Dhaka introduced a common bus service for school going students in January 2011 – long before a number of infrastructural projects weighed on the metropolis narrowing the roads – in an effort to handle the increasing traffic pressure effectively.
The service stopped a couple of months later, and was forgotten until the recent school reopening continues delivering traffic nightmares to the city, which now has less than 6% of its total space for traffic movement.
Police estimate around 20,000 private cars have been hitting the road only to drop and pick students from Dhaka's Viqarunnisa Noon School & College at Bailey Road on a regular day, putting further pressure on the already notorious Dhaka traffic.
Attributing the private cars to recent intolerable traffic jams, urban experts say if the school bus service was in place, the traffic situation would not have gone such haywire. Parents too say if there were a school bus service, the children could commute safely and their daily journey could have been more time and cost effective.
Seventh grader Sharmin Akter travels with her mother to Farmgate Holy Cross Girls High School from her residence at Mirpur-10.
"We have to leave the house at 7:00am to attend classes at 9:00am as the 6 km trip usually takes more than an hour and a half," said Sharmin's mother Shamsunnahar. The mother said the journey has now become even longer.
"No matter when we take a bus, we cannot reach on time," she said.
"I have to spend the entire day only to drop and pick my daughter. If there was a school bus service, I could have been relieved from additional transport cost, staggering travel time and the sufferings," the mother commented.
Lipika Chakraborty, teacher at Ispahani Girls' School and College, too said school bus service could have slashed the guardians' woes.
The teacher said reinstatement of the service needs support from the government. "We take a small school fee from the students. Therefore, the school cannot introduce a bus service on its own," she added.
Ehsanul Alam, an 8th grader of Biam Model School and College, said he feels exhausted after returning home from school thanks to terrible traffic.
On 15 January 2011, the then Communications Minister Syed Abul Hossain inaugurated the first phase of the school bus services from Pallabi to Azimpur with 14 buses of the Bangladesh Road Transport Corporation (BRTC).
Students of the schools on Mirpur-Azimpur route and their guardians were eligible to avail the service from 6:00am to 9:00am and 11:00am to 3:00pm. The buses were said to be available after every 10-minute.
The authorities then said new routes would be introduced and the number of buses would be raised to 100 in phases.
BRTC Chairman Tajul Islam said he is not aware of the service. Besides, there is no new plan for dedicated bus service for students.
Prof AQM Shafiul Azam, director (planning and development) at the Directorate of Secondary and Higher Education, said he is unaware of the school bus service too.
"I don't know anything about such bus service. Inter-ministerial decisions usually do not ripple down to us," he claimed.
AKM Aftab Hossain Pramanik, additional secretary at the Secondary and Higher Education Division, said, "I need to look for the papers since it is a quite old topic. I don't know if any new decision will be taken either."
Urban planner Prof Adil Mohammed Khan said the closure of the school bus service and the fact that the authorities are not even aware of it indicate a collective irresponsibility.
"Dedicated bus service plays a vital role in easing traffic congestion in any city. If the school bus service is reintroduced, both cost and time of the guardians will be saved," he noted.