KU transportation woes weigh students down

Karachi, July 9 : The University of Karachi boasts some 25,000 students enrolled in its evening and morning programmes combined. The students, majority of them girls, come from far-flung areas of the metropolis to attend the university. Despite having a large student base, which makes it undoubtly the largest public sector university in the country, there is as yet no adequate and reliable transport system available for the students, which could provide them with a safe and comfortable journey to and from the university. The evening students are the worst affectees, for not only are they charged higher but they also do not have the luxury of traveling by the university buses.

When probed about the state of affairs surrounding the KU transport system, the university administration had its own sordid tale to offer: insufficient funds were cited as the prime reason for bringing the transport sector to this deplorable state. Prof. Khalid Muhammad, Head of the Department of Microbiology and Chairman of the Transport Committee since 2003, admitted that the KU transport was in an appalling state but narrated his side of story, to express his inability in the face of innumerable problems. Khalid said, žTo accommodate such a large number of students is an uphill task, but we have been managing the affairs with minimum resources available to us,Ó adding, žThe students are charged three rupees one way from university to any point in the city; from NIPA it is only one rupee, which is clearly not enough, as the rising prices of the diesel have increased the operational expenses of the Committee. Our expenditure at the end of the fiscal year 2006 was Rs10.71 million, while the university chipped in with a subsidy of Rs10.37 million.Ó

Until a while back, some buses would take the students from the Silver Jubilee and Muskan gates to the departments, which saved students from walking long distances in the scorching weather. The service has been discontinued, causing great distress to the students. Prof Khalid defended the decision saying, the students were not cooperating in the successful running of the service. Majority of them seeks lift from private cars ignoring the buses. This attitude results in the discontinuation of service,Ó he added.

There are always invariably more students in the buses than the busesŪ capacity, which certainly is highly dangerous and has often in the past caused major accidents. Hence, in the absence of proper buses, majority of the students have to make their own travel arrangements; which means using either personal conveyance or public transport that is not only expensive but also cumbersome during the summer season. Some buses also ply between NIPA and the university and carry about 1000 students at the peak hours, which is indeed a great relief to the students.

Currently, the KU Transport Committee manages the fleet of buses that picks and drops the students in the morning and afternoon: 6.35 a.m. to 6.45 a.m., 1.30 p.m. and 4.00 p.m. from 25 designated points in the city, respectively. The fleet has 20 Hino buses that are in relatively good condition, 11 Isuzu, three Nissan and nine Bedford buses. However, it is very rare for all the buses to be in running condition at one time and seven to eight buses need mechanics help almost everyday before they are considered roadworthy. The sojourn of the students in the 31 obsolete and rickety buses, emitting thick trail of smoke can hardly be termed comfortable. A common sight of the university bus is that of both girls and boys hanging precariously at its gates because of little or no space inside. The drivers, driving at breakneck speed are by and large, oblivious to the situation inside the buses. Whatever the official line, it is the students that bear the brunt in the end.

Incensed at the situation, Ayesha Adeel, a student from the Pharmacy Faculty added, žI come from North Nazimabad and face this ordeal every day. It is just insane. The students and staff are packed in the bus like sardines. Others cling to the door handles. Either the university or the philanthropists must do something to save us from the humiliation and indignity we go through everyday.Ó Gibran, a student from the Mass Communication Department termed traveling by university bus a virtual ŽnightmareŪ and the worst experience of his academic life.

There is another aggrieved party that voiced its grievances when queried about their stance on the situation. The drivers, numbering 32, complain about lower wages and long working hours, despite the fact that they earn between Rs8000 to 10,000. It was surprising to hear from one driver that žif the students choose to travel in the cramped buses, then there is no reason to complainÓ. A novel comment indeed, considering that the students hardly have any choice in this regard.

It is also alleged that the conductors and drivers pocket money in league with committee officials depriving the university of large sums money that could be used to buy new buses and maintain the existing ones. However, Prof. Khalid refuted the charge right away. He made it clear that until the fare for the students is increased or some private party comes forth to manage the KU transport system, things are not likely change. He pointed that the proposed new CNG buses that are to join the fleet of Urban Transport System (UTS) should be allowed to pick the students in about 30 to 40 buses and then drop them at the designated hours. The UTS should be given a suitable amount for this service that could be borne by the university or the government.

In the absence of a Mass Transit System, this suggestion must be given a serious consideration. The corporate sector could also donate buses to alleviate the suffering of the students. the news



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