The government has decided to resume public transport from tomorrow. It has issued directives asking transport operators to take fewer passengers on board and abide by social distancing rules.
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), maintaining at least one metre (three feet) distance between one another is a must to stay safe from the virus.
But how much of it is really possible in the buses that operate on the streets of Dhaka?
Firstly, most of the buses operating in Dhaka city are running beyond their life cycle. They have scratches all over them. The dusty seats had been reorganised and increased within the small buses a long time ago.
The distance (if there is any) between each of the front and back seat is almost non-existing. I, being a decently tall person, have a very hard time sitting in one of those.
Secondly, most of the buses operating in the streets of Dhaka only have one door. Everyone goes in and out of the bus using that door, which increases the possibilities of virus spread among the passengers.
The authorities give examples of developed countries while talking about lifting the shutdown and resuming public transportation. Are they aware of the differences between the public transport in those countries and ours? Here's a photo taken from the outside that shows the difference in size.
Thirdly, and most importantly, ensuring a safe distance between the helper and the driver of the bus is a must! Because if one of them gets infected with the virus (considering that they already didn't), everyone getting into the bus will end up getting the disease as well. With only one door in the bus, people really don't have an option for a safe distance from the helper.
It is necessary to mention that while maintaining a distance of three feet between each row might be possible, leaving one seat empty in each side, it is not possible to maintain the same distance within the rows without deducting another half number of passengers. Which will mean that a bus will be able to carry passengers not half but only 25% of its capacity.
Germany, in an attempt to curb the spread via public transportation, has added a barrier to separate the bus driver from the rest of the passengers. They have also sealed off the front door of the buses and kept the door on the back of the bus open.
With only one door in most of the buses operating in Dhaka, we don't even have that option.
It raises another question: how can we be sure that the transport workers or the passengers getting into the buses aren't already infected? If someone needs to come in contact with thousands of people every day, isn't it necessary for us to test them before they come into contact with others?
The fourth point is with the cash payment of bus fare. We all know by now that Covid-19 not only spreads through human to human, but this virus can also stay active in the everyday objects we use. One of which is the banknotes.
While several cities of our neighbouring country India, including Ahmedabad, have decided to go digital, do we have any such initiative taken?
We have bKash, Rocket, Nagad and many other mobile bank services. Does any of them provide a cashless payment method of local bus fares? The answer is no.
The fifth and last point is the position of the female seats at the front of the bus. Those seats are at the perfect position for Covid-19 to spread. The people, mostly females, sitting in those seats will come into contact with everyone who gets into the bus and everyone who gets off. They won't have the safe distance from the helper or the bus driver. The two people who will be at the highest risk of getting infected with Covid-19.
Then again, another question raises. The number of buses that operates inside Dhaka city never had enough seats for the number of passengers. Half of the people always had to keep standing.
With all the government and private offices reopening, how will the public transport, with only half of the total seats, support a large number of passengers?
We, as a whole nation, has an amazing track record of following rules. Today, numerous reports on television channels showed 3 to 4 people going to their workplaces in one CNG because there wasn't any bus on the street.
While the government still didn't give permission to ride-sharing services, motorcycles were seen on the streets waiting for passengers.
Are we going to see what we have already seen in the last couple of years? A bus with passengers hanging from the door? Do you really need to be an expert to guess what will happen in that situation?
If we really want to follow the developed countries, I think we should start by reforming our public transportation sector. The local buses, in no way, can be declared safe from Covid-19 contamination.
We need to make sure that every bus running on the streets has at least two doors and at least a meter distance between each passenger. Meaning that most of the buses that are active on the road right now will need to be dismissed.
It's no math, but if we want to make that one-meter distance into those tiny buses, each of them will be able to carry a maximum of 10 passengers to their destination in one trip.
Until we make sure that we can do those, resuming the public transport will remain as another bad decision, just like the one in which we sent returned expatriates back to their home from Askhona Hajj camp, requesting them to stay in home quarantine.