Faisal Kabir was waiting for more than two hours with his bike, looking for passengers at the Sonargaon Hotel intersection in the heart of the capital at 12am on Sunday. But he did not get a single passenger. Finally, he went home disappointed.
Faisal took up ride-sharing as a profession nearly three years back when the ride-sharing company Pathao entered the market. Before the Covid-19 pandemic, he earned, at least, Tk1,000 a day, after deducting the fuel cost of Tk200.
Back then, he spent busy days with trips starting at 11 am and working all the way up to midnight. The demand for ride-sharing bikes was sky-high. He even had to cancel many trips most days.
But the scenario changed suddenly after the virus hit the country in March.
Nowadays, he finds it hard to earn even Tk800 per day.
"Before Covid-19, I used to start in the morning and went home in the evening, earning more than Tk1,000," said Faisal, sitting on his motorcycle at the Karwan Bazar intersection of the city.
Like Faisal, thousands of ride-sharing motorcycle drivers are living a miserable life because of the low demand for bikes in the city due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
Nowadays, they wait for hours in different intersections of the city for passengers. They even shout out to draw the attention of passengers.
On March 26, the government suspended all public transport services to slow the spread of Covid-19 in the country. Bangladesh Road Transport Regulatory Authority (BRTA) notified all 12 ride-sharing companies operating in the country to keep their operations suspended.
Nearly two months later, on June 1, the government allowed public transports, including buses, to resume services after following health safety guidelines. Until June 21, the BRTA kept the operations of the ride-sharing services suspended.
Later, the regulatory authority allowed operations of 3,238 ride-sharing vehicles - cars, microbuses and ambulances.
Though the authorities have not allowed any motorcycle to run under the ride-sharing services due to health safety reasons, drivers like Faisal Karim have come to the streets with their bikes to earn their bread.
Faisal believes that passengers are not taking motorcycles because of the economic downturn.
"People are losing their jobs. They are trying to be economical. Besides, the number of people in the city has decreased as many people have gone to their village homes after losing jobs," said Faisal Kabir.
He said that many people prefer the bus to motorcycle nowadays as the city roads are no longer congested. He said that in the past, most people took a ride on motorcycles to go somewhere fast by avoiding traffic jams.
"Now the city roads are free. It took to me half an hour to go to Gulistan from Karwan Bazar in the past. Now I can cross the same distance in five minutes," he said.
BRTA officials said there are some 123,000 vehicles registered with different ride-sharing companies in the country. Of them, 104,000 are motorcycles while the rest are cars, microbuses and ambulances.
Arif Hossain Rabbi is new to the profession. He came to the street with his bike last month after losing his job. He worked as an assistant supervisor at a garment factory in Narayanganj.
He said he earned only Tk100 on Sunday running his bike from 7.30 pm to 11.30 pm. On a good day, he can earn Tk600 without accounting for fuel cost.
He agrees that it is not possible to maintain social distance on a motorbike. But for him, hunger is more dangerous than the virus.
"I am also scared of the virus. But I have a family; I have my son and daughter. I have no alternative but to ride the motorcycle risking my life," said Arif.
For health safety reasons many companies have allowed their employees to work from home. Many private companies have increased transportation services for their employees.
Jannatul Ferdaus Tanvee, a private service holder, was solely dependent on ride-sharing motorcycles every day to come to her office in Tejgaon Industrial Area, from her home in Mirpur-12. But now, her company is providing transport services for the employees.
"Now I go to the office and come home on office vehicles. I do not need to take any ride-sharing services anymore," said Tanvee.
The business of ride-sharing companies has shrunk to a great extent as most of their vehicles are motorcycles.
"Business recovery has been slow but steady since BRTA's decision to allow ride-sharing services. Our goal at the moment is to reboot the business by ensuring safety as people have started commuting again," said a spokesperson of Uber in Bangladesh, adding that the company resumed their UberX service in Dhaka three weeks back.
The Uber spokesperson said the lockdown has impacted their drivers' livelihoods the most and they want to create meaningful earning opportunities for them and remain committed to supporting them in these challenging times.
"We have created additional earning opportunities for our drivers through new products like Uber Connect, our package delivery service," he said.
Bangladesh Ride Sharing Association called on the road transport regulators to allow them to resume ridesharing services immediately for all types of vehicles, including motorcycles.
Nur Mohammad Mazumder, chairman of Bangladesh Road Transport Authority told The Business Standard that they are not allowing ride-sharing companies to operate motorcycles as it is impossible maintain health safety guidelines while riding on them.
"We have informed the ride-sharing companies that we will not allow them to operate motorcycle until the situation improves," said Nur Mohammad Mazumder.
"However, OBHAI has supported its motorcycle riders by reallocating them to delivery services through OBHAI Parcel, which has helped to compensate on missing out on the usual service," said Fatin Khandoker, brand manager of MGH Group.