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Speedo bust?

The Speedo Bus Service, mounted with a hefty budget of Rs2 billion, has proved to be an ‘experiment’ gone wrong, and how

Speedo bust?
The commuters, used to the good old ticketing routine, haven’t taken to the card system. — Photo by Rahat Dar

It might have to do with our lifestyle habits that are resistant to change. The failure — so far — of the Speedo Bus Service proves something to that effect.

In a city where mass transit is an eternal issue, despite the government investing heavily in the sector, it is not hard to imagine why Speedo has proved to be an ‘experiment’ gone wrong. For one thing, the commuters who are used to the good old ticketing routine, haven’t taken to the new fare system wherein they are supposed to buy a card worth Rs200, out of which Rs130 are deducted and they are left only with Rs70 as usable credit. They find it all too confusing. The result is almost empty buses on some of the city’s busiest roads.

And, to think that these buses come equipped with all the modern facilities, in accordance with international standards. There is air-conditioning to boost.

The card fare system is followed the world over. But Lahore, it seems, isn’t ready for it. “If I forget to swipe the card upon leaving the bus, I can’t avail the discount on my next trip,” says Shabana Naseer, a student of Punjab University.

Naseer bought the card and every time she swiped it, Rs20 was deducted from it, on the single trip. By the time she reached home, she had consumed the entire balance.

Junaid Ali, a resident of Township, has a suggestion: the government should introduce a stop-to-stop fare system as an alternative. A manual labourer, Ali says he cannot afford to cough up Rs200 for the card for himself and for each of his family members if they choose to travel with him on Speedo.

Launched by Chief Minister Punjab Mian Shahbaz Sharif on March 20 this year, the 200-odd Speedo buses ply on 14 different routes within a radius of 500 metres, connecting the 27-kilometre Metro Bus route to the rest of Lahore. Of these, 162 buses are large, with a capacity for 70 passengers. On a regular day, they can carry up to 1,000 passengers each.

Speedo Bus Service has become a roaring example of poor planning on the part of the government. Clearly, no proper research about public habits and financial capacity was carried out before conceiving the project.

Ironically, despite having been rejected by the public, the Punjab Mass Transit Authority (PMTA) continues to run these huge vehicles on city roads. Speedo has become a roaring example of poor planning on the part of the government. Clearly, no proper research about public habits and financial capacity was carried out before conceiving the project.

Ozair Shah, General Manager Operations, PMTA, has a different take on the subject. He says that Speedo is “sure to capture the public fancy in due time.

“So far, we’ve sold 42,000 Balance Load Cards. We want that every commuter should have the card on them when they step out in the street.”

He insists that public awareness campaigns have also been launched in this regard, “The idea is to educate the masses on the new [fare] system.”

Explaining the fare collection, Shah says it is “automatic.” Besides, “the buses are equipped with Scheduling System. We can’t revise it, and there’s no reason for us to do so.”

He adds that the PMTA is moving towards achieving its targets.

Highlighting some of the key features of Speedo, he says the buses arrive every 10 minutes; they have automated announcement facility, door sensors, a ramp for the specially challenged persons, and a state-of-the-art surveillance system operated with the help of security cameras.

The card, as per Shah, “can be bought when you step inside [the bus]. It costs Rs200 with Rs70 as balance. You can also purchase a card for Rs130 at the different Metro Bus stations if you wish not to have the balance to travel.

“The feeder bus charges a flat rate of Rs15. When you get in, you are supposed to scan your card; this shall initially deduct Rs20, and the system will automatically refund Rs5 if you rescan your card upon leaving the bus.

“The passengers transferring from one feeder bus to another have to pay an additional Rs5, but no additional charges apply for those transferring from a feeder bus to the Metro within 30 minutes of their journey,” he says. “The card’s life is 15 years.”

On the other hand, a number of daily commuters that TNS spoke to said they would love to take the (Speedo) bus provided it did away with the card
system. They were of the view that if the government didn’t want to change the system, it should give cards free of cost for an initial period of time till the people could become familiar with it.

Ali Raza

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