In Gilgit and Skardu, the two major towns of G-B, Suzuki pick-ups converted into vans are the only affordable means of transport available.
Now with temperatures plummeting to minus 4 to 8 degrees centigrade, many passengers exposed to the cold are forced to spend their savings on their treatment.
In the absence of trams, buses and rickshaws for intra-city travel, hundreds of passengers have no other choice.
“It costs Rs15 per passenger to travel from Main Bazaar Gilgit to Jutial in a Suzuki pick-up, a distance of nearly 15 kilometres” said Tajuddin, a regular passenger. “You cannot afford to hire a taxi as the minimum fare charged from Jutial is Rs150,” he said. “Unless there is an emergency, there is no question of travelling in a taxi.”
Shama Miraz, a schoolteacher said one of her young sons had caught cold and was admitted to a hospital because he commutes to school in a Suzuki pick-up.
Travelling in pick-ups is particularly unsafe for children because they are overloaded and there is no provision for seat belts. It is mostly students who are seen precariously hanging outside the Suzukis.
From December to February the temperature dips to minus 15 degrees in Astore, Hunza-Nagar, Skardu, Ghizer and Gilgit as well as other parts.
Shaukat Khan, a driver, said the government had tried to operate intra-city buses in the past but the move was foiled by the drivers’ union. He claimed that they became jobless due to the introduction of buses. “We can’t afford to let the government intervene,” he said. If buses are introduced, they would accommodate all the passengers depriving Suzuki drivers of their livelihood.
A senior administration official, Usman Ahmed, said the government could consider operating buses if residents make the demand. “Technically, operating buses isn’t a viable option due to the mountainous terrain.”
In that case can the people request covered vehicles to protect them from the freezing cold?