The Bangladesh Road Transport Corporation (BRTC) deployed 88 buses on the streets of Dhaka on Thursday, aiming to reduce the suffering of commuters by tackling the shortage of public transportation.
These buses – which used to provide transportation to students of government schools, colleges and universities – will now carry commuters in the city for the next two weeks starting 1 April. But this initiative has done little to ease the commuters' misery, or bus shortages.
BRTC buses and other public transports are supposed to carry 50% of their passenger capacity under the Covid-19 health safety guidelines recently issued by the government, but a majority of them are running almost at full capacity while charging commuters nearly double the fare.
On a spot visit to different areas across the city, such as the National Press Club, Bangla Motor and Shaymoli, The Business Standard also found that while some buses are following the "50% capacity" rule, passengers are having a very hard time getting into them.
Some commuters were seen getting into heated arguments with transportation workers after failing repeatedly to get into a bus that is heading towards their destination, or over the increased fares – which have gone up by 80%-100% in most areas.
Besides, some public transports were seen skipping their stops due to not having enough empty seats in accordance with the social distancing guidelines, forcing the frustrated commuters to walk or use other means to get to their destination.
Due to the unavailability of public transports, many passengers were seen forcibly boarding buses that are already at 50% or more in passenger capacity, ignoring the government directive.
When asked why he is sitting right next to another passenger in a BRTC bus, a commuter named Abdus Salam told The Business Standard, "I am from Gabtoli area and I have to get to the Dhaka Medical College Hospital to see my relative.
"I waited for hours to get on a bus, but could not get a free seat that ensures social distancing measures. So, I have no alternatives but to sit with another passenger."
Another passenger named Shahid Ahmed was sitting beside his wife Khadiza Akter. They said the government is making people suffer financially by raising the public transportation fares. "We do not have a lot of money, so we are sitting with each other," Shahid said.
Another commuter Shihab Uddin said he paid Tk20 for a bus ride from Paltan to Bagnla Motor area, instead of the usual fare of Tk10.
Commenting on the situation, a BRTC bus conductor named Jasim Uddin said, "There is little we can do about the increased fares or the violation of Covid-19 health guidelines in buses. People are boarding our buses by pushing us aside forcibly."
On Wednesday and Thursday, agitated commuters blocked the Airport road in the capital's Khilkhet area protesting the government's decision to increase public transport fares and the unavailability of transports.
Bikers protest ban on ride sharing
More than a hundred bikers, who share rides using apps such as Uber and Pathao, blocked different parts of the capital including Dhanmondi 27 intersection, Badda, Shahbag, and Press Club area on Thursday.
They were protesting a ban imposed by Bangladesh Road Transport Authority (BRTA) on such services for the next two weeks.
Mikdad Hossain, a biker who provides ridesharing service, said, "How can we survive in this Covid-19 situation if the government stops our source of income? The government cannot stop our services without providing financial support."
"Either support us financially, or allow us to operate normally," he urged the government.
Another biker Zobair Ahmed said, "I had a job at a private company, but I lost it amid the Covid-19 crisis. I did not get due compensation from my company, so ride sharing is currently the only way for me to make a living.
"A large number of people lost their jobs amid the pandemic. If the government bans ride sharing services, what will we do to bear the costs of our families' expenditure?"
The government also increased the fares of launch (deck) services by 60% on Thursday, said State Minister for Shipping Khalid Mahmud Chowdhury, adding that cabin fares will remain the same.
'We will be stricter'
Golam Mostafa, inspector (traffic) of Shahbagh area, said, "We have relayed the government's decision to all passengers, drivers, helpers, and ride-sharing bikers. We are monitoring transport fares, the seat vacancy rule, and social distancing measures.
We have been checking buses and ride-sharing bikers from Thursday morning. We also sued a number of ride-sharing bikers for violating the rule. We are now strict, from tomorrow [Friday] we will be stricter."
On the issue, BRTA Director (operation) Mohammad Ziauddin said, "To reduce the scarcity of buses in the city, we already deployed 88 buses. The total number of BRTC buses used to be 920, but now it is 1,008. They will follow the 50% passenger capacity rule.
"These 88 buses will return to serve the students of government schools, colleges and universities after two weeks."
The government on Tuesday ordered public transports to run with 50% of its passenger capacity to help tackle the rising coronavirus infection. The decision was taken to protect the passengers from novel coronavirus infection.
The government also increased the public transport fares by 60%.
Bangladesh on Thursday reported a record daily rise of 6,469 coronavirus cases, taking its total to 617,764 as the country has been experiencing a rising trend of virus infections over the past few days.
Besides, the country reported 59 more deaths in the last 24 hours, the highest daily figure since 30 June last year when the health department reported 64 deaths from the dreaded virus. The country's death toll from the virus now stands at 9,105.
The number of Covid-19 cases in Bangladesh now stands at 6,17,764.