In a recent meeting with the Punjab Metro Bus Authority (PMBA), Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif said the Lahore Metro Bus Project was benefitting 1.5 million people on a daily basis. The Rawalpindi-Islamabad Metro Bus Project, which is nearing completion, also came up in the discussion. However, there was no mention of the problems the commuters in the MTBS’s Lahore chapter are facing, chiefly due to the (almost) nonfunctional escalators.
The commuters using the escalators have to ‘climb’ their way up every single time, because these are usually not working.
TNS learns that the good few escalators that are in working condition take time to restart, after a power outage has happened, because there is only one operator (man in charge) at a bus station. The operator has to go through the exercise of switching to the generator every time.
The situation becomes worse when an escalator stops working. The repairing job takes ages. The delay is usually caused by the fact that the spare parts of the escalators have to be imported from Turkey.
Interestingly, all the metro bus stations in the city possess the facility (of electronically managed escalators) but the PMBA has allowed this only to those going upstairs. It is assumed that the commuters, however old or ailing, would have no trouble taking the stairs while stepping down.
According to Abu Bakar, Field Inspector, PMBA, “Going upstairs requires a lot of physical energy and force, and the commuters often want to avoid having to climb the stairs; hence, the Authority installed the escalators. Going downstairs is comparatively easy.”
However, he insists that “all metro bus stations have the facility of escalators for both ways. “In case someone is handicapped or ailing, he should approach the escalator operator — every metro bus station has one overseeing the matters. If requested, he can run the escalator for the way down as well.”
Abu Bakar also speaks of a complaint centre at every metro bus station, where the commuters can lodge their complaints. “Any fault that occurs at any station, with regard to the escalator or anything, is circulated to the concerned staff through SMS, and they are supposed to respond immediately and reach the spot to fix the problem.”
When reminded about power breakdowns affecting the functionality and efficiency of the escalators, Abu Bakar says the “break is for a very short period of time till the operator can restart it with the help of the generator.
Reportedly, the escalator at the Janazgah Station of Metro Bus has been out of order for the past ten days now, causing a great inconvenience to the commuters, particularly the ailing and the elderly.
A district government employee (requesting anonymity) says, “I recently got my hernia surgery done and I’ve been advised by the doctors not to climb the stairs. Thinking there would be escalators at the metro bus stations, I came here only to find that these are out of order. I had no option but to risk going through the stairs.”
To its defence, Platform Inspector, Janazgah Station, Shafi says the escalators had been removed for repair.
“We are in contact with the main office for an early repair [of the escalator],” he tells TNS. “Most engineers are busy working on the Rawalpindi-Islamabad Metro Bus Project, which is causing the delay.
“We always encourage the travellers to take the escalators. Sometimes, the women are shy in hopping on to them,” notes the platform inspector.
In another part of the city, the escalators at Qartaba Chowk Station, said to be the largest metro bus station, are also static and the commuters are forced to take the stairs in order to approach the bus station. Some of these are damaged.
Upon inquiry, the Senior Station Officer (SSO) Altaf Hussain says “Oh, this is just a temporary state! When the electricity goes out, it takes some time before the escalators can be restarted on generator.
“Being the biggest station, Qartaba Chowk boasts as many as 13 escalators. It is very difficult to restart them all at the snap of the finger, once they stop following a power outage.”
Not everyone who has been on a metro bus station’s escalator has faced this sort of a problem. Tahir, a college student, says he never found it out of order.
“There may be certain times when the escalator stops working,” he adds. “For instance, when there are no commuters, particularly in the wee hours or late at night, the escalator may be shut down on purpose by the operator and the people think it is nonfunctional.
“Technically speaking, we cannot afford the escalators because these incur huge expenditure. As a result, the administration has to run these in intervals.”
On the other hand, there are those who have given up on Metro bus merely because they always found the escalators to be out of order. These people mostly fall in the old age bracket.
A salesman at a shop, situated in front of the Lyton Road Bus Station, believes that ever since the escalators stopped working, he hasn’t spotted any old men or women at the station.
“I think only if you are very sure that you will get a seat in the bus will you be willing to go through the hassle,” he says. “When a bus is packed beyond capacity, you will obviously say it’s not worth all the trouble. You would rather go by an ordinary van.”
Ashfaq, another college student, says the metro bus administration “discourages young people to use the escalators. Why differentiate?
“In developed countries, a metro bus is meant for every one. Because this permits them shorter distances, the commuters prefer them, even if they have to stand in the bus throughout.”