Standing on the stairs of a purple bus at Shapla Chattar, Motijheel, the conductor—Maya Akter Shanta was calling for passengers loudly.
Even after her constant calls, almost none seemed interested in getting into the bus.
In the busy hour of Thursday evening, the 37-seater bus was moving towards Mirpur 10 with only four passengers.
Dolonchapa is a women-only bus service in Dhaka city which has been provided by Rangs Group and supported by Volvo Eicher Commercial Vehicle Ltd for the last one year. It has only four buses in two routes. The idea was Ms. Sohana Rouf Chowdhury's brainchild.
Committed to ensure the safety of women, these buses are adequately equipped with surveillance through four CCTV cameras, first-aid, comfortable seats. The staff are also well trained. The conductors of these buses are also female.
Women Bus Service, from Bangladesh Road Transport Corporation (BRTC) with 21 buses in eight routes, is providing a similar service.
Women who are aware of it, commute these buses on a regular basis as it's safe and comfortable for them. In a city where 7000 buses ply every day the number is still low.
Both the bus services operate during office hours only, the number of operating buses is not enough either.
Tazrin Zahan, project in Charge at Dolonchapa, says, "We are planning to make our service more accessible to women. But it's a matter of time as we are already in loss."
Lack of publicity
Concerned about reaching office on time, Neelufar Yasmin was standing at Farmgate for transport. When a local bus came, Neelufar struggled to get into the over-crowded bus.
While asked why she isn't travelling on those women-only buses, astonished, she said, "I don't know about those buses. I haven't noticed or heard about anything like this."
When sexual harassment in public transports has become a major concern, the women-only bus services in Dhaka haven't become as frequented by women commuters as one would expect.
The main reason, according to most women commuters and people providing the services, is the lack of knowledge about it.
Shanta is one of the seven conductors of Dolonchapa who has been working here for the last nine months. She performs her duty responsibly to ensure more passengers take the bus.
"All the seats hardly ever fill up even during the office hours. Otherwise we travel with 5/6 passengers most of the time," said Shanta.
As women on the streets who don't know about this service, and see it almost empty, they don't want to get in, she reflected. According to Mohammad Saidul Islam, conductor of one of the buses, "We rarely get one or two new passengers in six months."
Syeda Neeharika Begum, an officer of Janata Bank Motijheel Branch, has been riding Dolonchapa bus from the very beginning. From her residence at Farmgate, she tries to take this bus on her way to and back from office daily.
"Undoubtedly women have been benefitting from this bus service. Safe public transportation is like a dream to all of us. When experiencing harassment regularly in public transports on a daily basis, this service makes us feel safe," says Neeharika.
But as they have only two buses, if she misses one, she has to take other public transports.
These buses run in two routes only, Mirpur 10 to Motijheel and ECB Circle to Azimpur.
Two buses leave Mirpur 10 at 7:15 am and 7:30 am and for the rest of the day till 5.00 pm there aren't buses from them in this route.
Hence, women commuters who are outside this area or have different working hours don't get to take this service at all.
Mohammad Heera, the driver of Dolonchapa-2 says, "We are lagging behind because of the lack in numbers of buses and publicity. Also, there is huge traffic in the roads, which makes our service slow."
Also, in the name of maintenance, or as there's a scarcity of women conductors, some buses don't run.
Md. Amzad Hossain, Deputy Secretary and General Manager (Accounts) of BRTC, said, "This Women Bus Service should be more promoted among women out there. Private corporations should come forward to contribute in this respect." In his opinion, the service is not profitable which got in the way of expanding the service.
Moreover, it's hard to recognise these buses as women-only because they don't carry any significant feature or signboard.