Picture yourself at an unfamiliar place, not knowing where to go. It’s decidedly a difficult situation to be in. You are in obvious need of guidance and help, not necessarily of the financial kind. The situation becomes worse when your vulnerability allows others around you to take notice and advantage of you.
Scenes of ‘exploitation’ are witnessed regularly at the Lahore Railway Station where passengers who have just disembarked from the train are looking for a cheap but comfortable place to put up at. There are shrewd rickshaw drivers on the prowl, waiting to pounce on potential customers. What’s more, they offer free advice regarding accommodation.
God knows, they aren’t doing it just like that. It has been observed that these rickshaw drivers, hovering mostly around the Railway Station, are ‘working’ for different, small-time hotels and guest houses in the city. Consequently, they are paid their due commission for bringing customers to these places.
“The hotels pay us 20-50 percent of the room rent as commission when we bring some customers,” admits Khan (real name changed), a young rickshaw driver standing at the parking next to the Lahore Railway Station.
He says that generally the timings between 9am-1pm and 9pm-12am are “the most suitable” for such activity. “The passengers we come across during these hours are tired, because they have had a long journey, and do not bother where we take them for lodging.”
Rasheed, another rickshaw driver, seemingly more experienced, says he has been “working here for years now. I facilitate only those passengers that are looking for a place to stay. In this way, I not only get the fare but also earn commission from the hotel.”
According to Rasheed, the commission sometimes exceeds Rs1,000 a day, an amount which is otherwise not easily possible for him to earn from his auto.
For Rasheed, this is no disservice to the non-residents coming into the city. “We are helping them with the lodgings after all,” he says, before whipping out the myriad business cards of different hotels he has in his pocket.
On the other hand, Asad Hanif, a trader from Sukkur, who has come to Lahore to buy plastic material from Shah Alam Market, says that the last time he was here (which was also his first time in the city), a rickshaw driver took him to a hotel at Lakshmi Chowk claiming that it had the best facilities at low fares. “But the condition of the hotel was quite the contrary,” he says. “I paid Rs3,000 for a night’s stay. Now I don’t rely on any such random advice on accommodation.”
Rasheed says he earns an extra buck when there is an event or mela happening in the city.
Shahzada, a young rickshaw owner, recalls the time when rain water filled the ground in Raiwind as the annual Ijtema was going on. There was a huge gathering and the participants from other parts of the country were removing their tents and wanted a proper place to stay.
“In the course of that event, nearly all rickshaw drivers earned Rs8,000-10,000 a day,” he says.
He further says that the rickshaw drivers at the Lahore Railway Station have links with hotels and guest houses in localities such as Model Town, Johar Town, Canal Bank, Liberty, Empress Road, Lakshmi, Shadman, The Mall and Data Darbar. Their agents are placed around the Station and bus stops and not only offer services regarding accommodation but also provide travel services for tours of the city.
“I can arrange even a helicopter on demand,” says Mukhtar, a middle-aged agent standing outside the railway station. He is waiting for the Shalimar Express for obvious purposes.
“The Shalimar Express is the best option,” he adds. “It carries not only the traders looking for accommodation close to the commercial areas but also families who are looking for guidance as to a cheap but comfortable accommodation.”