Having just resumed operations, public transportation companies are prioritising profit over health
Buses in many districts on Tuesday transported passengers in ways that largely flouted health guidelines – contravening a precondition for resuming public transportation after a two-month suspension.
Most of the intra-district services commuted with sardine-packed passengers defying social distancing enacted to prevent Covid-19 transmission.
Additionally, passengers had to pay a 60-percent-hiked fare intended for passengers of buses filled to half their capacities and strictly following other precautionary measures to avoid Covid-19 transmission.
After a two month-long suspension, public transportation resumed Monday with more than doubled the fare – putting the passengers in a fix.
Wide disregard of health guidelines, both by transportation workers and passengers, plus incidents of passengers being overcharged, marred the first day of the reopening.
Now the bus drivers in Rangpur allege that they are being extorted frequently by several motor workers welfare associations, which intensifies suffering for both the bus operators and general public.
The Business Standard district correspondents reported in detail.
In the northern district of Dinajpur, passengers and motor workers were not maintaining social distancing while purchasing tickets. Passengers at Mirzapur Bus Terminal, the central bus station of the district, also alleged that buses were not maintaining safety guidelines – dropping and picking up passengers on the roads.
Sirajul Islam, a bus driver of the district, said they fail to meet fuel costs and staff salaries with half-filled buses.
Meanwhile, the alliance of left-leaning parties formed a human chain Tuesday protesting the 60 percent bus fare hike.
In Rangpur, drivers alleged they are extorted of Tk4,200 per trip to Dhaka and Tk3,500 for a trip to Rajshahi.
Drivers and helpers claimed that the extortionists would assault them if they refused to pay.
Deputy Police Commissioner of Rangpur Metropolitan Police Md Mohidul Islam said they will take legal action against the extortionists upon receiving a specific complaint.
In Pabna, though the long-distance buses complied – filling up seats to half vehicles' capacity – intra-district vehicles had no concern over social distancing or health guidelines.
The passengers and transport workers blamed each other while there were numerous allegations of overcharging.
Like Pabna, long-haul buses from Rajshahi maintained health safety by filling only half of their passenger capacity. Disinfectants were also being sprayed before making a trip while the passengers had to go through a thermal check-up.
However, vehicles commuting within the district had no such measures.
Compared to other districts, public transportation in Bogura was different as passengers were found getting in long-haul buses after washing their hands at the bus terminal.
District motor owners' leader Aminul Islam said they have also purchased handheld thermometer to check passengers' temperatues before making a trip. Meanwhile, Bogura Deputy Commissioner Faiyez Ahamed said he has not received any complaint over violations of safety rules since the public transportation reopened.
Sources at Bangabandhu Bridge said traffic pressure to Dhaka from northern districts was very low on Tuesday compared to normal times. The number of cars and motorcycles was high among the vehicles that crossed the bridge to Dhaka.
In southwestern district Khulna, bus terminals saw a huge rush of people. The passengers purchased their tickets maintaining social distancing. They had to go through face mask checks, hand sanitising and disinfectant spraying on shoes before getting in the long-haul buses.
In Barishal, long distance, inter-district and intra-district vehicles were reluctant to abide by health safety guidelines.
In Narayanganj, passengers competed with each other to get onto buses as soon as they arrived. Though the buses did not have hand sanitiser, transport workers shifted the blame on passengers saying passengers are flouting social distancing rules.
In Mymensingh, the number of passengers to other districts was low. Passengers alleged that bus operators were not complying with safety guidelines while making the trips.
In Brahmanbaria, neither long-haul buses nor intra-district services cared about social distancing. The CNG-run autorickshaws were packed – though each of those was instructed not to carry more than two passengers.
Moulvibazar looked almost as it usually does because the public transportation was packed with people. In the meantime, the number of rickshaws rose substantially Tuesday while many passengers locked into altercations with transport workers over bus fares.
In Sylhet, there was no concern over social distancing. The human haulers were sardine-packed with passengers.
"Passengers do not heed to us if I say not to overcrowd. They just get in," said human hauler driver Azad Mia on Sylhet-Tamabil Road.
He commented that the transport workers alone would never be able to maintain health guidelines if passengers are unaware about their safety.