Traffic on the Meghna Bridge
- 30,000 vehicles run daily in normal times
- Now 20,000 vehicles are using the bridge
Vehicles plying the roads
- Number of long-distance buses: 100,000
- Buses currently operational: 32,000
- Number of trucks and covered vans: 356,000
- Operational trucks and covered vans: 200,000
Despite the outbreak of the novel coronavirus, the government lifted a ban on the movement of vehicles carrying goods and passengers in early June. However, the transport of goods and passengers on the highways has yet to return to normal.
The Dhaka-North Bengal highway – one of the country's main highways – had one-and-a-half fewer vehicles per minute in June than in the same period of last year.
The Meghna Bridge on the Dhaka-Chattogram highway, also known as the country's busiest highway and the lifeline of the economy, has less than seven vehicles per minute than before.
Transport owners and traders say that freight trucks and private vehicles have been plying the roads since March 26, but long-distance passenger buses were off the roads till May 30.
The movement of cargo trucks, covered vans and containers has slowed due to less production in factories, plus a decline in imports and exports, as well as demand, across the country.
Although virtually all types of private sectors have been reopened since June 1, the transportation of goods has not yet returned to normal because of the economic downturn.
Despite the government order to resume public bus services from June 1, on condition of complying with the health rules, the movement of people is low because of the pandemic.
As a result, the number of passenger buses and private cars plying the highways is still much lower than the same period of the last year.
During this Eid-ul-Adha, bus owners are being forced to lower the number of buses on the roads because of the lack of passengers.
According to transportation owners, industrial production has not yet returned to its usual state since the re-opening. Imports and exports have declined which has resulted in less demand for freight trucks and covered vans.
Moreover, floods in different districts of the country, the non-reopening of tourist centers and reduced movement of people for business have also placed buses in a passenger crisis during this peak season.
According to the Bangladesh Bridge Authority, 620,541 vehicles crossed the Bangabandhu Bridge on the Dhaka-North Bengal Highway in June last year.
At the same time of this year, the traffic was 553,432 vehicles. It points out that around 67,109 more vehicles crossed the bridge in June of the same period last year. And in the estimation it is some 2,237 vehicles per day.
Due to the reduction in traffic, toll collection from Bangabandhu Bridge decreased in June.
The bridge received tolls worth a total of Tk54.24 crore in June 2019, but in June this year it received tolls worth a total of Tk49.96 crore. So, compared to the same period of last year, the tolls collected have been a daily average of Tk14 lakh less in June.
The exact number of vehicles using the Meghna Bridge on a monthly basis could not be determined.
However, Mozaffar Ahmed, officer-in-charge of Kanchpur Highway Police Station, told The Business Standard that up to 32,000 vehicles used to cross the bridge daily. Now this number is a maximum of 22,000, he added.
Toll collection has also reduced on the Dhaka-Munshiganj route due to reduced traffic on the Moktarpur Bridge. In June last year, tolls worth a total of Tk1.59 crore were collected from the bridge, but this time they were Tk1.45 crore in June.
Gabtoli, one of the busiest bus terminals in the capital, also has no crowds of passengers ahead of the Eid this time. Instead, the transport owners are delaying starting their cars as they lack passengers.
So, to reduce financial losses, Hanif, Shyamoli, Green Line and other transport companies have reduced the number of buses on highways.
Abdus Sattar, general manager of Green Line Transport, told The Business Standard that the passenger reduction is the outcome of the panic of contracting Covid-19 and encountering floods.
"Our 40-seater buses are supposed to operate with 20 passengers in compliance with the health and hygiene rules. But, we cannot get more than 12 passengers for any trip. Despite knowing that we have to incur losses, we are operating 30 percent of our buses to keep the brand active," he said.
He went on, "Although commercial activities have resumed, people do not have income. As a result, they have reduced travel. Tourist centers are still closed following the government order which is the other reason for low number of passengers."
Rustam Ali Khan, general secretary of the Bangladesh Truck and Covered Van Owners' Association, told The Business Standard that the factories, which were closed during the general holiday due to the novel coronavirus, are now open.
However, they are not importing and exporting goods as before which has resulted in lower import and exports. Consequently, trucks and covered vans are no longer rented, he said.
"There are about 3.56 lakh trucks and covered vans across the country. Now a maximum of two lakh trucks and covered vans are being rented daily," he added.
Khandaker Enayet Ullah, general secretary of Bangladesh Road Transport Owners Association and owner of ENA Paribahan, told The Business Standard that about 100,000 buses usually ply on long-distance routes every day in normal times. However, now 30,000 to 32,000 vehicles are running.
"I have never seen such a passenger crisis before Eid-ul-Adha," he added.