Helal Mahmud, a private job holder, came to Gabtoli bus terminal with his wife and two little sons on Thursday noon. With the Eid just one day away, he wanted to go to his hometown Faridpur.
At first, he was happy to see that there were no queues of passengers in front of the bus counters. However, it took little time to turn his happiness into disquiet. After talking with some counter managers, he came to know that all tickets for all Faridpur bound trips for the day had been sold out.
Finding no alternative, he purchased four seats in a Gopalganj bound bus, which plies through Faridpur to reach Gopalganj, spending double money for each ticket, as he had to pay the ticket price for Gopalganj.
"I do not want to ruin my joy of Eid in any way. I had to spend extra money on that as I had no other options as my family is also with me," Helal told The Business Standard.
Like him, so many people were seen in the Gabtoli bus terminal on Thursday, who failed to manage a ticket for themselves.
Reason behind the ticket crisis
Not more than 40 percent of buses of all bus services are currently running on the roads, according to sources at the Bangladesh Bus Truck Owners Association (BBTOA).
As per government rules, buses have to keep 50 percent seats vacant during this time of the pandemic. Besides, number of trips also has been reduced. These two factors have resulted in a ticket crisis, the sources said.
"The number of homebound passengers during this Eid is lower than in previous years," said Md Salauddin, member of BBTOA, adding that a 60 percent hike in bus fare amid the Covid-19 restrictions has made bus tickets too expensive for many people.
Besides, garment workers are not going to leave their workstations this Eid, which also caused a decline in passenger number, he added.
This decline in demand for Eid tickets has made the bus companies take out fewer buses on the roads, he argued.
"Big bus companies do not want to count losses anymore. A company that has 20 buses is running only two buses ahead of Eid. A 40-seat bus is now allowed to take 20 passengers. So, when the bus leaves Dhaka, it gets 20 passengers somehow. However, it has to return to Dhaka even without any passenger.
"If the bus owners run all their busses, they have to pay oil prices, toll fees, wages of drivers and helpers and all the other hidden charges from their own pocket. That is why they decided to run fewer buses on roads to avoid losses," he explained.
When asked if fewer buses are running, what the reason behind the traffic congestion in different areas of the country is, he claimed that it is because of the cattle-carrying trucks.
Social distancing in public transport
While visiting different exit points of Dhaka, The Business Standard found many people leaving Dhaka by renting small trucks, which are usually used for carrying cattle ahead of Eid, due to the crisis of bus tickets.
Around 20 people, with their bags and baggage, were seen taking board of a small truck it like a crowd.
It was also seen that many buses from "not so prominent" bus service companies were taking much more than the allowable number of passengers standing here and there on the road.
This correspondent talked to the helper of one such bus named Leyon Classic.
From outside, it was seen that all the seats were full as almost 10-15 people were standing. Asked how a bus could carry that much people on it in the time of the pandemic, he said, "Every bus is taking extra passengers because only one day is left before the Eid. Now there is no time to think about the government instructions. Everyone wants to go to their homes, and we are trying to help them."
While asked if this is illegal, the helper denied answering.
Buses of prominent bus services like Hanif Enterprise, Ena Transport Ltd, however, were seen maintaining safety precautions.
No chaos in waterways, but nobody cares about social distancing
Visiting Sadarghat on Thursday afternoon, it was seen that the whole area was densely crowded. Most of the people did not put on facemasks.
Saifur Rahman, a passenger of MV Jamal 5, told The Business Standard, "I do not have to face chaos like previous years to get on the launch, but the launch is taking too many passengers."
"The capacity of this launch is 700, but they are taking not less than 1,400 people," he alleged.
"So how could people maintain social distancing on this launch? Authorities concerned should look into the matter," he added.
Train journey comfortable, but no offline tickets
As only online ticket-holders are making a train journey this year, trains have become the most comfortable ride of all the other transports.
"This year, the railways authorities took an initiative to sell all train tickets online through their mobile app and website. Marginal people who are not advanced enough to buy tickets online, however, have suffered because of this step," said sources.
Railways Minister Md Nurul Islam Sujan earlier said no additional passengers would be able to get on trains this time. Sources said the authorities are really strict about not allowing extra passengers to reduce the risk of Covid-19.