- Transport owners have more than Tk10,000 crore bank loans
- Among the hardest hit by the shutdown, they did not get govt stimulus
- Buses now getting only 30-40% passengers
- Relaxed loan repayment facility relieves owners for the time being
- Mounting interests add to worries about transport business in future
Transport owners have sought interest waiver on their bank loans, saying the goods and passenger transportation situation has not yet improved to the pre-pandemic level while they have to pay the loan instalments regularly.
The owners said they incurred a massive loss during the pandemic-led 66-day shutdown, and they still are not getting enough passengers now, leading to daily losses.
For instance, the luxury bus service operator Green Line Paribahan is running only one-fourth of their 100 buses because of the lack of passengers.
The Financial Institutions Division received a letter of the Bangladesh Road Transport Owners Association on Thursday.
The letter, endorsed by the Ministry of Road Transport and Bridges, says buses now operating have to keep two-thirds of the seats empty.
Green Line said ticket sales fail to meet the cost of fuel and tolls let alone staff salaries, administrative expenses, and counter rent.
Its General Manager Abdus Sattar told The Business Standard that passengers are still scared of Covid-19 infection, and no one is travelling unless there is an emergency.
"A 27-seat bus now carries only 10-12 passengers. The income is too little to meet the daily expenses. It has not been possible to repay the bank loan instalments since March last year," he said.
Other bus operators are also experiencing more or less the same.
The government announced stimulus packages of more than Tk1 lakh crore for various sectors to salvage the economy from the virus fallout. Transport sector people claimed they did not get any government support despite being the worst victim of the virus outbreak in Bangladesh.
According to the transport owners' association, there are about 1 lakh buses and 3.5 lakh trucks in Bangladesh. If their vehicles do not run, they incur a Tk500 crore loss in a single day.
Public transportation was suspended for 66 days since March last year. Less than 10% of the trucks hauled cargo during that time, owing to the closure of mills, factories, and ports.
According to the association, transport owners have bank loans of more than Tk10,000 crore.
Khandaker Enayet Ullah, secretary general of the Bangladesh Road Transport Owners Association, told TBS that although the government provided various sectors with virus stimulus, transport owners did not get any help despite the 66-day transportation closure.
"The number of passengers is still very low as buses are running with 30-40% passengers. Many owners are on the verge of bankruptcy," he added.
Green Line Paribahan General Manager Abdus Sattar said their bank loans amount to around Tk70 crore and they have not been able to pay the instalments since last March.
"But the bank will not waive the interest even if we keep incurring losses. So, we support the interest waiver request to the government," he added.
Another bus owner Shahid Mia said he makes ends meet, gives staff salaries, and repays the bank from the daily income.
"I do not have to pay the instalments for now because of the Bangladesh Bank's special facility, but what will I do when the privilege winds down? I am very concerned about the future," he said.