Mobile app-based ride-sharing services in Dhaka and its adjacent areas were declared shut from March 26 to prevent Covid-19 transmission. On June 21, the authorities allowed only four-wheelers to run again on the app.
However, pandemic conditions have improved very little by this time, not enough to restore passengers' confidence in calling app and hire cars, resulting in about a 60 percent fall in both the number of trips and income of the ride-hailers.
Md Shaurabh, a resident in the capital's Badda area, registered with Uber – a ride-sharing service – last February as its ride-sharer.
He then started driving an Uber car. After paying the company's commission and car rent, he could earn Tk800-900 per day.
After a three-month closure of the services, Shaurabh resumed ride-sharing on July 15.
On Wednesday, he told The Business Standard, "I have been driving my car for a week and a half but I do not get passenger calls like before. Now I can make only 7-8 trips all day long. Compared to the conditions earlier, both trips and income have dropped by 50-60 percent."
"I am maintaining my life with much hardship," he added.
Saurabh also said he got only six trips from 8am to 8pm on July 28, yielding him Tk1,900 in cash in hand. Of the amount, he got only Tk400 after paying charges to Uber and the car owner.
"Ride-sharers' lives were so hard when the services were called off due to the corona. Although my present earnings are not something to talk about yet, I can at least provide food for myself and my family," he said.
Abu Sayeed, another Uber driver, echoed Shaurabh, saying that his own Toyota Corolla EX car was the only source of livelihood for a family of five members.
However, as the income from app-based services is less now, he runs his family by making 1-2 long-route trips outside Dhaka as well.
Selim Hossain, a driver at Pathao, another ride-hailing service, said the number of passengers and trips had dropped by more than half.
He opened the app and calculated the trips he had made in the last 15 days. The app history revealed he got on average six trips daily and earned Tk406 per day during that period.
Selim Hossain said that till March 15, he had averaged 17 daily trips and earned over Tk1,000 every day.
Afzal Hossain, a resident of Moghbazar Outer Circular Road in the capital, rents his three cars on a ride-sharing app.
He said that after getting the approval of the Bangladesh Road Transport Authority (BRTA), he had resumed his service. "However, about 60 percent of the income has dropped compared to what was there previously, caused by a lower number of trips."
Many are no longer using app-based cars from fear of contracting the coronavirus, while many others even do not know that ride-sharing services have recommenced, he added.
Afzal Hossain further said, "After paying the company and the driver, I can support my family expenses a little with the rest of the money. The driver is also able to run his family by some means."
He urged the government to allow all app-based vehicles to be on the road in compliance with health rules.
Pathao's Chief Executive Officer Hussain M Elius told The Business Standard that the pandemic had affected the service and its approximately three lakh drivers.
The number of registered motorcycles at Pathao is comparatively high, but the BRTA has not yet allowed sharing rides on motorcycles, he added.
In this regard, the Uber spokesperson told the Business Standard, "It has been four weeks since we resumed our UberX service in Dhaka after the end of the public holidays announced by the government to contain the spread of Covid-19.
"Business recovery has been slow but steady since with BRTA's approval to allow ridesharing, we are seeing the green shoots of recovery. Our goal at the moment remains rebooting the business by ensuring safety as people start commuting again."
He also said the lockdown had impacted the livelihoods of Uber's driver partners the most, but "we remain committed to supporting them during these challenging times".
He expressed the hope that by launching new services like Uber Rentals and Uber Connect, the enterprise could create meaningful earning opportunities for drivers.
After a shutdown of three months, ride-hailing services were allowed to operate on June 21. A BRTA letter to the companies said motorcars, jeeps, microbuses and ambulances (excluding motorbikes) with enlistment certificates could ply the streets in compliance with health guidelines.
The authorities concerned granted permission to the companies to operate their services in such areas as Dhaka Metro, Gazipur Metro, Dhaka district, Narayanganj, Munshiganj, Manikganj, Narsingdi and Gazipur district.