'Unacceptable': Plan to hike bus fares by 80pc draws flak

The government's plans to increase transport fares by 80 percent while halving the passenger load have been met with widespread criticism as buses begin to hit the roads again after a two-month hiatus amid the coronavirus crisis.

Consumers Association of Bangladesh or CAB has called for bus fares to be slashed with fuel prices being reduced to make up the potential shortfall. Jatri Kalyan Samity, another organisation championing passengers’ rights, made a similar call.

Leaders of leftist parties Bangladesh Samajtantrik Dal and Bangladesh Communist Party also spoke out against the proposed fare hike.

The public transport system along with offices and workplaces reopened on Sunday after the government decided against extending a nationwide lockdown that had been in effect since Mar 26 to curb the spread of the coronavirus. However, buses have been ordered to carry a maximum of 50 percent of its passenger capacity as part of the efforts to maintain social distancing rules.

To address the financial losses facing transport companies, the Bangladesh Road Transport Authority or BRTA proposed an 80 percent increase in bus fares. Transport owners have announced that bus and minibuses will from Monday onwards once the road transport ministry has approved the proposal.

“A large part of the population has already suffered a drop in their earnings during the two-month lockdown. The mooted 80 percent increase in the bus fare to recover the financial losses of the bus owners is unacceptable,” CAB said in a statement.

“The government can announce an incentive package, subsidies or low-interest loans to address the issue, as it did for other industrial sectors,” it said.

It is possible to lower fuel prices as global oil prices have dropped to its lowest level in two decades, according to CAB.  “It’ll ensure that the fare is reduced even while maintaining the social distancing requirements.”

CAB thanked the government and owners for not increasing the fare in rail and water transports.

Transport workers began preparing buses at Gabtoli Terminal in Dhaka on Thursday as bus, launch and train services are set to resume on May 31 after more than two months of shutdown due to the coronavirus outbreak. Photo: Asif Mahmud Ove

Besides opposing the increased fare in the public transports during the coronavirus crisis, Bangladesh Jatri Kalyan Samity urged the government to stop ‘extortionist practices’ in the sector.

"The government should reduce fuel prices before the public transport operations resumes, so that they can continue charging the same fare as before," Mozammel Haque Chowdhury, secretary-general of Bangladesh Jatri Kalyan Samity said in a statement.

“A bus or minibus running in the capital have to pay on average Tk 1,200 to 1,800 each day to operate. A Laguna pays Tk 800 to 1,000 per day. All of these are reported in the media,” he said.

The public transport services can continue even at half capacity while maintaining the hygiene rules if the government eliminates the 'extortion fees', he said.

The BSD, in a statement, condemned the BRTA's proposed 80 percent fare hike, labelling the plan ‘unlawful and illogical’. It will ‘create an added burden’ on the people, its leaders said.

“People are already suffering a lot during the pandemic. The government has lifted the lockdown without consulting experts while shirking its duties and pushing the people towards death. To rub salt on the wounds, it is considering increasing fares of the public transports by 80 percent,” BSD General Secretary Khalequzzaman said in a  tatement.    

He also cast doubt on whether Dhaka's public transport services can operate while adhering to health and social distancing directives.

“We urge the government not to reopen everything to serve the interests of a few businessmen and reconsider the decision to lift the ban on public transports, which will put citizens' lives in danger,” he said.

The government should instead follow the lead of other countries and cut transport fares amid the pandemic, former CPB President Manzurul Ahsan Khan told bdnews24.com.

“The fares should be decreased even if it's through a subsidy,” he said.

Masudur Rahman Rana, a small entrepreneur living in Rampura, also expressed doubts over the viability of the decision requiring buses to operate at half the passenger capacity.

“Generally, hundreds of people wait for a bus to catch on the streets of Dhaka. The buses are overcrowded during the peak hours and it becomes almost impossible to get on board. I don’t think it’ll be possible for any bus to follow the health and hygiene rules under the circumstances. It’ll be a big challenge to manage it,” he said.