City people pay extra for shortage of busesShakhawat Hossain
Transport businessmen have not been fielding new wide-bodied buses in the capital for long to rally for their demand for the operation of new mini-buses creating shortage of buses and forcing thousands of people to spend extra on auto-rickshaw and taxi rides.
Communications ministry officials said that bus operators were demanded withdrawal of the existing ban on the operation of new mini-buses in the capital as a perquisite for making fresh investments.
The roads division secretary, MAN Siddique, told New Age on Tuesday that they had already agreed to withdraw the ban on mini-buses having air-cooling system.
‘But transport operators are pressing for permission for non-AC mini-buses too,’ he said, adding that a decision in this regard would soon be made.
The present government imposed the ban in 2009 saying that mini-buses were not effective to cater to the need of mass transport in the growing capital having a population of 15 million with a 3 per cent growth rate.
Emphasis has been given to wide-bodied buses by the government that imported around 700 such buses for the state-owned BRTC from China, Korea and India in the past four years.
But the record import could not help in increasing the number of buses in the capital as private operators have almost stopped fielding new buses on the pretext of ‘congestion, extortion and losses.’
The Dhaka Sarak Pariban Samity secretary general, Khandaker Enayetulla, told New Age that the number of privately-owned buses currently operating in the city was as low as 3,000.
There are currently 7,000 buses registered with the authorities.
Enayetullah said that the businessmen were not fielding new buses to avoid growing losses to the city’s nagging traffic congestion and huge servicing costs because of rickety road condition.
Another bus operator said that apart from difficulties brought about through bad congestion which wastes a considerable portion of the time that buses are on the roads, illegal tolls by different associations and law enforcement agencies is another problem.
A number of operators told New Age that in order for a single bus to operate in the city the owner must pay each day at least Tk 1,000 in illegal tolls.
They say that illegal toll collection by both the law enforcement agencies and transport associations was particularly rampant at Gulistan, Jatrabari, Sayedabad, Ashulia, Babu Bazar, Tanti Bazar, Gabtali, Aminbazar, Demra, Buriganga Bridge at Postagola, Mirpur, Science Laboratory and Abdullahpur.
Masudur Rahman, deputy commissioner of the Dhaka Metropolitan Police, ruled out such allegations saying that transport businessmen never gave such allegations in paper. ‘We will take action if they lodge specific allegations,’ he said.
At present, the BRTC has 974 buses, one of the biggest fleet that it has ever had, but only uses 150 for the city, a communications ministry official said.
‘The number will be around 500 if you consider the operation of the BRTC buses between Dhaka and its nearby towns such as Naranaganj, Gazipur, Tongi, Savar and Narsingdi,’ said a deputy general manager at the BRTC.
The BRTC chairman, Jashim Uddin, and director Nikhil Chandra did not want to talk on the issue despite queries.
Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology professor Sarwan Zahan said that the number of buses, state- and the privately-owned, was inadequate in the city.
A government report, ‘Dhaka Bus Network and Regulatory Reforms’ released in April estimated that each day more than 21 million trips take place inside the Dhaka metropolis and that at least 11,100 buses were required in the city to cater to the transport needs of around 15 million people at affordable rates as 30 per cent of its population live on $1.5 dollar a day or less.
The long queue of passengers and their desperate search for auto-rickshaws and taxi-cabs at busy points in the city have now become a common picture in the city.
Economists said that citizens were not only facing difficulties in getting to work and moving around the city, they were also feeling the effect of the lack of buses in their pockets as they were forced to pay expensive fares charged by auto-rickshaws and taxi-cabs.
Bangladesh Institute of Development Studies research director Binayak Sen said that the growing transport cost was a big worry for the city people.
‘Transport costs take a big share of the daily expense of a household income nowadays, competing with the cost of food as the biggest drain on income,’ he said.
Former caretaker government adviser Mirza Azizul islam said that higher transport costs were eroding the capacity of saving of urban people.
According to the Dhaka Bus Network and Regulatory Reforms report, the bus industry is extremely fragmented and the vehicle fleet in operation is not suitable for a mega-city such as Dhaka.
It revealed that 137 companies were operating in the network with the eight biggest companies accounting for 26 per cent of the 7,053 buses, with 73 companies with less than 50 vehicles, and with some owners just operating a single bus.
It also pointed out that 50 per cent of the vehicles had already reached their service life of 10 years.
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