As Kashmirs rulers flirt with the idea of privatization of services and utilities, the citys experience with public transport serves as a vivid example of what the scenario is likely to be. As it is decades since the government withdrew its own SRTC fleets from city operations, private transporters ply only on their own whim and for rapacious profit with absolutely no concern for passengers convenience and time. On hiking fares, the government should have literally laid down the law in terms of bus frequency on all routes, and regularity in service. As it is, and particularly so after the fare hike, bus travel in almost all city areas is excruciatingly slow for most of the day, overcrowded and uncomfortable the last because of the cramped, ill-designed and ill-suited cabins approved for passenger vehicles.
The least that was expected of the government was to ensure that commuting in the city was not a snail-paced jerky affair where the driver stops every hundred yards to pick up passengers, halting for as long as it takes to stuff at least twice the vehicles approved capacity into its aisle, but a smooth, reasonably-paced ride, halting only at strictly-designated bus stops, and only for a strictly stipulated time. But the cult of mediocrity dominating the government and the administration cannot conceive of such nuances of transport services, nor does the culture of chai, pani and ghoos pervading the transport and traffic regulatory mechanisms make for a service that runs according to timetables the commuting public can rely upon.
And for all the pampering they have received from the government, bus services vanish from the routes just around dusk when the opportunity to overload gets minimized, leaving large numbers of commuters stranded. To streamline the system, the government may begin by enforcing designated bus stops, preventing arbitrary halts to pick up and drop passengers, and prescribing safe speed limits required to be upheld at all times. As it is, peak hour speeds are reckless and dangerous as drivers try to beat competing vehicles to the next stop, but barely crawl by inches at other times, driving their passengers to desperation.
Also, it is high time that authorities forced transporters to operate with optimum frequency worked out on the basis of commuter traffic on particular routes. It needs to be made binding on owners, drivers and conductors to adhere to timetables of leaving one terminal and arriving at the other. Operators must expressly be made to keep a skeletal but dependable service functioning after sunset till at least 10 p.m., and must be penalized for default. Besides, the constant refrain from operators that the governments transport and traffic authorities fleece them at every possible turn on flimsy grounds needs to be addressed with urgency. Srinagar may have a private car density rivaling major metropolises, but still a predominant section of people has to rely on public transport, mostly busses. The government should see to it that the people get their moneys worth when travelling from one place to another.
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