Long-haul buses are allegedly carrying passengers up to their full capacity but charging extra from passengers, violating the government’s public transportation resumption rules
Inter-district buses are carrying passengers in each seat but charging the commuters 60 percent extra amid the coronavirus pandemic.
The passengers raised their concern over maintaining health safety during the trips and overcharging issue, but the transport workers came up with their excuses as usual.
"Drivers and helpers picked the passengers wherever they got throughout the route defying the virus safety rules," said Shahabuddin, passenger of a Cumilla-bound bus.
However, the helper of the bus, Babu, promptly protested Shahabuddin and said their passengers were people mostly belonging to the low-income bracket who cannot afford 60 percent hiked fare.
"We have to take some extra passengers to ease their burden," the helper had his excuse ready.
After a 66-day transportation suspension to curb the virus spread, the government reopened public transports in June approving bus operators a 60-percent hike in fares. However, a condition was set that the buses would operate at half the passenger capacity in a bid to maintain social distancing requirements.
This means buses will keep the other seat empty beside the seated passenger. Other conditions the government coupled with the fare hike include operating public transports by strictly maintaining the health safety guidelines and returning to previous fares once the virus crisis ends.
The helper of the Cumilla-bound bus said they used to charge Tk100-150 per passenger before the pandemic while now they take Tk170-200.
He claimed most of the passengers still give them the previous fare.
Some passengers also supported the transport worker as one Moyna Begum said, "It is a local bus and we cannot pay them 60 percent extra. So, they take passengers in each seat. And we have no problem with that."
However, renowned bus operators who have counters at bus stoppages said they are still maintaining the "operate at half the passenger capacity" order.
Liton Mia, manager of S Alam Paribahan, said, "Our buses cannot pick or drop passengers except the counters and we are carrying 50 percent passengers of the capacity from the resumption of public transportation."
Some other operators including Hanif, Eagle, Shohagh, Green Line, Sakura, Shyamoli also echoed the same.
Akbar Ali, a passenger from Chattogram and a frequent traveller, said, "The counter-system busses are not taking any extra passenger. Besides, they did not charge any extra than the government-fixed fares."
However, there were many allegations of overcharging passengers during the last Eid-ul-Adha.
Mahabub Haque, a transport owner, said, "Buses to the southern and northern districts increased fare by Tk100-300 during the Eid rush."
Because, the buses of those districts do not get passengers while returning to the capital for making the next trip during the Eid season, he added.
The transport owner said buses on the Chattogram-Dhaka route did not increase the fares.
When contacted, Bangladesh Passenger Welfare Association said that it also received allegations that buses were not maintaining health safety guidelines and overcharging passengers.
The association's Secretary General Mozammel Hoque said the allegations were mostly against buses to northern districts.
"We notified the authorities about the complaints. However, in 80 percent cases we did not receive any solution," Mozammel claimed.
"In only 20 percent cases, the buses were fined highest Tk10,000 but they had already raised Tk30,000-40,000 by overcharging passengers. Therefore, the financial sentence could not deter their illicit practices," he further said.
Mozammel Hoque advocated for amending the related laws raising the fines and punishments.