have increased fares by 100 per cent in the last three years,' he said.
He said even after the 2008 elections, the policy continued. He said the Punjab government was apparently concerned with the transport policies of the Lahore city. Though it claimed to have introduced modern transport facilities in the province, the situation on city bus terminals spoke otherwise. The Shahbaz government did not bother to reduce the problems of passengers.
'Most of bus officials such as drivers, conductors and terminal staff members treat passengers rudely when they complain about increase in fares,' Nauman, a Lahore-to-Multan passenger, said.
Transport operators have their own problems, which, they say, force them to increase the fares.
A local bus company terminal manager, Muhammad Afzal, says escalating prices of diesel, hefty road taxes and operational expenses are responsible for an increase in intercity route fares.
He says a Lahore-to-Multan bus journey cost them up to Rs20,000.
'Our expenses include Rs10,000 diesel which stands at around Rs100 per litre, Rs2,000 toll fees, Rs5,000 commission, trip and meal charges for the bus crew, and Rs2,000 for the routine maintenance.
Even if we get a full busload, we are left with a few thousand rupees,'he said.
He said in several countries, governments had subsidized public transport fares through offering transport operators free maintenance of buses and subsidized fuel. In Pakistan, he said, the situation was different, as neither the government nor thepublic ever thanked the transport owners for running this thankless business.
He urged the government to pay attention to the bus sector and award them a subsidy to enable them run low-fare buses.
Punjab Secretary (transport) Captain Muhammad Yousaf (retired) said he believed that the government should hold a minimum role in the transport sector. He said the decision of giving a free hand to bus owners in fare matters had a positive impact, as most of them had improved their service to attract more passengers.
He said though some transport companies took undue benefit of government's decision by increasing fares massively, they suffered losses after sometimes in the cut-throat competition when other companies introduced economical fares with better facilities.
'There is a need to regulate the transport sector on intercity routes,' he added.