Sunday last, the city of Lahore was in a state of frenzy. Many of its entry points were closed due to Tahirul Qadri’s protest and the people were not able to enter or leave. Muzaffar Hussain, a liver patient who was coming from Multan, had to reach the free medical camp where he was supposed to be checked by a visiting Indian surgeon.
On Motorway, the Babu Sabu Interchange was blocked due to barbed wires. Muzaffar’s young son was getting anxious. He stepped out of his car and begged the policemen to allow them to enter, but this did not work. Then he turned to a traffic warden and explained the issue. The warden promised to help and went with him up to his car. He asked the boy to start the car and tune into FM 88.6. There was a programme playing on the radio channel, with the host informing the listeners about roads that had been blocked. The host also provided guidance about alternative routes.
As Muzaffar’s son followed the instructions, changing the route, he managed to steer the car into the city. Calling in to the Traffic Helpline — i.e. 1915 — also helped.
Although the warden had only told him that the said radio channel gave general information, the helpline answered specific queries.
The problem is, most people do not know of this service. This may be because of poor advertising done by traffic police or the lack of interest on the part of the public in looking for technical solutions to traffic problems. Another reason may be that the people listen to entertainment radios or CDs while driving.
When asked about the impact of the radio service and how is it helping the commuters, Bushra Abdul Ghani, In charge of Rasta FM 88.6, says: “It is the only radio channel which guides you about traffic. Hence, it’s name.”
Set up in 2009, Rasta FM 88.6 now arranges seminars at different educational institutions and distributes pamphlets for public awareness. Though, Ghani regrets, “the department does not advertise these services.”
The programme hosts inform the people about good and bad traffic on different roads, and also guides them which routes to take in order to reach their destinations without much trouble.
During Youm-e-Ali in Muharram-ul-Haram last year, the commuters were updated minute-by-minute.
“Our responsibility increases in the event of a protest rally,” says Bushra Abdul Ghani.”
The information is gathered through live footage captured by the CCTVs installed all over the city together with input from traffic wardens on duty, and is then shared with citizens in a systematic manner.
The channel also gives weather updates. Besides, entertainment shows have been added to the programming lineup, in order to catch the public eye. These include songs in Punjabi, Urdu and English.
TNS spoke to random commuters and learnt that most of them did not know about Rasta FM 88.6. Shaista, a student at the University of Punjab, said she was a regular listener of FM radio but she did not know about the traffic channel.
She also asked as to why the traffic police and the government never paid attention to publicising it. “Proper publicity would have helped [the government] to draw maximum benefits,” she said.
Waheed, a bus driver, also admitted playing music on different FM channels but “I never knew FM 88.6 existed.”
However, he admitted, “I may not be literate but I know the rules of traffic.”
Muhammad Afzal, a resident of Model Town, complained that he once tried to tune into FM 88.6 but there were no signals. This was during the month of Ramzan when the city roads saw some of the worst bottlenecks ever.
“So then I called into the Helpline and was told that there had been a technical problem with the radio service. Trust me, the problem was not fixed after the passage of a few days even.
“There was complete silence on their end,” Afzal said. “No news, no nothing. This shows the service is not quite dependable.”
A spokesperson for the Chief Traffic Officer (CTO) rejects the notion that the radio service was marred by a poor campaign. “Pamphlets were distributed, seminars were conducted, and the logo of Rasta FM 88.6 was placed on the learner’s and regular driving licenses.”
“In the presence of a plethora of local FM channels, our service stands out because of its unique content,” he adds.