Budgam public transport in dire straits

Budgam public transport in dire straits
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One bus, five mini buses added in 10 years

Budgam: With each passing day the public transport crisis in Budgam district is aggravating; courtesy lack of effective strategy to deal with the situation where the growing population looks for enhanced public transport but the number of vehicles is on decline.
Official documents reveal that in the last one decade just one bus and five minibuses have been added to the routes, while as no buses are being operated on at least 70 existing routes out of the total 273 routes.
“The public transport problem in the entire district has aggravated significantly over the years and has now become the most serious issue being faced by people of the area at the moment,” ARTO Budgam Mubasheer Jan told Kashmir Reader.
In new extended populated areas especially villages living at the peripheries the bus services are badly needed.
“Due to neglect on the part of the authorities concerned, a large number of people have to change several buses to reach their destination,” Sheikh Gulzar a social activist added.
“During last ten years Regional Transport Authority (RTA) Budgam has added only five mini buses and one bus, besides 1534 contract carriage type vehicles two PSV fleet which is very low rather negligible as compared to the daily transport demanded by commuters,” Jan said.
“Though our transporters, both PSV/ Goods are catering to the demand and are builders of the nation. But still a vacuum exists between supply and demand,” he added.
The population of the district, which stood at 4, 90,000 approximately in 2001, increased to 7, 35,000 in 2011, and is increasing since.
“Meanwhile, the number of commuters has also increased over the past decade at a rate in proportion with that of the population growth but the number of buses, minibuses, coaches and other public transport vehicles has registered a considerable decrease since last one decade,” official documents accessed by this reporter reveals.
The documents further reveal that in 2008-09, the number of buses was 45, while as in a decade it has just increased to 46. Similarly in 2008-09 the number of minibuses was 277 and in last ten years it has just increased by five and rose to 282.
Jan added that the required number of seats per day is 4 lakh, however, the available seats are only one lakh ten thousand, which is very low as compared to the required number of seats.
“The authorities concerned have miserably failed to provide any relief to commuters despite having spent millions of rupees on improving the public transport system over the past ten years,” Mir Maqbool, a local resident claimed.
“One of the major reasons behind the failure to improve the public transport system was that transporters were not ready to make investment and bring in buses,” Mir claimed.
“Instead, they are systematically reducing the number of the buses and minibuses presently plying on various routes,” he said.
Officials from the ARTO office said that the transporters want to maintain their present level of earnings through a reduced number of operative buses to make the business viable and more profitable.
“Their strategy works as passengers do not mind travelling in crowded buses and minibuses and people travelling atop buses and minibuses, standing on footboards and clinging to bumpers is a common sight on many routes.”
Ali Mohammad Bhat, a senior bus driver from Budgam said that almost 30 new bus routes were allocated to the urban areas and some buses were operated on these routes for quite some time. “However, the buses disappeared gradually from most of these routes and no reasons for the withdrawal have been made public yet,” claims Ali.
“Actually we don’t need new routes as we don’t have enough number of buses left in our fleets to ply even on the existing routes,” Jan added in response.
“During the last few years we have not approved any new route permit for minibuses, and instead the number of minibuses and buses has decreased, considerably. We have left with no option other than to stop plying buses and minibuses on many routes due to a shortage of vehicles,” Jan said.
In the past, the private public transporters possessed many big buses but due to increasing diesel prices, and increasing number of maxi-cabs they could not afford their maintenance and most of these buses had to be sent to scrap dealers, he added.
“We are already running short of buses and in this condition we cannot operate buses on new routes. We know the disappearance of buses is causing problems to the masses but we can’t help it. We had a total of 282 minibuses with us and 1385 Maxi-cabs which are not sufficient to the commuters.”
“In earlier days the villagers mostly were relying on the public transport especially buses and mini buses but there is no charm in the public transport business now in Kashmir. That is why transporters are not ready to bring in more buses and minibuses,” driver Ali Muhammad added.
Jan agreed that there was a need for more buses in all parts of the area as the population had increased. New routes were also required, he said, adding that it would be difficult to cater to the needs of Budgam commuters even if 500 new buses were introduced on an emergency basis.
However it said, it was not his jurisdiction to issue more buses, instead the transport department should provide the public transport to the Budgam people.
“At times when our department is paying 7 crore tax every year why can’t they issue more SRTC buses in the area,” Jan added.