Beeline for the bus
There was a time when Manzoor Ahmed would take the train from Karachi to visit his hometown in Dera Ghazi Khan, but not any more. “It takes 12 hours to reach by bus as opposed to 20 hours or more by train,” he explains.
With the number of trains being reduced day by day and running hours, even days behind schedule at times, more people are turning to buses.
A bus usually takes 22-24 hours to reach Lahore or Rawalpindi and charges Rs2,000-2,500, while the train takes 20 hours to reach Lahore in case of uninterrupted journey; in case of delay it may take more than 24 hours, which may extend to 30 hours in case of engine failure.
However, bus operators have been quick to exploit customers. According to Ahmed the fare increases by Rs100-150 per day before Eid. Commuters have to pay above Rs1,200 instead of Rs900 for non-air conditioned bus for DG Khan which can go up to 1,500-1,800 on Chand Raat. The rate for AC bus may shoot up to Rs1,800-2,000 from Rs1,200.
Another drawback of travelling by bus is security, especially during night, as dacoits sometimes ambush the vehicle on deserted roads. To counter this, buses try to form a convoy of six to eight buses to cross Sindh’s border to enter Punjab.
Hassan Imam paid Rs4,200 for the Daewoo bus as it only stops at its own three terminals, taking 20 hours from Karachi to Lahore. Though normal train fares hover between Rs1,100-1,200 for the same route, he paid Rs4,800 for AC class travelling by Tezgam on his way back but it arrived three hours late.
Amjad Ali, owner of Bilal Travels, says that upper class people and even senior government officials also travel by bus from Lahore to Rawalpindi/ Islamabad or Peshawar. Amjad’s business is roaring; he now owns 62 Daewoo buses while a year and a half back he had only eight buses.