- Bus owners want 50% fare hike in cities, rational rates for long-routes
- Truckers want previous fuel rates, and reduced tolls at bridges
- Launch owners demand doubling the waterway fares
- Owners will hold separate meetings with authorities Sunday on the demands
- After strike-led sufferings, people poised to bear the brunt of the hikes
Holding the people hostage for two days by bringing road transportation to a complete halt, transport owners have agreed to join a meeting with government regulators to get their demand met –– either hike fare by 50% or withdraw the hiked price of diesel.
Until then, they will continue their wildcat strike that forced public buses away from roads across the country since Friday morning.
Water transports had been in operation, but they soon joined the road transports with limited operations since yesterday afternoon as a meeting expected between launch owners and inland waterway regulators did not take place yesterday; launch owners want 100% hike in fare.
Truck and covered van owners look set to go on with their strike as their meeting with the home minister proved to be a futile exercise yesterday as they had an additional concern–– increased toll rates for two bridges.
The Bangladesh Petroleum Corporation on Wednesday night announced Tk15 diesel and kerosine price hike with immediate effect. On Thursday, intracity and long-haul buses, and trucks declared indefinite strike as the authorities responded to the protests with negotiations on Sunday – leaving people in limbo for Friday and Saturday.
The Bangladesh Road Transport Authority (BRTA), which is responsible for adjusting bus fare to any hike in fuel prices, waited for the week-end to end and set Sunday for a meeting with transport operators to decide on fare hike.
After the meeting today, if the transport leaders resume intracity and intercity bus services with hiked fares, it is the people who will have to pay the extra pennies.
On the other hand, if the authorities do not agree with the revised bus fares, transport leaders will continue the nationwide strike stretching the woes of the masses since Friday.
The government-transport leader meeting will not be offering the people a piece of the pie, instead it will be arguing how much extra they will pay, hinted the leaders.
"We have sent a letter seeking a 50% fare hike for city buses, and rational fare spirals for long-haul coaches. We will press the same demand at tomorrow's [Sunday] meeting too," said Samdani Khondoker, joint secretary of Bus Owners Association.
"We have been pushed to the wall as bus fares were not revised in the last eight years. Without the fares readjusted, it is impossible for us to hit the road again," he hinted at continuing the strike prompted by diesel price hike on Wednesday midnight by Tk15 per litre.
"There will be representatives of other organisations and public bodies too. They will verify our demand. I am not saying our 50% demand is the final words," the transport leader softened his tone. He added that they would hold talks with other transport leaders Sunday after the meeting with the authorities to decide whether and when to call off the strike.
Passenger rights activists point finger at the public officials in the first place, saying if the oil price hike announcement had not been on Wednesday midnight, people's sufferings would have been averted for the two days.
The activists also blame transport leaders for influencing public meetings in fixing bus fares.
"At least 15-20 influential transport leaders loom large at such meetings side-lining others. BRTA [Bangladesh Road Transport Authority] fixes the fares on the influence of the leaders and prescription of the bus owners," Mozammel Haque Chowdhury, secretary general of Bangladesh Jatri Kalyan Samity, told The Business Standard.
However, BRTA Spokesperson Mahboob-a-Rabbani said they will fix bus fare according to the rules, not in the face of any pressure or influence.
"We will consider vehicle maintenance, operation costs and machinery prices. New fares will be tolerable and rational," he added.
Previously the government fixed intracity bus fares in 2016, 2015 and 2013.
Truck strike may not be called off
Even after Sunday's meeting, the ongoing truck strike may continue as their concern is not about the diesel price alone.
We demand previous fuel and toll rates at Bangabandhu and Muktarpur Bridge, said Rustom Ali Khan, convener of Bangladesh Truck Covered Van Tank Lorry Prime Mover Owner-Worker Coordination Council.
He also commented that the government is not supposed to fix rates for cargo transportation, instead the vehicle owners would do that as per the market.
The government on 2 November announced toll hikes on the two bridges by 20%-30% that came into effect the next morning.
Besides, truck and covered van leaders held a meeting with Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan Kamal on Saturday. But the meeting ended without any solution.
Launches join strike, demand doubling the fares
Launch owners joined the road transport strike Saturday saying they will not resume passenger transport until the fares are doubled.
In a similar tone to the road transport leaders, launch owners' leader Siddiqur Rahman Patwary said launch fare has not been increased since 2008.
"For a fare hike, we have been demanding the Ministry of Shipping and Bangladesh Inland Water Transport Authority (BIWTA) for a couple of years. But they did not heed to us," he added.
Launch owners on Friday wrote the authorities demanding the fares to be doubled.
"We were supposed to be contacted by Saturday noon. Since the authorities did not, owners do not want to continue the service," added Siddiqur.
Sources at the BIWTA said the authorities will hold a meeting with the launch owners on Sunday afternoon.