The number of homebound passengers in buses and launches was few even after 24 Ramadan on Tuesday, with a few days left for the country's biggest religious festival – Eid-ul-Fitr.
Although there is a huge demand for advance tickets for 28-30 April, buses and launches are still carrying fewer passengers compared to the same period before Eid in previous years.
Transport workers and owners said that they have never seen such a situation before.
"Despite the Covid pandemic last year, we had a lot of passengers after 20 Ramadan. Ticket-seeking passengers engaged in altercations to buy tickets at the Gabtoli bus terminal. But this year, the buses are still leaving Dhaka with only a handful of passengers," said Sultan Ahmed, manager of Eagle Transport.
Showing a bus ticket sale list, he said, "The 36-seat bus is coming to Dhaka with only seven passengers. It was almost empty when it left Dhaka. This year, there is a lack of desire among people to go home."
Regarding advance tickets, he said, "We have a huge demand for tickets for three days – 28-30 April. All tickets for these three days have been sold out, but there is a little demand for tickets for May 1."
Prabhat Roy, manager of Shyamoli Paribahan, said, "There is a huge difference between this year's Eid and that of previous years. Earlier, at this time before Eid, ticket sales used to be thriving and there was a state of turmoil at bus and launch terminals due to the pressure of homebound passengers. Private and public employees used to send their families earlier, although they went later. This time the situation is completely different."
Launch owners also echoed the same experience while talking to the Business Standard.
"Today is the 24 Ramadan, but the number of passengers is still less than usual. Yesterday (Monday) I lost Tk70,000. It is not just me, the situation is the same for all launch owners," said Shahidul Islam Bhuiyan, owner of Parabat Shipping and secretary-general of the launch owners' association.
"The business was not so dull just ahead of the Eid in the previous years. It seems that there is a lack of interest in Eid among the people this year," he added.
Meanwhile, despite the lack of crowd in buses and launches yesterday (Tuesday), hundreds of homebound people thronged the Paturia-Daulatdia, Shimulia-Banglabazar and Shimulia-Majhirkandi ferry ghats.
According to Bangladesh Inland Water Transport Corporation sources, many people started crowding the ferry terminals for crossing the river in the morning, triggering long tailbacks. Throughout the day, they crossed the rivers by ferries, launches and speedboats.
Owners deny allegations of overcharging
Meanwhile, the bus and launch owners have claimed that the allegation of charging extra fares is not correct.
Badiuzzaman Badal, vice president of Bangladesh Inland Waterways Passenger Carrier Association (BIWPCA) said, "The launch owners compete among themselves throughout the year. So, they take less than the fare fixed by the government all through the year. During the Eid, they are taking the fixed fare. As a result, the passengers think that the owners are taking an extra fare."
He said, "If anyone can prove the allegation of overcharging, action will be taken against the launch. Besides, the BIWTA and Shipping Department will also take action."
Shahidul Islam Bhuiyan, the owner of Parabat Launch, said, "The fare of a single cabin of the Dhaka-Barisal route's launch is charged at Tk1,400, single deluxe cabin at Tk1,600, and double cabin at Tk2,600, as per the fare fixed by the government. There is also a 10% VAT on AC cabins which we do not charge. In normal times, the rent of the cabins is lowered by Tk200-400."
Regarding bus fares, Bangladesh Road Transport Owners' Association Secretary-General Khandaker Enayet Ullah said the government does not fix AC car fares. The owners fix the fares. As there are only one-way passengers before the Eid, the owners are charging a little more."
"But, the non-AC buses are charging fares fixed by the government. We have already given a notice to the owners of non-AC buses not to increase the fare," he added, "However, I will not claim that one or two are not taking extra fares. But, our surveillance team is working to prevent that malpractice. The BRTA and Directorate of National Consumers' Right Protection are also conducting mobile courts to tackle it."
He claimed that fares of buses in the northern region of the country are always charged lower than those set by the government. During the Eid, the government-fixed fare is charged. The passengers think that the fare is higher.
A huge crowd for advance train tickets continue on
Sales of advance train tickets for April 30 began online and at station counters at 8 am on Tuesday. All online tickets were sold out within 10 minutes.
On the other hand, the number of people lined up at the Kamalapur railway station to collect tickets from the counter was 10 times more than the total number of tickets. As a result, the ticket selling ended before 11 am with numerous people returning home empty-handed.