Pakistan News

Spike in airfares drives rail ticket sales up

Spike in airfares drives rail ticket sales up

ISLAMABAD: Rizwan Ahmed wanted to take his family to Karachi to meet his UAE-based sister-in-law, who is visiting Pakistan. “We usually take the train there, but my children have always wanted to go by air,” he told Dawn with a grimace.

But the PIA the strike has dashed both his and his children’s hopes.

“Most of my relatives live in Karachi. It wasn’t going to be easy to buy air tickets for all six members of my family, but I estimated it would cost me around Rs100,000. Now that airfares have gone further up, I don’t think I could buy the tickets even with double that money.”

Mr Ahmed has since had to shelve his plans to visit Karachi. “We will try to convince my sister-in-law to come up Islamabad, and maybe we can take her to Swat to enjoy the snowfall,” he said.

He is not alone; travel plans of scores of people from across the country have been in flux ever since protesting PIA employees abandoned flight operations on Feb 2.

But PIA’s loss turned out to be Pakistan Railways’ gain. “My family would much rather travel long distances by train rather than going by bus,” said Ahmed Saleem, whose Karachi-bound flight ended up being cancelled.

He told Dawn that after waiting for two days, he and his family brought train tickets to Karachi, as other airlines’ had also hiked their fares. “But the train wasn’t cheaper by much,” he complained, saying he ended up paying Rs5,700 per seat.

Another Karachi-bound passenger, Zafar Mehmood, said it was very difficult to get tickets on other private airlines, not only because they were more expensive but also because there was a long waiting list.

“Though the train takes longer than flying, it would be much better than a bus ride to Karachi,” he said.

Meraj Khalid, a travel agent, told Dawn that before the strike, a one-way PIA ticket from Islamabad to Karachi cost anywhere between Rs7,200 and Rs8,200, while Shaheen Air and AirBlue tickets were available for Rs7,000 to Rs8,000.

“However, after the suspension of PIA’s flight operations, fares almost doubled overnight. On the instructions of the airlines, we started charging Rs 19,000 for a single seat and Rs 23,000 in case of three or more than three seats,” he said.

Mr Khalid explained that a single seat was easier to arrange, but if five or eight members of a family wanted seats on the same flight, it would cost them extra to get adjacent seats.

International fares were also jacked up. “Before Feb 2, a return ticket to Jeddah cost around Rs55,000, but the next day, fares increased to around Rs88,000 and currently, tickets are being sold for Rs 70,000. Even the Saudi Arabian Airlines has been charging Rs 70,000 for a return ticket,” he said.

A visit to the Shaheen Air website on Sunday revealed that a one-way ticket from Islamabad to Karachi, departing the next day, would cost Rs 19,000, while a flight departing on Feb 9 would cost Rs 17,500 per person.

The AirBlue website valued its Islamabad-Karachi tickets at Rs15,194 and Rs13,000 for flights departing on Feb 8 and Feb 9, respectively.

The strike prompted a sharp rise in train ticket sales, and in just the past week, the Rawalpindi division earned Rs6.4 million every day, as compared to their routine daily revenue of Rs5.3 million. In fact, the railway management had to arrange more coaches for Karachi-bound passengers who were left high and dry by various airlines.

Normally, the Green Line train from Islamabad to Karachi has 150 to 200 passengers onboard, but that number has since risen to over 300, with an additional two or three coaches being attached to the train to cater to rising demand.

Pakistan Express, Tezgam as well as the Quetta and Mehar expresses also saw passenger numbers increasing manifold.

“This is usually lean season for rail travellers, but the situation which developed after the PIA employees went on strike forced passengers to shift to this mode of travel,” said Pakistan Railways Divisional Superintendent Abdul Malik told Dawn.

Bus fares, however, have remained largely unchanged. Azfar Mehmood of the Daewoo Bus Service told Dawn that a single ticket from Islamabad to Karachi still cost Rs 4,300.

“Daewoo has not increased fares and will not take advantage of travellers’ problems,” he said.

Published in Dawn, February 8th, 2016

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