Intercity and intracity bus services disregarding health safety guidelines
Road transportation services resumed on Monday after more than two months with health guidelines and 60 percent hike in bus fare in place.
The "one passenger in two seats" rule – meaning that a bus can carry passengers at half capacity – seemed to be implemented in the capital.
But the intercity and intracity bus services disregarded it.
Almost everywhere in Dhaka, the number of passengers was fewer than in pre-outbreak times.
The passengers, however, complained that they were charged more than the government fixed outbreak-time fare.
The general secretary of the Bangladesh Road Transport Owners Association, Khandakar Enayatullah told The Business Standard, "Nearly all the buses plying on the highways and giving intercity services, are strictly maintaining social distancing rules."
"Around 70 percent of the buses have hit the roads."
On the first day of road transportation reopening, a team of The Business Standard tried to picture the "new normal" in the sector.
The Farmgate Bus Bay looked unfamiliar at 8am.
City buses bound for Motijheel, Jatrabari, Sadarghat or Khilgaon were crossing the important intersection one after another with fewer passengers and almost half of their carrying capacity, during the rush hour.
Some conductors were seen spraying a yellow liquid on the passengers' hands before they got on the buses.
But a closer look revealed that they were either using the sub-standard Savenol or Savlo hand sanitiser.
Sensing the presence of Dhaka Metropolitan Police (DMP) personnel, the bus conductors kept 50 percent of the seats empty.
As there were relatively few vehicles on the roads, there was no traffic congestion.
It took only 25 minutes to get from Farmgate to Motijheel at 9am. The return trip took five minutes less.
Meanwhile, several buses were parked at the Mirpur-12 Bus Stand as in normal times.
Despite strict guidelines for maintaining health safety rules, a TBS correspondent found only a few passengers standing in queues, to get on the bus, while maintaining social distancing.
Also, some passengers did not use a face mask or hand gloves.
Muhammad Rafiqul, a commuter, said, "The fare for a bus ride from Mirpur-12 to Bangabazar had increased to Tk40 from Tk25."
"I resumed my business on Monday and had fewer clients and earnings. But I have to pay way more for transportation now."
When asked about the reserved seats for women, a bus conductors said, "We could not reserve any seats for women as we had been asked to carry passengers at 50 percent of our capacity."
When asked how frequently they disinfect the seats, some conductors said, "It is not possible to disinfect the doors, handles or the seats every time a passenger leaves."
One TBS correspondent found a 40-seat VIP Transport bus, plying from Azipmur to Gazipur, carrying only 20 passengers. The fare for the Azimpur-Gazipur trip was Tk125, up from Tk70 previously.
Reshma Khatun, who was going to Mohakhali from Azimpur, said she found the increased fare to be okay.
The TBS correspondent also found passengers paying Tk40 for a ride from Azimpur to Mirpur-12 which was Tk26 before.
Joint Commissioner (traffic north) of DMP Md Abdur Razzak told The Business Standard, "The law enforcers are working to ensure social distancing in public buses. We are very serious about maintaining health guidelines."
Director (enforcement) of the Bangladesh Road Transport Authority AKM Masudur Rahman told The Business Standard, "So far, we have noticed that buses from three terminals are following the health guidelines."
Intercity, intracity buses violate guidelines
Although Dhaka city's passengers witnessed the implementation of health guidelines and new public transport rules, the picture was different outside the capital.
TBS correspondents in Dhaka, Khulna, Sathkhira, Barishal, Rangpur, Dinajpur, Rajshahi, Bogura, Mymensingh, Brahmanbaria, Tangail and Sylhet reported that the district bus terminals saw huge throngs of passengers after two months of shutdown.
Almost all the inter, intra-district bus services have resumed.
In general, both the passengers and transport workers were found to be reluctant to use a face mask and hand sanitiser.
The law enforcers were seen implementing the social distancing rules. But the passengers were rarely following the safety measures amid a spike in Covid-19 cases across the country.
The TBS correspondents also reported that the government circular on 60 percent bus fare increase was being violated on many routes.
Some passengers alleged that they were charged double the previous fare.
In Dhaka's Mohakhali Inter-District Bus Terminal, sterilisation tunnels were set up at all the entrances.
However, no social distancing was being maintained at the ticket counters. Some bus drivers and assistants donned face mask while the others were seen working without any safety measures.
Mohammad Jahid, the driver of a Dhaka-Tangail bound bus Binimoy said, "It is impossible to follow the health manuals completely while driving the bus."
Asked about overcharging fares from Mohakhali to Dhanbari, he said, "The fare is now Tk360, 70 percent higher than the previous fare of Tk220. The bus owners and leaders have fixed the fare this way."
Officials of the transport companies and law enforcement authorities, however, said that they would address the complaints.